“Come, come, whoever you are, wanderer, worshiper, lover of learning.
It doesn’t matter. Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vow a thousand times.
Come, yet again, come, come.”
How many things do you set out to do and then become diverted? Have you made resolutions to get healthy and fit? Have you endeavored to learn a language or musical instrument? Have you promised yourself to ardently commit to change in some capacity, but fallen short, or worse, not even tried? I enjoy Rumi’s poem because it gently reminds me to practice patience and refrain from self-judgment.
Thoughtful appraisals of our actions and behaviors are helpful, but berating oneself is rarely useful. I have been teaching martial arts, boxing and weight training for over twenty-five years, and not a week goes by that I don’t hear people reference themselves as stupid, or swear when they perform a movement that does not meet their expectations.
“…how we practice and train is often how we do life.”
I hear these admonishments enough that I felt compelled to offer my thoughts on these moments; I don’t find them particularly useful. Recently, one of my student athletes at Hilbert College rebuked himself in a class setting. I asked if he did that often, and he assured me that he berated himself all the time. I asked why, and he assured me because he deserves it anytime he screws up in his sport. In the moment you do this, however, I believe there is tension. The latter can impede your movements for just one or two seconds. In that small space of time, your opponent can be twenty feet past you. Tension inhibits the ability to move fluidly, and velocity is impaired. Then, without velocity, you’ll have no power. Well, this might seem only useful for athletes, but I believe that how we practice and train is often how we do life. Upbraiding oneself while training usually follows you into your personal life. Yes, the chastisement is only for a moment, but it lingers, and I doubt the efficacy of it. Many years ago I decided that heaping huge amounts of self-criticism on oneself was a form of punishment. Once the punishment is doled out, however, it becomes ok to make the mistake again. It’s like doing time for the crime. Of course we are always ready to castigate ourselves, and continue the vicious cycle forever.
Habits are formed over time, and some serve us more than others. Practice patience, and be kind to yourself. When you fall down; get up faster than you fell. When you make a mistake; fix it. When you get lazy; change it. When your efforts weaken; simply figure out how to improve it without adding the drama of self-loathing. Analyze your mistakes so that you can learn from them, but don’t pour the “hot oil of judgment” over yourself because of them. There is nothing strong about this behavior, and the process of letting go of these self berating responses will make your more productive, less tense, and a more powerful individual.