This morning, I went outside to do my routine. My routine consists of a little bit of six painful activities: sitting, standing, walking, running, squatting, and stairs. For the last two months I have been slowly increasing how much of each I do: one more stair, 15 seconds more walking, like that. This week I had a big flare up of knee pain, so today I could only manage less than half of what I’ve been doing, and even that gave me pain.
It left me frustrated and angry. I came back into the house and just wanted to escape. I scooped brownie ice cream into a mug, pulled a jug of orange juice from the fridge, and sat down in despair to watch Netflix.
Then, almost involuntarily, I stopped. Because I could feel that there was no kindness, which has become a warning sign for me. Instead, I found self-judgment: you shouldn’t be eating ice cream and watching Netflix at 11am, you overdid it this morning, you’ll never recover, etc. I remembered my intention to be kind to myself. But I was feeling far from kind. So I closed my eyes and put my hand on my heart, and started to whisper, “I would like to be kind to myself. I would like to be kind to myself.” I said it slowly and deliberately, not knowing if it would have an effect, not caring even, just knowing that this was what I wanted.
When I opened my eyes a minute later and looked into my mug of ice cream, I did not feel the same compulsion to eat it. I ate the last scoop slowly, with pleasure. Then I looked back at the computer. I still felt the urge to watch Netflix. But instead of doing what I usually do—either go ahead and watch (with self-judgment), or resist my temptation and struggle to do something “more productive”—I gave myself permission to do whatever I wanted. If I wanted to watch Netflix, that was OK, and if I didn’t, that was OK.
And I was surprised to discover that what I wanted to do was just to feel the wanting. To feel the buzz in my chest, the pressure in my ribs, the slight strain in my back as I leaned toward the computer. And as I stopped resisting my temptation to watch and instead began to feel it in my body, it lost its hold over me. I no longer wanted to escape. I didn’t want to watch Netflix or eat ice cream anymore, because this moment as it was felt okay, felt bearable.
Instead, I opened the computer to write this post.
I’m not sure what the moral of this story is. Maybe that, contrary to everything I’ve been taught, resisting my temptations doesn’t erase them. Neither does punishing myself for indulging them. It’s only when I stop resisting my temptations, give them some friendly space, and actually feel them in my body, that they lose their power over me.
What a revelation.