The three wisemen of the Christmas story captured my imagination at a very young age. One holiday season, my parents took my brother, sister and me to the planetarium in downtown Houston to see a presentation on the Christmas star. This would be the first time that I would hear a story I’d learned in Sunday School retold from the point of view of science. Seeing that special star depicted in the galaxy as it would have been seen over ancient Bethlehem on the domed ceiling of the planetarium made the story real to me. Hearing the possible astronomical explanations for the star might have been the moment I first began to grapple with the deeper meanings of faith.
Though it was in a planetarium, the show was not limited to exploring the star. For the narrator, the three wisemen’s miraculous journey was further proof that this was an event of historic (and not just religious) significance. While the romance of the story is undeniable, that afternoon in a “hall of science,” its meaning expanded from my heart to my mind.
I learned for the first time that each of these kings was from a different place and people. They looked different. They dressed differently. If they didn’t speak different languages, they probably had different accents. (For my young Texan mind, this meant one of them said “ya’ll” while another said, inexplicably, “you guys.”) Each of these important, powerful men, in their own homeland, saw that same star and felt its pull. Each of these highly educated scholars decided to drop everything to follow that star to see where it would lead.
Somehow, as they journeyed they managed to find one another. Perhaps more miraculous, rather than deciding they needed to compete with one another to see who would get there first, they chose to travel together. I could imagine them sharing their own areas of expertise, as well as their provisions, as they wandered that desert. I considered that perhaps they would never have found that tiny manger in the hillside outside of that little village had they not chosen to work together.
There is no accounting for what “stars” are placed in our own personal skies to pull us onward. There is no predicting what passions will spark along our way and what “zigs and zags” these interests will cause in the unfolding of our lives. There is no easy explanation for the people we meet along our way who teach us and support us and walk with us as we journey.
What I have learned from my own surprising, impossible-to-predict journey, is that it is critically important that we keep an eye to the skies of our lives – like the wisemen, looking always to make sure our path is aligned with our own “star.” That we pay careful attention to the stirrings of our hearts. That we pursue those things that make our heart beat a little faster or that stir our curiosity. That we commit ourselves to learning and growing, trusting that each step along our way will lead us to where we’re meant to be even if we have no real idea where that could be.
When we have found our “star,” no matter what it is, we must follow it with zeal– body, mind and spirit. In other words, we must take action. In some cases (I can personally attest to this), this action might need to be pretty determined as the world around us might push back with questions, doubts or a simple lack of comprehension. So, like the wisemen, we invest ourselves – our time, our treasure and our talents to borrow a lovely message from my church – wholly in our journey.
Each of these journeys – yours and mine – can be as miraculous (in a tiny way) as that of the three wisemen. We wonder. We study. We explore. We meet new people. We chase new ideas. We see new connections. We seek meaning for ourselves. We might even find meaning for others. And when we do, we share – with our fellow sojourners, or the company for which we work, or our friends and family. There is simply no predicting who our “students” will one day be and how our journey might change them.
What is predictable – in fact, I would say that it is 100% guaranteed – is that there is for each of us a “star.” I have come to believe that heeding this unique, special call is what opens up entire galaxies of promise and potential in life. I am certain that there is no more surefire way to light this world a little brighter – for yourself and for those around you – than taking your own unique, individual journey in pursuit of your “star.”
Just think – as you do, you could shine so brightly in your own quest that you might become the glimmer in the sky that inspires someone just beginning his or her own long walk through the desert toward meaning.
Merry Christmas to you and may you have a blessed journey through the coming New Year.
Once in a blue moon, I have one of those perfect yoga practices.Every posture – even the ones I’m still learning – is graceful. My breath is even and as steady as a metronome. My mind and body are purely focused on each movement and each sensation. My awareness is still and quiet, sensing the “me” beneath all the doing and thinking that fills my days.
The first time I had a practice like this, I assumed I’d crossed some magical yoga threshold. I thought, “I’ve finally got this! I’ve figured it out!” I believed my practices would be like that forevermore.
Years and years later, I know better. They are rare.
I had one of these perfect practices on Saturday. When my husband asked (as he always does), “How’d you do?” I smiled and said, “I had one of those practices that keep me practicing.” He got a faraway look on his face and told the story of standing in a stream all day long with no success, and, just before he was heading home, he cast his line perfectly toward a glimmer of movement. He caught (and released) a brown trout so beautiful that he’s never forgotten it. “That was perfect.”
Which got me thinking about other perfect moments. I remember two or three tennis matches when, truly, every shot I took went exactly where I wanted it to go. I’ve had one round of miniature golf (gosh, I love that game!)when putt after putt dropped easily into the cup and I actually beat my brother. (I still have that score card.) I can recall a handful of times at the piano when the music seemed to flow from someplace deep within and even I (my own worst critic) was in awe of its beauty.
