Last Wednesday I saw the effervescent Danielle La Porte here in Melbourne and, as always, she spoke a lot of truth about womanhood, wellbeing and the search for peace.
At the beginning of the evening she asked for a show of hands as she listed off a range of personal development/wellbeing activities and asked who had partaken in them. Past life regression, juicing, detoxing, colonics, meditation, fasting, tantra… the list went on and on. The crowd – filled with women on a path to fulfilment – eagerly participated – laughing as Danielle feigned how impressed she was with our collective commitment to putting in the wellness and spiritual hard yards. In the interest of full disclosure – my hand shot up a lot as well.
What she was alluding to, however, was a mentality far darker than the light hearted nature in which she approached the subject – in essence she was drawing attention to our collective addiction to spiritual materialism, or wellness ‘point scoring’.
It’s a topic that I too am passionate about addressing since all too often I have conversations with clients, friends and yes, probably in my own head too, that start something like this. ‘I know I should be meditating and eating better but…’. Or ‘I feel so guilty because I didn’t take my supplements this week’. ‘I really want to feel more energy but I go all in on a health regime or diet and then feel like a failure when I can’t keep it up’.
Just a compassionate reminder my loves – wellness ain’t supposed to make you feel stressed or guilty.
The ‘wellness guilt complex’, as I like to refer to it has several roots.
First, we live in a culture obsessed with ‘more of’ rather than ‘less than’. The intimate linkage between the wellness industry and the capitalist structures pray on our insecurities and propagate the notion that the more things we can do for our wellness, the better off we’ll be. This leads to a mentality of keeping score – of fitting more wellness stuff into our day – rather than fostering a mentality of quality, rather than quantity. We don’t believe that doing yoga for 10 minutes at home ‘counts’ and therefore we choose not to do anything rather than doing it half assed. See my blog post on overcoming perfectionism if this guy resonates with you.
The antidote to this particular belief is to get to know yourself inside and out. Learn what particular activities you feel drawn to because they nourish your body, mind and soul, and differentiate those activities from those you feel compelled to do because everyone else is doing them. Only through an intimate knowing of yourself, and a letting go of what other people’s wellness journeys look like, will you start to shed some of the wellness guilt you might be feeling.
Second, we are kept prisoner by the image in our head, our ego. The image that we are striving for that is, for the most part, created not by our own real desires but by what we think will allow us to be loved by other people. The more we cling onto this image, the harder we strive to become her. The woman with the great body and the perfect job and the great family and the incredible sex life. This woman has us running on a hamster wheel of wellness – them more we stress about getting to her, the more we drain our energy and put physiological strain on our bodily systems. That wheel isn’t doing anyone any good and neither is that image. No-one has perfect work-life balance and I don’t believe that striving for that goal itself is allowing us to become any healthier or happier.
Instead, what would it feel like to strive to be and love yourself just as you are? Adopting an attitude of friendliness and compassion to yourself and changing the way you speak about yourself will, over time, reduce the insane pressure you put on yourself and in itself improve your overall wellbeing.
The third belief that keeps us circling in wellness guilt-land is the myth of externalities. We believe that happiness and wellbeing is out there – something to be attained, bought and owned rather than a set of feelings and qualities to be nurture, fostered and compassionately returned to when things get a little darker. We feel like once we get ‘there’ (and there could be getting a promotion at work, buying a house, getting fit, having the perfect diet), things will be instantly better. And while I’m not saying we shouldn’t work toward things or have desires, I am saying that we need to be clear what desires we have are based in fear and what are based on helping you grow and accept the person you truly are.
Dr Shefali – the auther of ‘The Awakened Family’ speaks about the need to let go of our attachment to extraneous things in order to be truly aligned as a parent and person. She argues that while it’s not ‘bad’ to want to buy a house, for example, we have to be very clear about why we are doing it. If the house will enable us to live out our purpose than the desire is probably a great thing to work toward – if, however, the desire is driven by getting approval by others, buying into the groupthink about what constitutes success or if there’s a ‘once I do it’ conditionality attached to it, then some work might be needed on letting go of the need to seek external validation rather than intrinsic reward. This idea can be applied to wellness – if our intention or motivation is centered on our desire to personally grow or to be more loving to others, then we are more likely to stick at it and be fulfilled in doing the tasks. If the reason for doing it, however, is to get external validation and approval, we will never arrive since most people don’t ever get the validation they are truly seeking. We must learn to give it to ourselves.
One of the most common complaints I get when I draw attention to this notion is ‘but if I don’t push myself to do it, then I’ll never do it’. Trust me when I say that if you are reading this blog you do not have a problem getting shit done. For you, the real challenge is learning to surrender, let go and be. Focusing on fostering these qualities will do more for your wellbeing than any amount of ‘doing’ ever will.
The last belief that keeps us feeling as guilty as a puppy who has dug up the garden is the ‘all or nothing’ belief, alluded to above. Read this following sentence as many times as necessary to really embody the message.
It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it that’s important.
I’m willing to bet that hating yourself into training for and running a half marathon, for example will be more deleterious for your wellbeing in the long term than doing ten minutes a day of gentle jogging in a friendly, compassionate way. Wellbeing is the sum of a huge number of variables – the principle one being about the attitude you have to yourself and the way that you treat yourself.
No-one thrives in the long run when there is restriction, guilt and pressure. What we all seek, deep, deep down in the pits of our souls is to be loved. You have an opportunity to learn how to give that to yourself, and see how your wellbeing grows as a result.
Are you feeling a little guilty?! Ready to break the stress cycle and restore your zest for life?
I’m launching a new three month mentoring program for professional women in June 2017 called Love Yourself Well. With weekly calls, access to the exclusive Facebook group plus videos and workbooks – this program will help you finally ditch the guilt and stress and start defining wellbeing for yourself. Click here to join the VIP list and receive your personalised invite + early bird discount. Places will be strictly limited and you don’t want to miss out!