[mk_blockquote style=”quote-style” font_family=”none” text_size=”16″ align=”left”]“Take it easy: Don’t hurry, to proceed at a comfortable pace, relax. – Urban Dictionary”[/mk_blockquote]
From the time I was a little girl. I was taught that anything worth doing was worth doing well, that a tendency to work hard is a virtue and that laziness is the worst of the vices. And, as a mother myself, I’ve tried to teach my three kids that they can do anything they can dream of if they work hard enough at it.
Let me take a moment to define what I mean by hard work. Sure, sometimes it’s good old fashioned work – the kind that leaves you sweaty, out of breath and exhausted. But, just as often in my life, hard work has required tenacity, a refusal to quit, a willingness to try something a hundred times until I finally get it, and a dedication to practice – both to learn and to hone a skill. In short, hard work is very active. Sure, I might take a deep breath before trying again. But that breath is less for restorative or re-centering purposes than to provide me with the necessary resources to work even harder on my next try.
A gift of age and life experience has been an understanding that sometimes I need to take it easy in order for my hard work to pay off. If I hit a block when I’m writing, often the best thing for me is to step away from my keyboard. In fact, if I don’t step away, I find that the tangle of words and thoughts on my screen actually worsens. The break gives me space and perspective. Clarity typically makes an appearance quite suddenly – whether I’m in the shower, behind the wheel of my car or on my yoga mat, the missing segue or idea will pop into my mind like a light bulb turning on. When I return to my keyboard, the remainder of my essay or chapter often flows from my fingertips fully formed.
The same has proven true with all kinds of struggles. If I’m in the midst of a disagreement with my husband, stepping away helps me gain clarity both in understanding more clearly his point of view and in better expressing my own. If I’m struggling with a decision at work, saving it for a new day is usually exactly what is needed for the solution to become clear. Taking a break has helped me in mastering a complicated piano piece, curing an ailing serve on the tennis court and in figuring out how to effectively move into a yoga posture. Somehow, my mind and my body manage to figure out the required actions while I’m doing something entirely different.
In one of yoga’s seminal texts, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the 46th sutra is “sthira-sukkham-asanam.” Translated, this means that practicing yoga postures with strength and in a relaxed manner brings harmony to the body. On our mats, then, in every posture from the simplest to the most challenging, we are meant to find a balance between effort and ease. For me, learning a new posture almost always begins as hard work – effort. This is often a sweaty, exhausting time as I try again and again to find my way into the pose. This is a very active time requiring a lot of tenacity, stubbornness, and willingness to keep practicing.
It is not until I begin to develop proficiency, to understand the nuances of the posture, and to become more experienced and confident in my ability to be in the posture, that I am able to begin to find the necessary ease in the posture. It’s not until I can let go (at least a little bit) of the hard work of “doing” and let the posture do itself that I really begin to get it. Without fail, it is when I can relax in the posture that the real magic happens. It’s when I find the balance between effort and ease that I suddenly feel growth, increased flexibility, an ability to go deeper and a desire to explore and play.
It’s important to note that “taking it easy” or “taking a break” are never going to get you anywhere without hard work. Just as we seek a balance of strength and a relaxed manner in yoga postures, hard work and taking it easy are two parts of a whole off our mats and in our lives. Taking it easy is a chance to allow your hard work to take root. Taking a break gives your hard work the time and space to bloom into the growth and change you were dreaming of. Hard work sets the stage for your new ability or idea. Taking it easy is often necessary to coax this new ability or idea out onto the stage to shine.
Work hard to fulfill your wildest dreams. But don’t forget to take it easy,
[mk_blockquote style=”quote-style” font_family=”none” text_size=”16″ align=”left”]“Live in the moment: Concentrate on the present with little or no concern for the future.” – Dictionary.com[/mk_blockquote]
I’m at the beach with six young men who just graduated from high school with my son. I’ve been smiling a lot as I watch them spend this vacation together. Their approach to their days is wonderfully simple. I’ve yet to sense even the vaguest of plans. They eat when they’re hungry. They sleep when they’re tired. They go to the beach when it’s sunny. They play video games when it’s raining. They swim when they’re hot. They read when they want to. They are throwing or catching a Frisbee almost constantly. They laugh a lot. They play with an abandon that amazes me.
I feel like I have front row seats for a demonstration of “how to live in the moment.”
“Live in the moment” is a phrase that gets tossed around a great deal these days. Watching these boys embrace their vacation with open arms is a powerful illustration of the ease, the joy and the graceful pace of life that result when you pour all of yourself into whatever you’re doing. Taking life as it comes fosters a willingness to go with the flow. Even with six ideas of what to do or where to go, there has been little or no friction. Their decisions and choices are happening as naturally as their play.
