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.
Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change-
The first step on this “journey” of mine, was simply getting to know myself once again.
Before I competed in my first Gravel Worlds, I focused on “building strength” and training for the rigors of a 150+ miles gravel ride. A little over three years ago, I was struggling post surgery to get back into my cycling groove, needless to say I felt rather unprepared and woefully out-of-place. The week leading up to the chilly predawn start just outside Lincoln, Nebraska, I tried to imagine all the possible situations and challenges I could, and would encounter, and the associated mindset(s) I needed to adapt to them. I did not realize during the moment, that in doing so, I inadvertently found myself focusing on my true inner weaknesses – on the things that I need to improve, and on the behaviors that have eluded me for so long, that I pushed aside to compete, that did not come naturally to me … Anymore. Shortly after an early August rain shower, and two punctures, I quickly realized that I can allow myself to feel confident about my ability to deal with what the road had in store for me, for my life. Albeit not the strengths the stereotypical Lycra clad/carbon fiber cyclist, a little smile here and there, and a deeply rooted sense of humor kept two wheels up and spinning along into the evening.
Quiet simply, being yourself, being authentic – Is pretty inspiring!
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.
After we picked you up at the Omaha airport,
we clamped you into a new car seat
and listened to you yowl
beneath the streetlights of Nebraska.
Our hotel suite was plump with toys,
ready, we hoped, to soothe you into America.
But for a solid hour you watched the door,
shrieking, Umma, the Korean word for mother.
Once or twice you glanced back at us
and, in this netherworld where a door home
had slammed shut forever, your terrified eyes
paced between the past and the future.
Umma, you screamed, Umma!
But your foster mother back in Seoul never appeared.
Your new mother and I lay on the bed,
cooing your birth name,
until, at last, you collapsed into our arms.
In time, even terror must yield to sleep.
I wanted only to live in accord with the promptings which came from my true self. Why was that so very difficult?-
How do we retain a balanced centre when all the structures we have centered our lives around appear to be falling away? Lately, I have been personally challenged on multiple fronts: My health, future decisions at work, and at home. In essence – I feel ungrounded.
It is important for me to preface that I had not practiced yoga seriously before, and that I did not understand the benefits a regular practice could afford me. I mention this because I want you to feel that I was, in certain ways, an unlikely candidate to be a “yoga” convert. Nonetheless, I discovered yoga when my friend Rachel instructed me during a physical therapy session (after one of my knee surgeries) to lie on the floor with my legs up against the wall. “Cool Jeremy?!?” she said. “We are going to breathe now.” In breath, I discovered a way to temporarily relieve the nausea like effects of severe pain and frustration, knowing I will never be who I was before. The kind of anxiety that cuts deeply, and shallows your breath.
In the months following surgery and slowly winding down therapy, yoga gifted a pathway for me to experience myself, in my body again. In a rich, inspiring-hued yoga studio, tucked away in West Omaha, lit in the evening with candles, with the sweet scent of Nag Champa dancing through the still air. I learned to stay in the moment, even as I yearned to escape it – To be outside training for the next race.
No matter how hard I tried, I could not escape the memories I associated with the abuse I put myself and those around me through – the warm spring air against my scarred, raw skin. The fact that I was still bruised and bleeding, the pale moonlight that flooded the cool sky at night. I tend to spend a lot of time thinking about the past and a lot of time wondering about the future. It is much more difficult to stay focused on what is happening right now in this beautiful moment. And still, in a pose, a flowing Asana, I could hold on.
The beauty of yoga is, is that it teaches us, that “things” do come to an end. The process of being immersed in a nurturing space and staying with whatever sensations emerge, and seeing how they come to an end is a profound process. To do this day, as I write sitting and standing due to being uncomfortable with my physical self. It has always been a source of shame to me that I have trouble being – Still – Not competing and comparing myself to others. Through yoga, I can express my true self in a good, a cool kind of way (even as a dude), my tense scarred face eases, and my heart feels wonderfully alive as though I could open it to the world, and I would just … Stay.
Lying on my wide, worn yoga mat early this past winter, I listened to my favorite instructor explaining the path of enlightenment to our warm class. Knowing the limitations of my own attention span, I don’t know enough about them to try exploring them here, but there was such exquisite beauty in her description of being released, unbound from suffering. My mind was scattered as my body was contorted on the grey mat – The whole of me was trying to emerge in this delicate moment. Like a blank canvas before the inspired artist, at first blank, then a beautiful image tremulously appearing.
What I discovered in me, the blank canvas early one Saturday morning, was enough (I’ll never be truly whole, but enough).
In the years since being introduced to yoga and mindfulness, my practice has ebbed and flowed, in so much that I don’t really practice “yoga” regularly in a studio now – the Asanas. Perhaps I will again soon? Perhaps not … Pausing, on second thought, I sit here smiling, knowing my devotion to yoga with immense gratitude for the true and singular comfort it brought to me. Through all of my suffering, the pain, the loss. It is necessary, to surrender, fully, to the things that sustain ones true spirit.
At first I sent you a postcard
From every city I went to.
Grüsse aus Bath, aus Birmingham,
Aus Rotterdam, aus Tel Aviv.
Mit Liebe. Cards from you arrived
In English, with many commas.
Hope, you’re fine and still alive,
Says one from Hong Kong. By that time
We weren’t writing quite as often.
Now we’re nearly nine years away
From the lake and the blue mountains,
And the room with the balcony,
But the heat and light of those days
Can reach this far from time to time.
Your latest was from Senegal,
Mine from Helsinki. I don’t know
If we’ll meet again. Be happy.
If you hear this, send a postcard.