Monday, January 24, 2011

Accepting it all

I have written before about my ongoing struggle with acceptance. This weekend caused me to think about it again, as I dealt with cold weather, loss of sleep and work crises. I became more irritable as the weekend went on, culminating in a serious bad mood when the Bears lost yesterday. Why did I feel so out of whack? I started to take a good look at my thoughts and realized I'd fallen into my old pattern. During challenges, I tend to really really wish things were different than they are. I walk outside in the winter and think if only it were warmer. Or I wish the Bears defense would play better. Or I hold a long pose in yoga class and grit my teeth, wishing we could only straighten our legs! My mind grasps at what it would prefer, rather than accepting what actually is. That takes up a lot of energy, and, I'm sure you can already tell, brings down my mood.

If I'm convinced this moment isn't right, that it could be better, and wish it were over, I am focused on what I'm lacking. I feel cheated and angry that I don't have what I want right now, whether it's peace and quiet or warm sunshine. I deserve it, right? My thoughts create this atmosphere of negativity, and I end up feeling lousy. It's amazing how many times I find myself wallowing in these thoughts, though. I have been trying to recognize when this is happening, and it's pretty much all day long. Noticing the pattern, however, allows me to do something to alter it.

I have a choice, after all, about the direction my thoughts take me. I can push away the present, longing for something better, or I can accept this moment as it is. When I breathe into a challenge, I find resiliency, the ability to come through adversity unchanged. Once I let go of the tugging and grasping, I can let go of my anger and frustration. Every moment is perfect as it is. I want to spend less energy wishing for something different and more finding the beauty in the here and now. Patterns are often deeply ingrained, and this is one of my deepest. I know if I take it a moment at a time, I can make real change.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Beginners' Mind

I have had a few seriously challenging yoga classes recently. I have to say, I found myself getting frustrated and even a bit mad at the teacher for doing difficult sequences and poses I could not achieve. I left the first such class feeling all out of sorts. At the second one, the teacher mentioned a Zen concept called Beginners' Mind. Wikipedia defines this as "having an attitude of openness, eagerness and a lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even at an advanced level." I started to think about the practice in a different way.

When I first started yoga, every pose was a revelation. I didn't know what would happen, I had no idea there were Sun Salutations that were done in the same order every time, and I didn't expect to be able to do every pose. Far from it! I developed a sense of humor about myself that I didn't have anywhere else in my life. I could attempt the impossible, like an arm balance, or my first nemesis pose, Ardha Chandrasana, and laugh if I fell. Somewhere in the last 3 years I've lost some of this ability. I needed a healthy dose of Beginners' Mind for sure!

Think back to when you started something new: learning an instrument, trying a new computer program, or a new dance move. I'm sure you learned to take things one step at a time, without jumping ahead or trying to learn everything at once. Clearly you didn't expect greatness the first time around, or even the second or third. Unfortunately, for so many of us, that eagerness and openness quickly gets replaced by a fight to the finish, and an expectation of perfection. We become dissatisfied or even angry if we can't get it just right. That's exactly where I found myself on my mat.

Now I could be frustrated at my teachers for kicking it up a notch, or I could see this as the opportunity it clearly represents: to return to my starting point. Be a novice again. I shouldn't be able to do every pose, because that's where I've been (mostly) for a while now, and my practice was feeling a bit stale. I no longer had the feeling that I could walk out of class and deal with anything life threw my way. I didn't have to work or foster a sense of humor in the face of a challenge, so I stopped trying as hard. I was coasting. I am hitting the reset button, to find that eagerness and lack of preconception again. Where might you be treading water in life? Can you step forward by looking at it with the mind of a beginner?

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Do Your Own Pose

I had pose envy in yoga class last week. A beautiful yogini on the mat next to me held handstand for a couple of minutes, and I was in awe. My heels were touching the wall, as I tried to come away and balance for a few seconds at a time, while she was just holding there, still and strong. Wow. Anyone who has attended a yoga class has experienced this feeling, I'm sure. There are people who seem to be able to do every pose, or look like the cover of Yoga Journal. Now, I know that yoga isn't about the perfect pose, but I sometimes get into my head and start to wonder if I'll ever look that steady, that strong.

The ego doesn't have a place in yoga. Yet, as humans, our egos are often the strongest part of us. We are used to competition, constant striving to be better, or even perfect. In yoga, we start where we are. We recognize every pose can be modified to fit every individual, and that no one is going to resemble anyone else, on or off the mat. Sometimes I need to remind myself to turn my attention back to my own practice. The best classes are when I am so into the flow, I don't notice anyone or anything else. Later I can't recall what order we did the poses, or what songs were played. That is when I lose my ego and it's all about the breath and the flow. Peace in my mind and in my heart.

So I reminded myself last week to do my own pose. My friend on the mat next to me has a different practice and a different starting place than I do. I don't need to emulate her or wish to be like her. I can applaud her beauty and grace and recognize that every being in the room has something different to offer. I try to keep my ego out of the yoga studio. I'm certain it will be there waiting for me when I leave, but the more often I can set it aside for any length of time, the closer I get to true freedom.

Monday, January 3, 2011


I have been working through the darkness of winter by trying to focus on gratitude. I admit I don't like the cold, the gray days are hard for me, and my bright light doesn't seem to be enough to start me off on the right foot every day. But every night before I go to sleep, I think of things I'm grateful for. Just for a short time. This deliberate exercise isn't Pollyanna-ish positive thinking, it's not cheesy or false. It is simply recognizing that I have a lot, even on days when I feel a lack.

Let's face it, if you're reading this blog, you likely have a roof over your head. That is definitely something to be grateful for, because there are clearly people for whom that isn't the case. The same is true for having enough food to eat, warm clothing and boots to keep your feet dry. Simple stuff, but these items alone can cue me into the abundance I have in my life. My heart starts to feel uplifted because I am grateful.

The people in our lives can obviously be a mixed bag. We can feel so thankful for friends and family, but loneliness affects a lot of people. We may feel sadness or loss thinking about relationships, but sometimes even the smallest encounter can be a reason to be thankful. I like to focus on a seemingly meaningless interaction, like the smile I received from someone in the hallway at work, or the coffee barista who is always so cheerful. I'm grateful for positive communication in any form, and enough small moments like these can turn a day around.

Some days it's harder to find things to list, but I can always come up with something. Even the most mundane, like hearing a song I like on the radio. Every time I turn my attitude toward gratitude (ooh, a rhyme!), I feel lighter. More compassionate towards myself and others. I may try moving this practice to the morning, and see if I can open my day with these feelings, as I've felt a need for a real boost the last few weeks! A few things on my list today: I'm grateful for time this morning to do yoga and write this blog entry before work. I'm grateful for my cats who joined me for both activities, and I'm grateful that school has started again! What are you grateful for today?