Monthly Archives: March 2015

KEEPING OUR EYE ON THE PRIZE

It’s March. It’s actually three-quarters of the way into March, which means it’s over one-quarter of the way into 2015. Yikes! And also, slow down! But time never listens. He just keeps on tickin’ at the same speed day in and day out. As always, it is me who needs to slow down. Every so often – perhaps on days with which I find some extra moments of stillness to think – I think about my goals, take a brief inventory of my progress and, hopefully, refocus. Sometimes and for some goals, I’m pretty much on track. I get to pat myself on the back and just ride the momentum onward to the top of the mountain. Other times, with respect to other goals, I am shocked to notice where I am in comparison to where I intended to go.

Some goals send me clear signals to let me know when I am on or off track. Immediate gratification when I am practicing moderation in eating and drinking by the reward of energetic mornings, a happy attitude toward my wardrobe, and a fresh face to greet the day with. Or in contrast, when I am not practicing moderation or remembering my goals, I receive that swift kick in the butt, which comes in the form of ill-fitting jeans, indigestion, and the guilty memory of fried foods in the wee hours. It may not be fun, but it is simpleenough to observe these consequences, refocus and do better the next day. In other words, I don’t let myself get off track for too long because honestly, I wouldn’t have anything to wear, and that would be a real problem. Though I stray here or there and would like to find more balance, I can at least return to my intentions in a relatively short amount of time.

It is those other goals that are more lofty or idealistic, which tend to have more subtle consequence-signals to remind me that I am getting off track. Being kind to strangers, living authentically, speaking from the heart, leading by example. You know, those little ole things. Those goals can be up in the sky and I don’t look up to see them and remember them very often. Days and weeks go by that I haven’t consciously been any kinder to the strangers I’ve encountered than that State Clerk was to me when I was waiting in line at the DMV for a new driver’s license. Getting caught up in the hustle and bustle at work, the mundane annoyances and the running of errands, I forget to lead by an example of openness and selflessness. Instead, I become short and snappy with an attitude of “figure it out for yourself.”

And then this one here . . . I was specifically instructed by my 97-year-old grandmother this last July that I am to “wait for the very best one.” She’s not worried that I’m in my 30’s and not married. She says it’s just as well, as it can take a good long while to find the very best one. Her words touched me deeply at the time and have ever since then when I stop to remember them. But how often do I look at the dating landscape with my grandma glasses on? Are the ones I am considering around me the “very best ones” by my grandma’s standards. Not even close. Not yet anyway. But I can get very far from the path to the very best one as I walk the roads of Nashville and make justifications for many of the candidates I see, or use my imagination to dream up how great they could be if I were to change them. I don’t think that’s what my grandma meant by waiting for the very best one. I think she meant WAIT. Until the best one comes along. Not attempt to change a mediocre one into a good one.

So again, how do I stay on track? How do I keep my eye on the prize? How do I remember the things I want and take the steps to get them or be ready for them when they come to me? Per usual, mindfulness stands out as a practice that could greatly help. Living with intention in every little thing. I can hear my dad as he used to lecture us kids when we’d gotten into trouble, “you’ve got to THINK before you DO.” It’s easy to go with the flow and do what all the other kids are doing, even when it is obviously leading to nowhere good. It’s harder to blaze your own trail. Sometimes mindfulness and living intentionally require us to stick to our own path, however long and hilly and solitary it may be. It also requires faith. We have to believe in our dreams with all of our might and have faith that our path will lead to the treasure, providing a beautiful journey along the way.

At the same time, part of that journey is the lesson of perseverance – getting back up when we fall. Not wallowing in our failures or being waylaid by some hurdle that comes along. Instead, when the difficulties come, we learn resiliency. I have to learn this lesson over and over again. I get better at it but I still have more practice ahead of me. In my yoga posture, when I fall out, I learn not to waste energy moping about the fact that it wasn’t as good as yesterday. I get back into it and make the most of the rest of the time I have to practice it that day. When I fall off my course, I must give myself grace, learn a lesson, and waste no time in getting back to living full-heartedly and giving my all to whatever it is I am doing.

