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.
I have to be alone very often. I’d be quite happy if I spent from Saturday night until Monday morning alone in my apartment. That’s how I refuel-
For the past two years in late August, I bike for nearly ten hours, one hundred plus miles, into the picturesque countryside around Omaha, Nebraska.. Out here, I don’t have a laptop, a navigation gadget, or anyone to talk to. It’s just me and my bike, and a few Western Meadowlarks greeting me kindly.
The first twenty miles are the hardest. I’m on an adrenaline high at first, I wake early and start riding East, where the brilliant glow of a sunrise brings a smile to my tired face. The air is clear on these desolate gravel roads, there is no sound of traffic, yet suddenly – I start to feel lonesome. I feel an urge to text a picture of what I am witnessing to someone, and when I realize I can’t, my phone is resting at home in the garage, a feeling of anxiety pours over me. I can’t turn back now as I turn south into a gentle breeze, so I begin to listen to my thoughts; I go over the events of the week, honoring my thoughts makes me feel less stirred up. Something surprising happens mid-ride, I feel a sense of peace. There is no particular switch that is flipped, I recall thinking at the time: I’m alone, and I’m happy.
Rarely do I get lonely riding anymore. I have loved ones and friends in my life whom I deeply cherish and value, yet, I don’t feel the need to be with them constantly. While it’s wonderful to go on a weekly group ride, I also happily wave so long to them when they turn around to head home, and I continue on … My time, this tender moment, is completely my own again.
I don’t partake in these grueling rides to prove anything. I’m out there, because I have fully surrendered to the power of solitude. It has taught me so much about myself. Most importantly, there’s no one to share opinions with, about who I am or what I’m doing. I don’t have a FaceTube status to update, nor do I have a future conversation with someone sloshing between my ears. What hits home the hardest is when I hit the 100+ mile marker, when I’m alone this much on a bike – man and machine, I can’t turn my back and avoid the problems in my life or allow a stray emotion to weigh me down. I can’t distract myself by blogging or surfing the net. What shines through, is the warm glow of my heart.
Time passes differently after 120 miles. I once watched a young doe leap over an eight foot fence from standing; slowing down as she turned to look at me, the sun passed directly overhead during this time, and I didn’t even notice I was heading West. I patiently listen to the wind as I unzip my jersey to cool off as I head home.
The most exhausting part of the ride, is heading home. I have forgotten about the traffic late at night, the stimulation, the nauseating advertisements seemingly everywhere. Sprinklers running, dogs barking, are a jolt to my body … Although friends, the cold shower awaiting me is simply divine.
You may plainly perceive the traitor through his mask; he is well-known everywhere in his true colors; his rolling eyes and his honeyed tones impose only on those who do not know him-
Why am I waking up this morning?
The answer is, hopefully, not because I have to or I should, but rather … I have a sense of purpose and direction for this wonderful day.
Being able to adapt well to a myriad of challenges, to be able to bounce back from a period of difficult times, requires me to have a sense of direction in my life and a belief that I am acting in a way that is consistent with my true personal values.
The only reason why we ask other people how their weekend was is so we can tell them about our own weekend-
Romanticizing, endlessly, about the past is a passionate avocation, and dare I say an easy one to indulge in, as long as you overlook the self-serving conversations such as renewable-clean energy sources, carbon offsets, living a gluten-free lifestyle and what happened this past weekend while on holiday. That said, some cultural bygones such as meaningful conversation among close friends really do have their merits.
Few “things” in life are in fact as pleasurable and fertile as engaging in heartfelt, close conversation. Whether you’re falling in love again for the first time, riding some sweet trails with a cycling buddy, listening to an insightful yoga instructor during class (thank you Cheryl, Suzanne and Maia) or beginning a new friendship. Open ended, seemingly unimportant conversation is essential to building a close relationship. Conversation is also the means by which we learn, via other people, how in which the world works. A meandering conversation unlocks doors to memories long ago stored away, and forgotten.
