Following on from the subject of happiness is that of ego. Ego is a very delicate thing. It's essential for human interaction. If we have no ego, we have no belief or confidence in ourselves at all. We would simply all be living life feeling inadequate and too worried to interact with anyone else. A solitary, lonely, worthless life. But go too far the other way and you're heading for trouble too. Egomaniacs - those whose egos have taken over the way they think and act - live for attention. They need the interaction and approval from others all the time and get distressed, upset, angry, even violent if they don't get as much as they want. This is what I mean by it being such a delicate thing. You've got to strike the balance.
As humans, we all have an ego. The ego is a key psychological component of our personality, represented by our consciousness and the reactions and decisions we make when conscious. In the most basic terms, our ego is behind what we do in life, it's the whole "why we do the things we do". The ego is our reasoning and thoughts when making a conscious decision. Ego develops at an early age. It's a necessary part of life. But as detailed above, when your ego becomes too big a part of your life and you're living your life constantly seeking approval, looking for attention and to be noticed, to be praised and commended, it can throw things way off balance for you - and also affect others around you.
Myself and a close friend had a discussion about ego and training a while back, and it got me thinking about my own training, the way I share my progress and what is actually happening on a conscious level when I do this. Why do I share photos of my training? Why do I post videos of my progress? For a while, it made me want to stop posting at all, because I was ashamed of the fact that consciously, there were things going on making me want to share them that I didn't like. I wanted approval, I wanted to fit in, to feel 'worthy'.
I joined a Facebook handstand group so I could share photos of my handstands. As one of the few things I have a knack for is my handstand line, I'd post a photo of my best line and see the likes creeping up to 100, 150, 200, and I'd be awestruck and feel great. I loved the praise and the attention - who wouldn't? There is nothing wrong with that in itself. Sharing your progress is a wonderful thing.
But expectation then creeps in. I'd post a photo a few days later and only get 30 likes. I'd be bummed out and believe maybe my handstand skills weren't so good after all. That I wasn't as liked or appreciated as I had been before. I based my belief in myself on what ten thousand or so strangers thought of me. This is one place I went wrong.
I also found myself comparing myself to everyone else on there, and feeling so inadequate that the many thousands of people in that community were so skilled and could hold balance for so long. Another mistake I made. But I couldn't help it. My ego was out of control while I stayed in the group: it was being inflated too much and being battered down again at the same time. No wonder I stopped enjoying it: anywhere you feel you have to impress or live up to a certain standard is simply asking for trouble.
I've been a lot happier since quitting the group. I still love handstands, but I'm enjoying the process of them now, not just the end result. And I really don't care that I can't share them with the group any more, because the enjoyment and personal fulfilment I get from them is all I need.
Through this process I came to the conclusion that my training needs to return to being about me. What I want. What I need. I decided I needed calmness, stress-free training, and fun. To stop being so serious and getting so angry and irritated just because I couldn't do something perfectly every time I tried it. My training sessions were just one mess of one frustration after another, with the occasional short bout of satisfaction. I wanted to let go of all of that and flow. Do what the hell my body and mind felt like doing. Forget structure, forget perfection. Strive for progress but have fun while doing it. If something isn't working out, go roll around and do cartwheels and come back to it later or another day. If it ain't working, there's no point in forcing it.
I decided to ground myself well and truly by returning to my roots and the form of physical training I chose originally for the benefits it has on training the mind too. Yoga.
Yoga is as much about the senses as the poses (asanas), hand positions (mudras) and breathing (pranayama). It's about being in the moment. Feeling what your body is doing. Enjoying the stretch or the shape, feeling your body in that position, sensing what your muscles are doing and where your joints are positioned. Sinking into it. Feeling every millimetre of your feet on the mat, and your hands in front of your chest. The breath moving in and out of your lungs. The calm focus of the mind.
Touch has become very important. Touch is a sense we don't take enough notice of. Now, when I'm starting to get anxious, panicky, worked up, I ground myself when possible by touching base with nature. Placing my hands on a tree, holding onto my partner, putting my feet in the grass, putting my nose in the flowers or leaves of a tree, or feeling the rain on my skin. Just the other week, I stood outside at midnight in the pouring rain in the midst of the most spectacular lightening storm, topless (protecting my modesty, of course - and in my defence, it was a very warm night!), relishing the cool rain dropping from the sky onto my body. It was a humbling experience that reminded me of the importance of staying grounded, of my place and purpose in the universe, to appreciate my senses and to literally keep in touch with myself. Nature is powerful like that. It does us good, as humans, to notice it.
So where am I now? I'm bringing yoga back into my life. I still work gymnastics and flexibility. I do bodyweight work. I'm learning hoop (I couldn't get to circus, so I brought the circus to me) and I auditioned with my other half to Ninja Warrior UK Series 2.
Do I post photos of my training online? Yep. I'm on Instagram (laurayogi26), Facebook and Twitter (lauraah23).
Am I in any dedicated groups on Facebook? Yep. Just one yoga one, where I'm learning and supporting others as much as they're learning from and supporting me. The yoga community is, by the nature of the practise itself, a lot less about perfection and all about enjoyment of the practise. This is what I needed all along.
Do I get bummed out if only 2 or 3 people 'like' my pictures or videos? No.
I'm not in any other movement groups. I'm not in any mental health groups. I'm not even in any guinea pig groups, bar running the Guinea Pig Magazine Facebook page. I have a private agoraphobia page that is used as a diary and that's it. I have found what I need.
I only post what I've truly enjoyed working on and what I'm proud of. I work hard at my training, not only in the movements, but just to get started. If I trained at all then it's a good thing and something to be celebrated. With actively flaring lupus and mental illness, exhaustion and motivation are major debilitating factors, plus all the medications I'm on...it's not easy dragging my arse off the sofa when I'd much prefer to stay under the blankets. But when I do make the effort, training is fun again. I want to share my fun with everyone. I've pulled off all the pressure. I think about what I can feel in my hands, my legs, my head and what you now see in anything I share is real focus, determination and enjoyment. For the first time in a long time, I'm fully happy with my training.
Therefore it really doesn't matter in the slightest what other people think. If I post five photos in the space of one day, I'm not looking for attention or being egotistical. It's just practical because I've got the time to do so, on a day where I've done a lot of things I've had a hell of a lot of fun working on.
I'm sharing the joy, not showing off. My ego is back in balance. If nobody reads this I really couldn't care less - it's just a bonus if people do read and share in my own personal peace and joy.
Read more from Laura at http://believementalhealth.wordpress.com