I recently attended a workshop given by Tara Brach called “True Refuge.” Hosted at Kripalu, my spiritual getaway, it was something I had been looking forward to

since seeing her speak at Omega Institute in July.

During the weekend, I sat for what should’ve been the perfect meditation. I prepared physically beforehand: I took a yoga class, relaxed in the hot tub, and ate a nutrient-dense dinner.

I closed my eyes…et voila! I nodded off, head bob and all.

My meditation was a wash.

Or was it?

There’s no such thing as a perfect meditation. Even the most experienced meditators will attest to the difficulty of staying alert and focused during meditation.

And yet, there I was judging myself for my imperfect meditation: how can I say that I practice it and teach mindfulness and yoga if I’m not “good” at it?

Imperfection as a gift

“It doesn’t matter what is happening, it’s how you are relating to it.”

It was a relief to hear this from Tara later that weekend. My “imperfect” meditation was an opportunity to see how I was relating to my judgment about my imperfection.

Do you find yourself becoming aggressive to yourself and your thoughts? Can you allow a sense of gentleness and self-care when you recognize judgments coming up?

One of my favorite Tara-isms is when she feels self-judgment or needs to nourish herself, she puts her hand on her heart and says “It’s okay, sweetheart.” The care we take with little children can be applied to ourselves.

Rehab judgment

How does this relate to a physical rehab process? Just like meditation, the healing process is imperfect, unpredictable, and takes practice.

One pattern comes to mind for men and women healing pelvic pain. They start to feel better then have a flare-up of pain. They might react by saying “I was so stupid to sit on that hard chair” or “I should have known better.”

Pain levels go up and down—this is a normal occurrence. It’s a part of the healing process to safely experiment with tolerance to activities that used to bother you before, so you can gauge your progress. This concept, called graded tolerance, is useful in reprogramming the brain.

We may not be able to control every trigger that causes pelvic pain. But the additional suffering of judging ourselves for living life and experimenting with activity tolerance is under our control. We can train our brains to learn to identify the automatic negative response, also know as the second arrow.

The second arrow

The first arrow is the physical pain. The second arrow is any negative judgment we have about it: thinking you are stupid or you messed things up. Tara explains in her blog, “Learning to Respond, Not React:”

“If we look at the way we move through the day, when something happens, when we have pain in our body, when somebody treats us in a way that feels disrespectful, when something goes wrong for someone we love, that’s the first arrow. Our mind and body go into a reactivity that does not help to bring healing. We blame others, we blame ourselves. That’s the second arrow.”

Learning from a non-so-perfect moment and reminding ourselves about the value of self-care is useful. Berating ourselves for not being perfect only distances us further from the ability to actualize self-care and self-acceptance. This process is not easy, so starting with small things is the key.

When we pause and see the second arrow, we have some options:

  • We can ground ourselves by feeling our feet on the floor or sitz bones in our chair.
  • We can soften the jaw and the belly.
  • We can imagine the heart opening and ribs softening as we inhale.

You may not be able to block the first arrow—the pelvic pain—but you can intercept the second arrow.