I've been doing yoga for 15 years. I should be able to do a headstand .
I've been teaching for 11 years. I should be able to get hired by a studio.
I have worked hard on my issues. I shouldn't act like _____ (fill in the blank) anymore.
I know dairy hurts my stomach. I shouldn't ever eat it again.
I love my kids. I shouldn't ever lose my temper with them.
I feel better when I meditate. I should be able to quiet my mind.
Please tell me I'm not alone in falling into the trap of the "should" and "should nots." I know I shouldn't (there's that word again) fall into this trap, but yet I do. Frequently. One of the best things I learned from an otherwise overly-coddling counselor was to evict the word "should" from my vocabulary.
Because what good does "should" do? When I use it, I quickly disregard all the work I've done to rediscover my self-esteem, self-worth, and inspiration. It holds me back from learning from mistakes and triumphs, sets me up for unfair expectations on perceived behavior, and practically guarantees discontent. It doesn't respect the process of becoming a more forgiving, better person towards myself and towards everyone else. And yet, it continues to happen. It "shouldn't," but it does.
I believe it happens so often because I fall into the trap of perfection constantly. As a sensitive, people-pleasing person, I am quick to point the finger of judgment right back to heart center when I "fail."
But really, the “should show” is a tempting rabbit hole. It becomes self-referential, in a sense. By falling short and then saying “I should/nt”, I conveniently stop real growth and give up instead. Using "should" too often limits me from trying. It's a rut, a groove that becomes more and more imbedded the more often "should" thinking settles into my consciousness. Failures and mistakes "shouldn't" happen. They happen. Constantly. It's called life.
If I were on time always, there would be something else I'd chase that I "should" magically discover. If I could "nail' every complicated yoga pose, I wouldn't have a chance to find humility every day. Yoga is a working towards, a process, always allowing for something new and magical to happen on the mat. It has less to do with perfecting a pose than with quieting our minds to move towards real inner peace. An arbitrary set of "should" rules for a yogi to follow flies in the face of what real yoga means.
If I were hired by a studio by some magical turn of the universe, I wouldn't have discovered the happiness I've recently found in creating my own little business. Since I started leading yoga classes in the park a few weeks ago, I have tapped into an immense amount of inspiration. I turned "should" around in that case, although I now find myself saying "I should have done this years ago." It seems that little word continues to haunt me, even in the midst of small successes.
If I met some elusive end point for "fixing my issues," where would I go from there? I'd be a boring person who would most likely find some other "shoulds" to hold myself back. How would I improve and continue to grow if I weren't constantly messing up? Issues are meant to be another example of working towards something - with the invariable small steps forward and (sometimes) huge leaps backwards.
I can honestly say that through my many mistakes I've learned more about myself to become a better spouse, enjoying a more secure, deep, loving marriage. That includes the days when I loathe myself, the days when I honestly don’t know how to move away from a fixed pattern. Even if I "should" have mastered a new course through years of counseling. But then, the next day, I wake up clear-headed, joyful, and hopeful. When I learn to unstick the "should" and take small steps towards something greater, a sort of magic happens.
Some days, I will have a piece of pizza and be once again surprised that my stomach hurts. No room for "should" in eating, because by setting up an unrealistic standard I will fall. I know myself. Some days I am eating 95% clean, while other days it becomes more like 70%. I have learned how to push past "should" and practice forgiveness instead, allow those mistakes to temporarily trip me up. I would never expect anyone to be 100% at anything so why would I expect that for myself? It seems so simple, writing these words down. But it's hard to accept and embrace. The more I do, though, the more freedom I feel.
Why shouldn't I lose my temper with my kids? They can be overwhelming, loud, cranky, selfish, and impossible. Just like me. Just like they can also be loving, hilarious, sweet, considerate and amazing. Also like me. I think way too many parents berate themselves for messing up, even as we give our kids passes every day for their mistakes. "Should" when it comes to parenting needs to be uprooted and cast away so the real business of parenting can flow more easily.
As for meditation, I am learning that the fluctuations of our minds, even (especially?) in stillness become the whole point. Not something to run from, to judge ourselves for. The magic of meditation lies in the small spaces between thoughts, when we observe those silent connections in the breath that offer a glimpse of pure joy. Without thoughts and distractions, meditation would be easy. "Should" becomes an unnecessary obstacle, creating something unattainable and unrealistic, keeping us away from the point of the journey: freedom and peace, discovered in small ripples.
Some days I am still going to jump right through that rabbit hole of "should" and not want to come up for air. More days, however, I am choosing to see mistakes and obstacles as opportunities. I have to say that today, by doing things that give me real purpose and drive, surrounding myself with knowledge and like-minded people, I feel happier, more content, and more blessed than ever before.
Before, when I chose the path of "perfection" and its eventual double - edged dead end: malaise and low self-worth, I used the word should every day, several times a day. I believe a small part of me stayed stuck, chipping away at my potential when I did so.
Not every day will be a success, as “should” can be stubborn and relentless, but today I choose to take a big step over the rabbit hole. I look up instead at an open road with potholes, divets and uneven surfaces, but one that continues to move forward to the horizon. Leading towards the vast journey of possibility, without a "should" in sight.