My friend Jenn says that she always gives the same advice to new mothers. She says, “Joyful parenting is the path of lowered expectations. “ And then she goes on to say that lowering expectations is really good advice for anyone.
I couldn’t agree more.
Thinking that we have to be amazing all of the time or even just amazing at the really important stuff is detrimental to our health and happiness. More importantly, it becomes an obstacle for living out a life that isn’t merely our idea of amazing but actually is truly amazing.
In my own experience, I’ve seen this desire to be amazing screw things up and suck joy out of things that have the potential to be very joyful. Thanks to yoga, I’ve also seen what can happen if I don’t try so hard for amazing… if I lower my expectations and just do the thing I want to do. One leads to suffering, one leads to amazing. I bet you know which is which, and I bet you know because you’ve done it, too.
For me, two experiences demonstrate this struggle with much clarity. Experience number one: painting. I. Love. Painting. Or, I should say, I love looking at other people’s paintings. I also love the idea of painting something that expresses an aspect of my experience through color and visual language and composition. The problem arises when I start hating myself for not being able to express all of that perfectly on my first try. Somewhere along the way, I got into my head that amazing just is. If you have to work for it, it isn’t authentic and if it is awkward or uncomfortable, then forget about it. You don’t have it. This whole thing stems from a familiar “artist genius” argument and it is incredibly flawed. Everyone starts somewhere, and it’s pretty rare that we just up and start at amazing.
I’ve spent many hours painting and thinking about color and getting excited about line quality and brush stroke and form and depth and atmosphere. I’d guess my interest in the human form and how it moves began with my love of figure drawing. The thing of simply enjoying how paint moves around with a brush, the experience of painting, gets all messed up once “amazing” enters into it. I want to paint, but I also want to be amazing. I don’t want to make bad paintings. This is impossible, so unfortunately my love affair with painting has been haunted by “amazing” angst.
Krishna and Arjuna get into a conversation about this very thing in their battlefield discussion in the Bhagavad-Gita*. Krishna says, in 100 different ways, how ACTION is the number one thing you must do to live a good and full yogic life. You must act, you must show discipline, you must fulfill your dharma, you must get to know yourself really well, you must connect to the infinite spirit. Krishna also says that if you believe in Krishna, dedicate all your actions to him and think only on him, then that’s really good, too. The take home here? You have to act.
Perform necessary action;
it is more powerful than inaction;
without action you even fail
to sustain your own body.
BG 3rd teaching, 8th verse
This sounds really great, but if you are just sitting there thinking about it, it’s hard to know how great it really is. Try it. Do that thing and don’t worry about being amazing. It’s totally worth it. Painting? Blogging? Parenting? Home Practice? It took about 10 years, but now I have a regular yoga home practice. I’m learning how to keep showing up even when I don’t feel like it. I allow myself to make parenting mistakes, even big ones, without giving into the voice that says I’m a failure when I do. Even with all this, the experience I’d like to highlight as not being ruined by “amazing” is blogging. I am so grateful for this blog-experience, I can’t even tell you. Not only do I get to have conversations with all kinds of smart interesting readers like you (and yes, I mean you), I get to see what cool stuff can happen when I’m not hung up on being “amazing” and just do the thing I want to do.
When I started this blog project, I gave it a few weeks and decided that I liked it. I heard from someone that one of the most important things about blogging and getting some interested readers is to be consistent with a posting schedule. This made sense to me so I decided that I’d post once a week. Once a week was my objective. The objective wasn’t “amazing”. It didn’t even have to be that good. I’d just get something down and then every Thursday morning, I’d hit “publish”. My priority was Thursday morning, not amazing.
And here’s the thing. Just showing up to write every Thursday means that I have been able to express myself so much more freely (read: without the debilitating angst) and the process has been filled with such wonder and joy. What has come of this blog really has been amazing. I’m not even talking about the actual writing, the amazingness comes with the satisfaction of believing I have something to say, showing discipline, doing something consistently and watching it develop and grow over time. As a result of this blog, I feel more connected to people—people in the blogosphere, people in Austin and people who were already long time loved ones in my life. I write when I’m sad, and I see that there is something there. I write when I’m busy, and I see that there is something to be said. I just do it. Instead of being worried about what other people have done before me and wondering how I can ever live up to that kind of amazing, I just do my thing—it doesn’t even have to be good and it turns out that allowing myself to be mediocre is a much clearer path to amazing. When we are engaged, when we are acting, when we are disciplined then… then, we see all sorts of amazing.
*I’m reading Barbara Stoler Miller’s translation of the BG. It doesn’t have any commentary, and I know a lot of them do, but it’s still really, really beautiful. I’d recommend that you pick it up, carefully read the intro and then make your way through the text and see what you think. I’ve foune it very useful guidance toward a fulfilling yogic life.