Without conversation, conversations that take us on spontaneous journeys through various ideas and opinions, how can we being to explore and awaken the minds of others, and ourselves? Be well and have an inspiring day!
when Whitman wrote, “I sing the body electric”
I know what he
I know what he
to be completely alive every moment
in spite of the inevitable.
we can’t cheat death but we can make it
work so hard
that when it does take
it will have known a victory just as
I realize today that nothing in the world is more distasteful to a man than to take the path that leads to himself-
Early this past Friday morning while driving to work, an event occurred that made me question everything in life.
Mindfulness and Awareness are a journey, not a destination, not something to achieve, not the latest “trend” to trick you into signing up for a months worth of yoga classes, and since mindfulness and awareness are deeply personal, I will humbly, and reluctantly share with you the events that enveloped my recent experience. An experience that has both failed me, and helped me tremendously.
Typically, I commute to work via bicycle. I wake early, reheat a cup of black coffee I make the night prior for a minute or so in the microwave and ease into my riding gear, gently and peacefully. This was not the case last Friday. For you see, I was in a rush, I was outside of my body, I was aware of my actions but not mindful of them. The usual list of things come to mind – Work, riding more, building a new bike, helping friends and family, trying to practice yoga twice a day, spending more time abusing myself than nurturing my spirit. Slowing down does not come naturally to me. I once had an old riding buddy (he was old and had legs like tree trunks …) in England say to me, “slow down to go fast mate” and I got it at the time. It’s the proverbial Aesop’s Fable the story of ‘The Tortoise & the Hare’, the tortoise won by going slower. Faster only gets you to your destination quicker – Driving to a noon yoga class while at work, instead of riding my bike to work and practicing at Halleck Park when the sun rises. Driving to work so I can pick up and drop off some bike parts a day ahead of schedule instead of just waiting for the weekend. By practicing to go slower, I become mindful of the world around me, and I pay more attention … I actually arrive exactly where I want to be, with more awareness. Instead of a steamy car wash bay, spraying the putrid, burning flesh of a deer from the underside of my car.
All of this sounds so simple, although in practice, its much harder.
So where does this leave me? I believe I need to reflect and review my actions with intention – Do my words and actions really align? My feelings really are indicators of my true spirit. When I am feeling incredibly frustrated with life, unsupported and angry? I need to pause, and take better care of my own emotional well-being. My thoughts truly create the world I call home. Being mindful of how I think is essential to my place in this comforting world at times.
Actions, feelings and thoughts that convey encouraging messages, that leave me feeling content and with a smile on my face, are at the heart of living mindfully.
Gaze into the fire, into the clouds, and as soon as the inner voices begin to speak… surrender to them. Don’t ask first whether it’s permitted, or would please your teachers or father or some god. You will ruin yourself if you do that-
There are many misconceptions about the role “results” play in achieving our goals (whatever they may be.)
We should define a couple of words before we move on – outcome and process. An outcome is centered on results, beating others and posting it on social media. A process involves focusing on what we need to do perform our very best, such as how we prepare and nurture our souls, training, or even practicing mindfulness. Notice how an outcome is focused on “things” outside of you. While in contrast, a process is focused entirely on you?
Most of us think that (myself included at times), in order to get the results we want, we need to focus on those results. Wanna get better at yoga? Gotta be more flexible! Loose a few pounds before summer begins … When does the outcome of a competition occur? At the end of course. If we become obsessed on the outcome, we are not focused on the process – What we need to do to perform our best from the start to the finish. What makes you nervous before yoga class or a big ride, the process or the outcome? It’s the outcome, and more specifically, a bad outcome such as not performing well or tumbling over trying to reach your “peak” pose. When we focus on the outcome, we are far less likely to get the outcome we want.
When we pause to focus on the process, we increase the chances of achieving the results we so richly deserve.
Sometimes, I can’t shift my heart from the outcome to process, the best thing I can do when this happens, is to get out of my mind completely. In other words, I go for an early morning walk, bike ride, or like yesterday morning – yoga practice in a quiet park. These moments gently take me from thinking about the outcome to, feeling the process.