In all this talk of keeping my eye on the prize and sometimes loosing sight of that prize, it may seem that all I do is criticize myself. But that is not my purpose. Self- reflection and critique is simply an expression of faith in ourselves – that we can become all of what we were made to be. An acknowledgement that the work in us is not yet finished and that our imperfections can be viewed through courageous eyes that aren’t afraid to see things as they are and believe in what can be.

I want to end with a short story. A story about balance and enjoying life. A girlfriend and I set out the other night to take a walk in the nice weather and maybe treat ourselves to a little something along the way. We walked and walked and talked and laughed as girls often do. We shared stories of growing up and teenage years and memories of family and friends. We talked about the people in our present lives and what they were going through and how we desired to be there for them. We stopped for some refreshments in the forms of hummus, pita, chips, and beers. We walked some more and stopped for a final treat. It was going to be just a coffee but some muffins in the display case looked so good, we had to try them. We shared a couple of muffins (we had to try both kinds). Something we don’t normally do in our anti-carb society. We laughed more and talked about all the things we love eating (like cereal and pad thai and Mitchell’s Deli sandwiches) …. like girls often do. The muffin was glorious, and the company was even better. We may not have planned to eat amuffin that day but you can’t plan everything. Women have been eating muffins together for hundreds of years, and there’s no reason we should stop now. It was, in actuality, a night of mindfulness as we thoroughly enjoyed every moment of being alive. “Intentions” came up more sporadically (less like planned intentions and more like “why nots?”) but we allowed them in. We talked about the past, we lived in the moment, and we created memories for the future. Mindful living in practice. Grace and flexibility with our intentions. Balance and authentic living.

THE MARATHON – BY SARAH NORRIS

This is a story about running but really it’s about yoga. And when we talk about yoga really we’re talking about life. They’re the same. How do we know that yoga is working? Our lives are better and more fulfilling; we have clarity and our relationships are improving.

The Sanskrit word prapti describes shortening the distance between where you are and what you want. Learning that where we choose to focus our energy is where our lives are going has been and remains the sweetest nectar of practice, even and sometimes especially when yoga/life is hard and hot, uncomfortable, aggravating, and there’s a voice in our heads telling us that we can’t go on or we’re not doing it right and should give up and admit defeat. I’ve developed over time so much compassion and gratitude for that voice—my harpy, ungenerous, frightened inner critic—because as soon as it suggests failure, I know I’m doing something right. To feel afraid I won’t succeed is proof that I’m taking a risk.

Growing up, I hated sports. Forced to serve time on teams, I wildly swung softball bats and slogged through swim practice, never hitting a home run or placing first. Assigned to defense on the soccer field, I skulked in the grass like Ferdinand the bull, braiding chain necklaces out of clovers. When the ball was kicked towards me, I jumped up and down, hands flapping, shrieking, “Somebody, do something!” In the seventh grade, I managed to get my orthodontic braces tangled in the badminton net during P.E. class. The universe had a message: it was better for everyone if I stayed on the bench.

After my father took over as our YMCA basketball coach when I was in fourth grade, he had a much higher stake in our victories and losses than I did. I would have preferred to hunker down with a paperback, lapping up a bowl of Rocky Road. Understanding that my dad and I would likely never bridge the divide between his obsession with and my aversion to activities that wouldn’t appeal to a housecat, I showed up for my basketball games to support him.

My father is a born-again super athlete. After college and before law school, during a period he refers to as the “lost years,” he supported himself as a pool player. He rented a creaky-floored apartment in Nashville, only blocks away from the house where he grew up on Fairfax, furnished with only a mattress on the floor. One day a little girl from an apartment above popped in and looked around before asking, “But where’s the television?”

The scope of his ambition changed one afternoon while hanging onto the door frame of his parents’ basement, when he realized he could only do one pull-up. Every morning since, for four decades, he’s woken up while it’s still dark so he can exercise. Last month, at 65, he finished a marathon in just over four hours, qualifying for Boston in 2016.

