As some of you know, I am a major podcast fan. It’s one of the main ways in which I stay connected even while living in a rural area. I often say that the things I am most grateful for (not necessarily in order) are:
a caring husband and extended family;
the amazing and wondrous community that has so graciously folded me in here in the Black Hills giving me unconditional love, support and healing without my asking;
yoga and Pilates – I categorize them as one “thing” since they have both provided me with life-sustaining and strengthening practices; and
finally – podcasts!
Of course, there are many other things for which I am grateful including a nice place to live and the means to have everything I need. But the items above provide an essential source of support and assistance on a daily basis.
It may seem like podcasts don’t belong in such an auspicious list, but they have become a huge part of my life. Although I have always been an avid reader, podcasts have broadened my world in ways that I have not experienced since my college days many years ago. In case you don’t know what a podcast is, it is defined by Google as “A digital audio file made available on the Internet for downloading to a computer or portable media player, typically available as a series, new installments of which can be received by subscribers automatically.”
This morning I was listening to a podcast produced by the New York Times Book Review. This episode included an interview with author Meghan Daum who was recently hired by the NY Times to write a regular column on memoirs. During the interview Ms. Daum referenced a memoir she had written titled Life Would be Perfect if I Lived in That House. Admittedly I have not yet read this book. So I don’t really know what it’s about. But I loved the title! All of us can probably relate to it on some level. How many times have we wistfully thought, “if only I looked like her, or had his skills, or had a better job, or wasn’t so sick or had more money, etc. etc. etc.” Life would be so great if only this one thing were true. A variation of this sounds like, “when this happens, then I will be able to do that”. You can fill in your own version of “this” and “that”. And still another variation is “I could have been like X” or “I should be like Y”. A man I knew many years ago used to speak of the futility of “could’ve, would’ve, should’ve, if’s, and’s and but’s”. You may have also heard the term “machine gun but’s” which sound like “but, but, but, but . . . etc.” You know the drill. This type of thinking is basically code for “I wish things were different than they are.”
Many years ago I learned a valuable lesson. In a time of turmoil in my own life, I met a woman who seemed to perfect. She always looked serene and confident. She had a beautiful home, a loving husband, and charming young son. I thought, “If I was like her all my problems would go away and I would have nothing to worry about.” But as I got to know her better I was surprised to find that what I thought was so perfect had many huge flaws. There may have been external traits that thought I wanted, but beneath the surface lay a multitude of things I was so grateful that I didn’t have. It gave me a new appreciation for my own life despite its barnacles. Since that time I have found this to be true in every instance where I thought that someone else was experiencing some form of perceived perfection that seemed to elude me. The bottom line is that we all have flaws and we all have gifts. Our task is to celebrate the gifts and accept the flaws. Some can be addressed, others can’t. When it can’t be eliminated try to find a way to work with it or around it. Get out of your own way. Lamenting and complaining won’t solve the problem.
So here’s the deal: things are what they are. Of course, everything is always in a state of flux. Change is constant. But the way things change is generally unpredictable. People may think they can predict how things will change. And it may be a good idea to prepare for some potential changes, like weather or aging. But there is no way to know what will actually happen in the future until we get there. We can plan, but not predict. Sometimes things work out the way we expect, but often they don’t. So even as we prepare, we need to be ready for reality, whatever that happens to be. The more we can trust our ability to handle that reality, the less anxiety thoughts of the future will give us.
This week I heard two other quotes that inspired me: one was from Denver yoga teacher Jackie Casal Mahrou who said “Approach your yoga practice as an opportunity to surrender instead of struggle.” The other comes from Kundalini yogi Gurmukh: “Yoga is about self-acceptance, not self-improvement”. Of course self-improvement might result, but that’s a side benefit. Self-acceptance is the first goal.
Practicing yoga or Pilates or any discipline that connects mind and body will give you an opportunity to focus even for a short time on the current moment. So if you’re coming to a class worried that your version of the poses won’t be “right” or might be difficult or look different from what others in the class look like, stop worrying. Be who you are. Right now, this moment, you are everything you need to be. One of the best ways to practice yoga or Pilates or walking or any activity you want to do is to simply show up. Another Kundalini tenet offered by Yogi Bhajan as part of the Five Sutras of the Aquarian Age is “start and the pressure will be off.” Starting is the hard part. Once you start you can let go of your fears. One of the participants in my yoga class this week said, “During this class I was able to focus completely on what I was doing for about half of the class.” That’s a tremendous success! Think how good it would feel to have even a brief break from regreting the past or worrying about the future. That relief is right here in this moment. All it takes is practice.
