Adventures in Learning

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Photo: Peg Ryan

There are few certainties in life.  No matter how much knowledge we’ve accumulated, it’s still safe to say that life is about learning.  One of my favorite song lines comes from Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock song: “I don’t know who I am, but life is for learning”.  So if you’re afraid to come to a class because you think you won’t know what to do, try to remember that none of us (myself included!) knew what to do when we first started.  Everything I do now is a result of trying, adapting and practicing.  There was no innate ability or talent.  Just a desire to learn and consistent effort.  Often in the beginning, and certainly as my body as changed through the years, I have had to accept the realities of my abilities and adapt my practice accordingly.  Surprisingly it is not that difficult.  I’ve been able to continue to benefit from my practice even though my movement may not look the same as someone with a different body type or capabilities.

For the past few weeks I’ve been suggesting that we reframe some of our approaches in order to let go of what has become the default reaction and allow ourselves a different experience simply by thinking differently.  So here is another opportunity:  instead of approaching a new activity with fear and insecurity, try thinking of it as an adventure in learning.  When we were children everything was new and unknown.  The only way to learn was to take that leap without knowing what to expect. Meditation teachers often use the term “beginner’s mind”.  This refers to one’s initial experiences with the practice when everything is new.  No preconceived notions.  No judgments.  No right or wrong. No expectations. Try thinking of your movement practice this way.  Start slow and simple and give it some time.  Stay with the experience rather than focusing on outcomes or even goals.  If something seems difficult, instead of saying “I can’t do that” try instead thinking “Maybe I can find a different way to do that.”  Make the movement smaller or slower or do fewer repetitions.  Try different approaches like bending your knees. Use your fists or forearms instead of your wrists.  Incorporate props like pillows or blankets.  There are so many different ways to make your practice your own.  Each day your experience may be different. Approach each effort with a “beginner’s mind” and allow it to be a new experience.

The bodies we inhabit are miraculous.  Each of us is a precise collection of muscles, bones, veins and nerves with systems that keep it all working together. Work with your systems and let them work for you. We have the incredible senses of sight, taste, touch, hearing and smell.  Instead of lamenting what you can’t do, remember all the things you can do and adapt what you want to do accordingly.  Celebrate your ability to move and breathe and treat these profound capacities with the reverence they deserve.  It’s never too late to try something new.

Eliminating Obstacles

We’re 3 days into the new year so perhaps you’ve already begun to implement your new year’s resolutions.  Of course, the odds are against you, but I’m sure you know that.  No need to be negative, though.  Most of us have been here before so we know that setting the intention helps, but all those good intentions tend to get derailed as soon as some inevitable obstacle gets in the way.  Goal-setting can be good, but it might be a better idea to take a look at some of those obstacles and see if there is a way to circumvent them.  Example:  don’t like getting up early for an 8:00 AM class?  Try reminding yourself that you don’t have to do it every day.  Start with one day a week.  When you struggle to get out of bed that day, remember that you don’t have to do it again for another week.  Tell yourself that you will only go for a little while.  Set a time limit:  “I’ll try it for 15 minutes and if I don’t feel better I’ll stop.” Or tell yourself you’ll take a nap as soon as you get home.  As I’ve often said, getting out of bed is half the battle. Perhaps even more than half.  Once you’re up, you’re already there.  

Years ago I taught a 6:00 AM aerobics class.  Everyone who came was very dedicated, but also half asleep when they showed up.  No one talked at the beginning of class.  Also no one paid attention to what anyone else was doing because it was all they could do to get themselves moving.  So no one cared what anyone else was wearing.  Or whether or not they were keeping the beat or making the same move as everyone else.  But move they did in whatever way worked for each person.  By the end of the class everyone was relaxed, smiling and ready to meet the day.  Sound good?  You, too, can feel that way.  

How about trying a short-term resolution?  Commit to one day a week for 6 weeks. When you complete that, you can make that same resolution all over again.  Or perhaps expand it to a couple of days a week or a longer time frame.  And if your resolve falls apart, make a new beginning.  Here’s a quote from Carl Bard that I’ve always liked:

“Although no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.”

Bite off small chunks and set yourself up for success instead of failure.  Then you can pat yourself on the back and even reward yourself when you achieve that success.  If timing is not your obstacle, take a look at what makes you stumble.  Explore alternatives.  Enlist the help of a friend.  Take it slow.  Let go of expectations and outcomes. The process is what counts.  What you actually accomplish is likely to be totally different from what you expected.  Make your health and well-being a priority.  You won’t be sorry.