A Meditation on Not Being a Dick to Yourself
It’s possible to hold yourself accountable with compassion
A few days ago, I was sitting at the piano. It had been a while. I used to play pretty regularly, but these days I’m not what you’d call a musician. I’ll jam with my husband every once in a while, noodling with things by ear and messing around with chord progressions, but it had been years since I seriously sat down in front of a piece of sheet music to see if I could still sight-read.
Side note: Don’t get the impression I’m some kind of Renaissance woman here, it’s not like I nobly pursue the arts in my spare time because I’m virtuous and well-rounded. I only ended up at the piano because we’re quarantined in a pandemic and my husband and I had run through all 24 seasons of America’s Next Top Model, and now I was bored.
So I pulled out a Bach prelude, prepared to go as slowly as I needed to go, very maturely laying the groundwork for a nonstressful experience by reminding myself to breathe and be patient with myself. I was the very picture of emotional evolution! Pema Chodron herself would’ve been proud, and I made a mental note to tell my husband what a good job I’d done of practicing the shit I preach.
Seven minutes later I was literally sweating. I’d been stuck on the same four fucking measures, repeatedly making the same fucking mistakes, because I was a moron and I couldn’t figure out what the fingering was supposed to be. I kept getting stuck counting ledger lines because I’d been a lazy piece of shit who was wasting her bullshit brain on reality TV, and I couldn’t stop thinking that the last time I heard this fucking prelude was when some nine-year-old asshole played it at a recital. Flawlessly.
Don’t look at me, Pema. I’m hideous.
The tendency to resort to self-abuse when we miss the mark is an instinct. It’s not exactly an instinct that has intelligence to it (by which I mean, we rarely stop to investigate whether it’s useful) but it’s definitely an emotional reflex.
Shame is always promoting the idea that we didn’t just make a mistake, we are a mistake.