It happened again this week. There were several tasks I had committed myself to and as I strove to complete them the afternoon wore on. Before I realized how much time had elapsed the shadows were beginning to lengthen. My plan had been to go for a walk that afternoon, but the day was quickly getting away from me. The days are shortening now, but fortunately the mild temperatures are mostly holding and daylight still extends at least until 6:30 or 7:00. So despite the late hour, there was still time to get at least half an hour or 45 minutes worth of walking before the light expired. But I was in the grip of inertia. In case you’ve forgotten your high school physics, the basic law says that a body at rest tends to stay at rest and a body in motion tends to stay in motion. We’ve talked many times about how hard it is to get moving again after we’ve stopped. This applies to the short term also.
My tasks had kept me sitting in front of the computer and now all I could think of was all of the things I had not finished and still needed to do. But I forced myself to get out of the chair and put on my walking shoes. “I can finish all this later,” I thought and repeated it like a mantra until I began to believe it. As usual, within 10 minutes of putting one foot in front of the other I was so glad that I had gotten outside that all of those undone tasks quickly faded into the background. My whole body responded to the movement, the air, the sunlight, the colors and smells of the great outdoors. When I finished my walk I was so glad I had taken the time. And, amazingly, I was still able to get everything done that I wanted to complete that day. Anything left undone was really not so important after all.
Sometimes we feel the lure of perceived demands and deny ourselves the nourishment we need for our own mental and physical health. You may have heard it said, “when I’m on my death bed the last thing I will regret is not spending more time cleaning my house” or at the office or doing any number of mundane things that we convince ourselves are necessary. Certainly completing these jobs can give us a sense of satisfaction. In the case of employment-related tasks sometimes our income may seem to depend on their timely completion. But how often does an extra 10, 20 or even 30 minutes really make a difference? Even when you imagine that other people are depending on you, surprisingly in most cases all those other people will find a way to manage on their own during your absence. If you get up from your desk and walk around the room, or go up and down the nearest staircase, or outside in the parking lot, or simply spend 15 minutes stretching, will you even remember next week, or next month or next year that you took that time off? In the long run it really won’t matter. Most of us expect a level of perfection from ourselves that is usually not required. Unless you’re a surgeon. But even then, you still need to take time off and recharge your own internal batteries or your skills will decline and that precision will fade away. I certainly wouldn’t want that overworked surgeon operating on me!
Think about how you treat yourself if you miss a deadline or fall short of your own exacting standards. Now think about how you would treat a friend if they did the same thing. Chances are you would make allowances for the friend. You might say, “Don’t worry about it. You did the best you could.” Would you give yourself the same leeway? In general, we are much harder on ourselves than we are on anyone else in our lives. Try letting yourself off the hook. After all, you will most likely have another opportunity to do that same task at another time and maybe you’ll do it differently next time.
In the long run the time you take to boost your physical and mental will serve you well. In all aspects of your life. Not taking that time may be far more dangerous than any consequences that might arise when you take that time. And here’s a surprising fact: even if you don’t complete all the tasks you set for yourself, the world will still turn, daylight will still arrive on time and the people who care about you will still care about you. I suppose there are always cases for argument. But instead of wasting your precious time making those arguments, how about going for that walk instead. Or build time for a class into your schedule. Most of you know I teach classes so I consider myself committed to that time. But just like everyone else I need my own renewal time in order to be the best I can for those who come to my classes. I consider my “alone time” to be sacred space. I try not to let anything encroach on that space. Surprisingly it is really not that hard to schedule around the time you take for yourself. It just takes a commitment.
Moving your body is a great way to nurture yourself and renew your energy. No matter what it is you need to do, you will be able to do it better if you take care of yourself first. Then, instead of berating yourself for your shortcomings, you can pat yourself on the back for making a positive difference in your own life. What could be more important than that!