Trying to tie my shoes, clumsy, not able to work out
the logic of it, fumbling, as my father stands there,
his anger growing over a son who can’t even do
this simplest thing for the first time, can’t even manage
the knot to keep his shoes on—You think someone’s
going to tie your shoes for you the rest of your life?—
No, I answer, forty-five years later, tying my shoe,
hands trembling with this memory. My father
and all those years of childhood not being able to work out
how he loved me, a knot so tight it has taken all my life
I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery—air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, “This is what it is to be happy”-
Saunter into your local yoga studio and undoubtedly you will inundated with talk about – Mindfulness.
Why is this so? Primarily due to the images of relaxation, stillness, or acting in some idealistic way that mindfulness provides us in this atmosphere. Most yogi’s and mindfulness “practitioners” operate under the assumption that mindfulness, means continually being calm, serene and in control of your surrounding, even as the lady next to you in class rolls out her mat inches away from your perfectly oriented to the East sacred space. It’s because of this, that a mindfulness practice often feels as though we are failing in life, it erodes our personal sense of self-worth. Breaking News – Life is hard enough without aiming to be mindful and perfect all the damn time. Mindfulness, to me, is not a quest for perfection.
My mindfulness practice revolves around a well-known and often forgotten aspect about “life” – Life itself is deeply unpredictable. To translate the last statement into laymen terms – Life sucks most of the time, imperfection is the norm, and perfectionism will only lead you down a dark path. It’s how we live with and balance these hardships, that influences our moment-to-moment, mindful well-being. Even while practicing mindfulness, I can’t for the life of me, pay attention for an extended period of time. You know what most easily distracts me? It’s not the blonde hair or being a dude, or some new person in class … Its my own mind. I’m continually lost in my thoughts yet again, even right now. Yet, I bring myself back to the moment, even while dropping a screw fixing my bike or forgetting someones name I just met.
Many yogis’ or whatever, shroud themselves in the serious of a mindfulness practice, what’s lost is our collective sense of humor. Our minds often do what they want without us, if you can, look around during class and notice the stern faces and the concentration poured into being “mindful.” I often find myself spending an awful lot of effort aiming for something not fully attainable during class, during life. Mindfulness and a healthy dose of perfectionism only serve to make me feel worse about myself. The secret ingredient that is missing? A heartfelt smile and a sense of humility.
Shit happens in life, I make a mess of things a dozen or more times during the day. Mindfulness allows me to find comfort and humility in the midst of a crazy life. There’s no perfect mindfulness practice – Just you. I’m flawed and so is everyone else, but when you aim for improvement, instead of perfection? Everyone smiles.
Theirs is a perfection of pure form.
Nobody but has his proper place and knows it.
Everything they do is functional.
Each foray in a zigzag line
Each prodigious lifting
Of thirty-two times their own weight
Each excavation into the earth’s core
Of a crumbly parapetted tower —
None of these feats is a private pleasure,
None of them done
For the sake of the skill alone —
They’ve got a going concern down there,
A full egg-hatchery
A wet-nursery of aphids
A trained troop of maintenance engineers
A corps of hunters
Is nothing without the others, each being a part
Of something greater than all of them put together
A purpose which none of them knows
Since each is only
The one thing that he does. There is
A true consistency
Toward which their actions tend.
The ants have bred and inbred to perfection.
The strains of their genes that survive survive.
Every possible contingency
Has been foreseen and written into the plan.
Nothing they do will be wrong.
If you choose to be fearless, then be fearlessly authentic not an imitation of someone you envy-
Walking into my final yoga class yesterday, a thought crossed my mind – That we live in a world where competition is valued above all else, and that personal achievement is directly tied to self-worth, in essence we have fallen prey to the belief that in every competition, every yoga class, every red light, text message battle … There are two possibilities – Better and Best.
When I was a young lad, maybe six, I arrived home from school one fall afternoon and innocently looked into my fathers eyes and asked if I was “the best?!?” The week prior at school, we had been learning about comparative words like “better” and “best,” and I was innocently curious if I was “the best” at something, perhaps burping, armpit farts or cleaning my room? My kind father calmly replied, “You’ll never be the best at anything son. The world is a magical place with like millions upon millions of people; it’s impossible to be the best. Just do your best, and you’ll be fine in life.
Focusing on continual self-improvement, rather than being the best at “something”, has allowed me to have a more realistic and insightful look into my true self.
You’re alone. Then there’s a knock
On the door. It’s a word. You
Bring it in. Things go
OK for a while. But this word
Has relatives. Soon
They turn up. None of them work.
They sleep on the floor, and they steal
Your tennis shoes.
You started it; you weren’t
Content to leave things alone.
Now the den is a mess, and the
Remote is gone.
That’s what being married
Is like! You never receive your
Wife only, but the
Madness of her family.
Now see what’s happened?
Where is your car? You won’t
Be able to find
The keys for a week.
One of the main reasons that we lose our enthusiasm in life is because we become ungrateful. We let what was once a miracle become common to us. We get so accustomed to his goodness it becomes a routine-
What is your routine when you prepare for yoga class (or anything really)? Hit the alarm clock and jump out of bed on one foot, whist telling the world you are awake on Insta-Whatever? Whack the snooze button a dozen times or so? Waking, peacefully, to me, is the most important part of the day. Sadly, I have forgotten to honor this time, choosing instead to “practice” in an antiseptic studio that feels anything but right, for me.
I used to take several minutes to notice my breath arriving gently in the morning. Savoring a few, rhythmic deep breaths as my body awakens. My sense of smell, my eyes adjusting to the morning light, the sensation of my body walking slowly across the cold wooden floor in our kitchen, and the morning sounds of the world waking alongside me, as I slide open the patio door … Now I find myself searching where I last placed the car keys, and rushing to class.
This is my story, as to why I decided not to practice in a local yoga studio, anymore. My routine has replaced – Mindfulness, and I am not comfortable with this.
Here the highways cross. One heads north. One heads east
and west. On the corner of the square adjacent to the
courthouse a bronze plaque marks the place where two Civil
War generals faced one another and the weaker surrendered.
A few pedestrians pass. A beauty parlor sign blinks. As I turn
to head west, I become the schoolteacher living above the
barber shop. Polishing my shoes each evening. Gazing at the
square below. In time I befriend the waitress at the cafe and
she winks as she pours my coffee. Soon people begin to
talk. And for good reason. I become so distracted I teach my
students that Cleopatra lost her head during the French
Revolution and that Leonardo perfected the railroad at the
height of the Renaissance. One day her former lover returns
from the army and creates a scene at the school. That evening
she confesses she cannot decide between us. But still we spend
one last night together. By the time I pass the grain elevators
on the edge of town I am myself again. The deep scars of love
already beginning to heal.