Looking for Life’s “Aha!” Moments

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There are times when you may find yourself in the middle of a class getting annoyed by what you perceive is your lack of ability.  You may start to lament letting yourself go or waiting so long to begin. Or you may start believing that getting older automatically implies loss of ability.  Or maybe you see what the person next to you is doing and start beating yourself up because you feel like you can’t do the same thing. This drumbeat can become a self-fulfilling prophecy; that is, saying “I can’t” means “I can’t”. Personally, I hate hearing the words “I can’t”. It’s amazing to me how easily we downgrade our abilities.  These negative thoughts can become what Sharon Salzberg refers to in a recent blog post on onbeing.org as “inner landmines”.  They can trip you up and derail your efforts before you even know what’s impacting you. Sometimes the attack can be so severe that it triggers thoughts of giving up.  It can even be the first brick in a wall of resistance that keeps you from believing that you can change. 

This is just plain wrong.  Recent brain research continues to prove that we are never too old to change.

If you find yourself in this type of negative spiral, it might help to stop and examine what is creating that resistance.  It probably has nothing to do with the person next to you.  It has much more to do with how you see yourself.  Instead of focusing on what you think is wrong with what you’re doing, how about celebrating the fact that you are there doing it. Think of all the people you know who give in to their inner “boogey men” and don’t even try.  Here you are making the effort.  That’s special!  You may think that effort isn’t perfect, but whatever you’re doing is better than not doing it at all.  Through the years I have seen (and I have had!) many “aha!” moments when something that seemed so elusive suddenly becomes clear and do-able.  Think of riding a bike.  Or that subject you took in school that seemed so opaque.  Whatever block you overcome, it soon becomes so effortless you begin to wonder what was so troubling.  I recently heard a description by a father of his son’s first steps.  The child took one step and suddenly his little face lit up when he realized he was still standing and could take another. Sure, he fell shortly thereafter, but it was enough success to inspire him to keep trying.

Maybe you have always downplayed your abilities.  Some of us have been raised to believe that this is a form of necessary modesty.  More often, though, these thoughts have morphed into demons that hold us back from trying new things or pursuing something we’ve always wanted to do.  Despite this self-directed negativity, most of us are capable of incredible compassion towards others.  It is not being selfish or even self-centered to believe that you are just as deserving of compassion as everyone else in your life.

So allow yourself some of the generosity you are so willing to bestow on others.  The first rule of yoga is “ahimsa” which is usually translated from Sanskrit as “non-violence”.  We are not capable of non-violence toward others until we first learn to be non-violent toward ourselves. Subjecting ourselves to “inner landmines” hardly qualifies as non-violence.  Even if you’re the only one that knows.

When you hit a wall with your practice remember the rule of ahimsa.  Be gentle with yourself.  Maybe you need to just stop, take a breath and try again another time. Or try making the best effort you can make at this time regardless of how far away from your ideal you think it might be. Either way you can’t lose.  Mindful effort is always better than not trying at all. And practice works. Keep trying and you will improve. You may never look like your neighbor but that doesn’t mean that you are not achieving the desired result.  Even when you think the results are less than optimum you’re probably improving more than you realize. Reward yourself for the effort you’ve made and smile!  Give yourself a break and applaud your achievement. After all, you showed up and that’s half the battle.

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Take Advantage of This Moment

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There are several people in my life right now who are suffering from serious illnesses.  These conditions seemed to arrive out of nowhere.  In particular, I am thinking of two people who considered themselves healthy and active prior to the sudden onset of illness.  This has caused me to again spend some time reflecting on the fragility of human beings, the impermanence of all things and the sacred nature of time.  Time is a precious commodity.  We don’t understand it, but one thing that is certain is that it only moves in one direction:  forward.  Relentless forward motion.  We can’t stop it and we can’t back it up.  Yet still we waste so much of it dwelling in the past or worrying about the future.  

So it becomes especially important to celebrate each moment.  No matter how much you think you lack or wish things were different from what they are, chances are if you really pay attention to the moment you are in right now – THIS moment – there is almost certainly at least one thing for which you can be grateful.  Consider these questions:  Do you have enough to eat today?  (Maybe too much, but that’s another story!) Do you have a place to sleep tonight that is protected from the weather?  Are you breathing?  Maybe your breathing is labored or difficult, but if you’re on the planet and conscious, chances are you’re breathing.  That’s a miracle right there. Take a moment to just follow your next breath.  Think of how it contributes to your body’s well-being, even if it hurts.  It costs nothing to pay attention to your breath and it will bring you back to the present.  

Reflecting on what’s right in this moment (as opposed to what you think is “wrong”) can help you to focus on the positive aspects of your life. That may be difficult at times, so it helps to develop a practice to bring yourself back to those positives as soon as you recognize that you’ve slipped into negative thinking – that is, lamenting what’s passed or fearing what’s ahead.  Recently I heard a suggestion for an anxiety-relieving practice:  if you’re feeling anxious or fearful try looking around you and making a list of everything you see.  It might help bring you back to the present moment or at least provide a distraction.  If you read this blog you know, I’m a strong advocate of practice of any type. That’s because it works.  The more you practice – anything – the more it becomes part of your life. Pretty soon it is so natural that you can’t imagine being without that practice and you miss it if something keeps you from it.  

Since time is so valuable we all want to maximize that value.  If you have ever been sick you know the value of good health. There are no guarantees, but there are things you can do to feel better and try to maintain good health.  These are not strange new techniques. We all know what to do. Eat healthy food, get enough sleep and keep your body moving to the best of its ability. Even these simple concepts vary from person to person.  There is no “one size fits all”.  We each have to find our own way.  But that means finding a place to start and following through. Even if you stumble, starting is the hardest part.  Once you do that, it’s easy to get up and try again or try something else.

Yoga and Pilates both help us to connect mind and body so that we can begin to understand what each of our bodies requires. Those requirements will change with time, but the more tuned in you are the more you will recognize when change is needed. If these disciplines don’t work for you, find something that does. There are a myriad of ways to support your body and all its complex systems.  Treating your body will also treat your mind. Whatever you choose, adopt it as a practice.  Set a regular schedule that you can stick to. Start as slow as you need to so that you know you can do it.  If you find you can’t stick to it, adjust the schedule.  Make it work for you.  Now is the time to take control of what you can control while you can control it. Take advantage of this moment. It’s the only you have.