Throughout my twenties in New York City, I walked everywhere and practiced yoga, meditating regularly. As for running, I found it ridiculous that people willingly “did laps” or, on a treadmill, went nowhere as quickly as they could, with faces set in fierce and sometimes grim determination. I loved to sit still for hours, which I viewed as an integral part of my identity: not a competitive athlete.

Then one night, eating Chinese food shortly after my fiancé and I had broken off our engagement but were still together, I opened a fortune cookie that read, “You have to do the thing that you least want to do.” Stabbing a piece of tofu with one chopstick, I determined that the last thing I’d ever want would be to finish a marathon. Feeling waylaid in romantic purgatory—knowing my relationship was over but not having the guts yet to let it go—the prospect of running struck me as radical. Necessary. I resolved to take on a marathon. I’d do it with my dad.

“How about the half?” my dad suggested gently, offering to email me a training schedule. This will be a breeze, I told myself as I set out to jog the following morning. A few blocks later, legs aching, I realized I had no idea what I’d gotten myself into. I had to learn how to run. First, humiliatingly, I had to learn how to walk. What had my arms been doing my whole life? Coming along for the ride. They had no idea how to get involved in what my feet were doing. Anger about my inability to quit my relationship got me started but I kept running because I got hooked. I leapt through snow and cyclones of trash, when my fingertips turned white from the cold, and on the evenings when I wanted most to get together with friends to drink red wine on fire escapes instead of taking Epsom salt baths because my body was so sore. Still, again, most days for months, I forced myself through those clunky rhythms until it was easier and more satisfying to run than not.

On race day my dad and I stayed side by side. Or, rather, he slowed his pace to stay with me. He timed every mile so we wouldn’t burn out in the beginning. After awhile, I didn’t mind the rain on my face and the cramp in my calf went away. When we got to the 13-mile mark in less than two hours, my father slowed down to let me cross first. I bounded over the final 30 feet in a rush of endorphins and gratitude for my dad. I hadn’t broken any records, but secretly it stood as my triumphant Rocky moment: the reward in every step. I had challenged my view of who I was and what I was capable of, and the result was victory to my spirit. I felt my heart pounding; I felt strong in my body. My relationship with my then-boyfriend wasn’t over yet but in that moment I knew that it would end and that I would be OK.

The idea that sweating and effort wasn’t for me? Or that it was best if I didn’t show up? Or showed up only to give up? These were only as true as I’d made them, and they weren’t anymore.

Now 34 and happier than I’ve ever been, I choose joy every day. I choose bliss. That doesn’t mean that I don’t get upset, sad or frustrated, but I know that how I react is my responsibility. I choose to be here, wherever I am, and learning from as well as teaching my students to be present. That’s the breath. That’s the amazing grace of being present. On my steering wheel I taped a little piece of paper that reads, “It’s not them.” When I lose patience or get distracted or overwhelmed, I know I need to let it go. I know I can come back. I keep coming back. I fall and come back. I take bigger risks now, succeeding more and also failing better, with more courage. I don’t run regularly but I’m on my mat most days. Sometimes when I don’t feel want to, when it’s hard and my eyes sting from sweat and I have a to-do list that’s spilling over. It’s never a mistake to practice. I don’t always do what I know I need to do in order to show up and be my best in the world, but I know that practice is one of those cores. The times I feel I’m too busy or stressed are when I need it most. The extent to which we feel annoyed by anything in our lives is the extent to which we need our yoga practice.

To show up, to stay the course, to stay focused and intentional, to forgive myself when I get distracted and return to being mindful of my breath and to be present, to get comfortable getting uncomfortable, to trust this process as a catalyst for growth physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually: that’s the practice. That’s prapti. It’s giving up complaining and excuses to make room for what we truly desire. No one else can do this for us. If you’re searching for that one person who can change our lives, look in the mirror.