“Live in the moment” is good advice, albeit somewhat hard to pull off at times. For most of us, it takes some planning or foresight to create space in our days to play or to rest or to engage in activity other than our work. For instance, it takes some foresight for there to be healthy food in the fridge and clean clothes in the closet. It takes some planning to make sure the bills get paid and household chores get done. It takes some concern for the future to insure that your three kids are packed and the car is loaded in order to head out on vacation where you’re highest hope is to live in the moment – with little or no concern for the future.
But these boys have also shown me that it is possible to engage fully in the act of planning. They’ve embraced even the logistics of their trip with abandon. Pooling their money into a “kitty” to fund their fun for the week was done with huge smiles. They went charging off to the grocery store with so much enthusiasm that you’d have thought they were going to a water park. In other words, they have proven that it is possible to live in the moment even as you’re preparing for a future moment.
This is something I played with on my yoga mat a little bit this week. It’s been clear to me for years that “living in the moment” is a skill (at least for me) that requires practice. Staying in the moment on my yoga mat – breath by breath, posture by posture – has been equally challenging and transformative for me. Yet, my instincts to organize, to plan and to peek ahead so that I’m prepared for what’s coming are powerful. Until this week, I hadn’t considered that I could also practice being in the moment even as life requires me to plan ahead.
In order to open fully to the deep backbends that I’m currently working on, I have developed a little series of preparatory postures. This week, as I moved through these postures, rather than letting my mind slip ahead to the pending backbends for which I was preparing, I chose instead to focus with all of my awareness on each prep along the way. “How do my hip flexors feel?” “Huh – I never noticed that my upper back comes into play in this lunge.” “Oh my goodness, my underarms are tight!” Giving my all to each of these postures not only taught me even more about my body, but I enjoyed them a whole lot more. I even found myself savoring one that I typically cruise through on autopilot.
While it certainly could be a result of the warm, humid air at the beach, I’m going to attribute my loose and open backbends this week to the extra time and attention that I lavished on my “preps.” By living in the moment as I prepared myself for the future, my practice was richer and deeper. While I don’t think I’ll ever move into backbends with the joyful abandon with which my son and his friends managed to grocery shop, witnessing them “living in the moment” changed me – on the mat, certainly, and off the mat, hopefully.
I hope they inspire you, too.
Change has an elastic nature. Day by day, things feel the same. Until suddenly, they aren’t. For instance, the ancient creatures living alongside the Colorado River as it flowed within its banks day after day couldn’t have had any idea of the canyon that was forming. Yet, day by day the quietly flowing waters of the river along which they ate, drank and played dug the earth away to form a magnificent, 277 miles long, 18 miles wide and one mile deep canyon.
Living with an adolescent can at times feel a little like this. Day after day you spend time living alongside your child – helping with homework, laughing at jokes, sharing meals, detangling hair and tucking them into bed. You get pretty confident in the status quo or existing state of affairs. Then, one day as you’re impatiently waiting for your daughter, you hear footsteps clomping down the stairs and think “Finally! We’re going to be late!” (again status quo). You look up to find yourself speechless as you gape at a long-legged, breathtaking vision that cannot possibly be your daughter.
The gigantic change you’re witnessing feels sudden – though it’s been going on her whole life. She may not be one of the seven wonders of the world to anyone but you, but to you, it feels like it must have felt when the first person stumbled upon the Grand Canyon. You freeze in your tracks. You just want to look. Even when you’re functioning again – getting your keys, finding your flip flops, corralling the dog – you keep sneaking peeks to make sure she’s real.
Change is not only surprising when we witness it in the world or people around us. Change has a way of creeping up on us even when it is we who are changing. Who hasn’t had a moment when they realize they are suddenly all grown up? The first time this happened to me, I heard myself say, “Mom, I have to hang up. I have a meeting in a minute.” As the words left my lips, I thought, “How did I get old enough to be going to meetings?” I also recall happily laughing and chatting with a babysitter about shared college experiences — until it dawned on me that the story I was telling happened the year she was born. For heaven’s sake!
A yoga practice offers many chances to be surprised by sudden change. I vividly remember not being able to touch the floor in a forward fold without bending my knees – for years. That said, I also vividly remember the day I folded forward and easily palmed the floor. It was a moment of quiet ecstasy (I was in a yoga class and could only allow myself a tiny squeak of joy). But I don’t have any clear memories of the tiny, day to day changes that led to this moment. My newfound ability felt rather abrupt, actually.
I know that, despite the seeming suddenness of my forward fold, it was practice – day after day, steady, persistent and patient – that led to the change. It was showing up and trying. The days that I couldn’t reach the floor were as much a part of my journey as the days when I could. It wasn’t will power or force that allowed my body to eventually open to an easy forward fold. In fact, those could have left me sore and even stiffer than I started out.
The change we witness and experience on our yoga mats teaches us to honor and respect the process. Practicing yoga teaches us to trust the inexorable – albeit sometimes invisible – process of change. Yoga teaches us that even when we think things will never change, they already are changing. Yoga gives us the confidence to know that someday things will be different. That someday we will be different.