I texted a yoga friend after my Saturday practice and she shared a fascinating story. Recently she found herself really upset about something she hadn’t let bother her in ages. In the midst of the storm of her emotions, she realized that she was more upset about her reaction than she was about the actual thing. “Dammit,” she muttered to herself, “I thought I was over this.” Before she even finished that thought, she realized that this was exactly the way she reacted during the day after her first perfect yoga practice, when things were decidedly less than perfect. “Dammit! I thought I had this figured out!”
We were both laughing knowingly as we put down our phones.
These pinnacle practices are not something I earn or deserve. They are gifts. Shimmering, alluring moments that ensure that I continue to unroll my mat every day. They are hope. They are inspiration. This is true for all of the perfect moments that pepper our lives.
I’ve noticed that, anymore, I very rarely respond to such moments by thinking, “Yay! I’ve got this at last!” Probably because I’ve grown accustomed to the incredibly long stretches between such moments. These days, it is more likely that I receive them as the gifts they are. Surprises, always. But not wholly unexpected. For the perfect moments I’ve been lucky enough to have serve as promises (guarantees, actually) that another will happen one day if I just keep at it.
The same is true for you too, you know.
Yoga students don’t just practice yoga. They practice optimism. Here are a handful of the optimistic things I’ve heard at the end of classes in the last few weeks:
It’s amazing how often I walk away from class smiling and heartened to have witnessed yet another person’s firm belief in growth and change.
There is something endearing and magnetic about all optimists, not just the yoga kind. Their ability to find the positive, the possibility and the hope in any situation – even when they discover that they are wildly off-track – is inspiring. Their steadfast belief that even the bumpiest of roads is a way to get where they’re going can be contagious. It’s just icing on the cake that optimists are also often ready to smile or share a laugh. Simply put, whether they are students, teachers, teammates, colleagues, neighbors or friends, optimists make great company.
In addition to making you a highly desirable pal, optimism is really good for your health and well-being. According to Julia Hogan, LCPC, in her article in Verily Magazine (https://verilymag.com/2017/04/benefits-of-being-optimistici-in-life ), optimists are physically healthier and live longer. They are less stressed than other people. A positive outlook is good for us – body, mind and spirit. It can also be good for our careers. Hogan also states that optimists make better leaders, in part because of their ability to find opportunities in even the most challenging times.
Optimists often get a bad rap for being unrealistic or “Pollyanna-ish.” And while some optimists do indeed have their heads planted firmly in the proverbial sand, most do not. It might surprise you that the most effective optimists do still worry. In fact, it could be said that it is a lack of healthy worry sets an optimist apart from a “Pollyanna.” The worry of an optimist is different than the anxious fretting of a worrier. It is productive. Rather than stewing endlessly (and fruitlessly) over a problem, optimists use worry to motivate themselves. When optimists worry, they are often taking active steps to get themselves better prepared.
The hallmark of an optimist is the ability to look at any situation and see the good. This is more than just a gift. It is a skill that any of us can choose to develop in ourselves. In other words, optimism is something we can practice.
A regular yoga practice is a powerful way to practice optimism. The simple of act of showing up day after day to see how you’ve changed is filled with hope. The belief that a stiff day could possibly be followed by a loose one can seem almost bizarrely upbeat to the casual observer. The trust you develop in the practice as a whole enables you to navigate “bad” days as gracefully as “good” ones.
The optimism of a yogi is based on the understanding gained over weeks and months and years of practice. Practice teaches that patience and persistence always (always!) pay off. Yoga also establishes the certainty that change is a given. Whether the change you experience is the change you were hoping for or decidedly not, yoga gives you the confidence to know that “this too shall pass.”
Interestingly, it is often setbacks and inabilities on the yoga mat that teach you how to choose optimism. When my students look at me and say, “I can’t!,” my response is often to smile and add a single word – “Yet.” In other words, what you cannot do (yet) becomes the very foundation of your choice to believe that, though you cannot do it now, you will one day say (loud enough for your whole class to hear), “Oh my goodness! I did it! I can do it!”
Nearly every time you step on your mat to practice you gain some new “I can!” that bolsters optimism. These new feats might be physical, emotional or mental. You might observe that your hamstrings are gradually opening up, or that, slowly but surely, you’re getting stronger. You might notice that you are feeling a little less fearful and a little more confident. Or you might become aware that you’re developing the ability to choose your focus rather than being at the mercy of a wildly wandering mind.
A yoga practice gives you the opportunity to witness your own growth. To observe the forward and backward nature of progress. To notice your innate ability to rebound and recover. The more you witness these qualities, the more you develop your “optimism muscle,” as it were. It doesn’t take much practice at all before you start to realize that the optimism you feel in your practice has seeped off your mats and into your life.
Take it from me, it won’t be long at all before you start to hope that you might possibly be becoming one of those endearing, magnetic, hopeful and inspiring optimistic people you love to be around.
“I may not have ended up where I wanted to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.” – Douglas Adams