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.
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.