To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself. When you are born a lotus flower, be a beautiful lotus flower, don’t try to be a magnolia flower. If you crave acceptance and recognition and try to change yourself to fit what other people want you to be, you will suffer all your life. True happiness and true power lie in understanding yourself, accepting yourself, having confidence in yourself.
~ Thich Nhat Hanh, The Art of Power
When I was a child, my mother used to go through these “fits of interest” in a particular activity. She would get interested in something, say leather work or model ship building or jigsaw puzzles or studying Japan, and it would take over her life. Soon, we would have a room (or the dining room table) completely devoted to the activity, and have spent much money buying supplies and equipment needed for it. Sometimes, she would insist that we all got involved – the jigsaw puzzles stand out here – and everyone would have to become a part of the process. All of her time would be spent in pursuit of this activity, and it could go on for months, even a year or more. Then, as suddenly as it began, it was over. The equipment would get dusty from disuse, the books cast aside, items partially finished would linger on the counter, and eventually the next big thing would take over and the prior project would be cleared away to make way for the new one.
I never really understood what was going on with my mother. She was good at these things she did, and she would get even better in the course of a certain obsession. But, I was baffled at how deeply she became involved and how much of her (time, money, self) it consumed. Now, as an adult, I think I get it. She just wanted to be the best at something, or everything. She was looking for that accomplishment that would make her “good.”
It’s so hard, for many of us, to be ok with who we are. I’m no exception to this. I can talk a good (excellent – HA!) game about equanimity and detachment and acceptance and asmita (egoism), but I have a very hard time really letting go of my urge to be better than I am. This has revealed itself in so many ways in my life. Dieting led to eating disorders for me, in a never ending quest to be thinner and better by giving in to the urges of the body less. In my career, each accomplishment only causes me to think about what the next goal should be. When I had my children, each childbirth experience was somehow flawed by my failings, and I would be determined that the next would be better. If I start drawing or painting again, my first thought is that I’m not very good and I need to figure out how to improve. My yoga mentor, Beth, would probably even tell you that my head leads all through my asana practice. Oy.
I wish I knew what this was all about. Why is it so hard to accept ourselves and be beautiful? Is it all cultural, what we learned from growing up in societies that stress the value of success? Is it part of our nature as a human animal? Are we naturally programmed to be in competition with one another like lions compete for control of the pride? Is it a little of each? I don’t know. But, I do know it’s a challenge for most of us, and likely one that is life long.
Maybe, the key is to try to accept the self in the now. In this moment, be ok with who we are and be beautiful as we are. Maybe tomorrow we’ll be back on the roller coaster of accomplishment and self-criticism. But, if in this one instant we can be all right with exactly what we are now – all right with the wrinkles by the eyes, the belly that isn’t a sixpack (but could hold a sixpack), the singing voice that only has a range of 3 notes – all of it – we can really allow ourselves to be beautiful in the now. And, maybe those moments of now will build up over time and make it all a little bit more possible.