The confidence we develop in the process of change makes us patient. It makes us patient with ourselves and patient with others. Even when we can’t see it, we know that growth and change are happening. So rather than getting frustrated at whatever posture I currently can’t do, practice has taught me to keep showing up and to continue to try. Every attempt is a step closer to success – even the ones that feel like four steps backward.
This works off the mat as well. Rather than getting frustrated at my daughter’s latest lost belonging or forgotten chore or bizarre priority, I can recall my experiences with change. I have a choice. I can get impatient, which has never in the history of time sped up change. Or I can take a breath and remember that – even when it doesn’t seem like it – she is changing. I can remember that, soon enough, I’ll look up and my long-legged vision will have morphed again into the next iteration of the young woman she is continually becoming.
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[mk_blockquote style=”quote-style” font_family=”none” text_size=”16″ align=”left”]Threshold: 1) the sill of a doorway; 2) the entrance to a house or building; 3) any place of entering or beginning; 4) the point at which a stimulus is of sufficient intensity to begin to produce an effect. – Dictionary.com[/mk_blockquote]
I am fortunate to have a dear friend who is several steps ahead of me in the journey of life. Her perspective on my experiences is always eye-opening, colored as it is by the wisdom of hindsight. As I described the emotions of watching my oldest child’s senior year of high school draw to a close, of celebrating the young man that he is and of mourning (albeit prematurely) the end of his constant presence in our home, she smiled at me.
“You are on yet another threshold, aren’t you?”
Nodding tearfully, I visualized my son walking across the threshold of our home as he leaves for college. In my heart, this threshold felt very much like an exit. But as we talked, my friend kept mentioning beginnings – not just my son’s but my own. In my emotional state, her view of things was much more appealing than mine, and I decided to go home and look it up. Lo and behold, you’ll notice in each of the definitions of threshold listed on Dictionary.com that there is no mention of ending or leaving. Rather, the definitions mention entering, beginning and producing change.
Sure, to enter into something or someplace new can be a little nerve wracking. To face change – great or small – can leave you wondering and maybe worrying a little bit. But, when you remind yourself that this is a beginning rather than an end, a threshold is an exciting thing. Nerves and worries shrink in the light of the possibility and hope that comes with any fresh start.
For me, the key to successfully navigating any threshold is to take things one step at a time. It’s when I allow my mind to shoot ahead that I tend to get emotional and tighten my grip on what is. On my yoga mat, when I allow my mind to drift ahead to long list of postures that lies ahead of me I often feel daunted and am tempted to “cheat” by cutting things short. When I maintain my focus on the breath I’m breathing and the posture I’m in, my practice feels manageable. I’m able to pour myself fully into each step along my way. Similarly, off my mat, when I take things a step at a time, I’m better able to stay opened-minded and open-handed as some things fade away and others spring to light.
At my current threshold, when I allow my focus to slip ahead to the day we move my son out of his bedroom down the hall from mine and into his dorm room miles away, I find myself clinging desperately to memories of the little boy he hasn’t been in years – to bath times and bedtimes, to afternoons at playgrounds, to mornings tearing up and down the driveway as we waited together for the bus, and to evenings cuddled up together with Harry Potter.
When I center myself again and take things a step at a time, I slip back into a place of wonder at the independent, self-sufficient, interesting and caring young man that the little boy of mind has become. Our bedtime rituals have certainly changed. He now stays up later than I do almost every single night – and quite capably closes up the house and turns off the lights for me. We haven’t spent the afternoon on a playground in years, but I have been blessed to share countless hours with him and his friends on the sidelines of his games. Mornings on the bus stop simply morphed into mornings in the car as I drove him to school. And while reading together has come to an end, I love the fact that he is recommending as many books to me as I am to him. Sharing our thoughts about these books after we’ve read them often feels as cozy as reading together once did.
Which is all to say that each of the many thresholds he and I have already crossed together has led to growth, change and even more possibility – both for him and for me. Each step I’ve taken as his mom has led to more joy in our relationship. Each threshold we’ve crossed has made me even prouder of the person he is becoming. But the most surprising aspect of each of these thresholds is the expansive feeling I’ve gained. As he’s grown and stretched into a young man, he’s needed me less. Rather than leaving me sad and grieving, this has enabled me to pour more of myself into my own passions. It’s allowed me to grow and stretch further into the woman I’m becoming.
So, while you may catch me with tears in my eyes over the next few weeks as I look back on the journey that has led us to this threshold, know that deep inside I am simply preparing to step with my son across this next threshold. Looking back, after all, is a powerful and necessary way to notice and celebrate how very far one has come. Once we’ve spent a little while looking back, I know that we will naturally turn our sights to what lies ahead – and step by step we will both enter another new beginning.
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