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Fixing Problems Begins By Noticing Them

An interrupted moment of happiness

I was sitting on my patio, quietly reading for school, and enjoying the sunshine and fresh air. One dog was sprawled at my feet. The other was bounding gleefully around the yard. “This,” I began to think, “is pure happiness.”

Before my thought completely registered, my dog bounded (still quite gleefully, I might add) into my corner garden where tiny, fragile, baby hostas and ferns are just peeking their heads out of the earth. My response screeched like the needle of a record player dragged across the beauty of the moment. “Bodhi, no! No! NO!!” I bellowed.

While I surprised the dog, bless his heart, who looked over his shoulder and bounced out of the garden, I stunned myself. Such was my shock at my own behavior that it led me to wonder how it was possible to go from pure happiness to such upset in an instant? How could I switch gears so abruptly?

The answer showed up as quickly as my outburst. My dog and I are stuck in an old, entrenched pattern. Dog bounds into garden, mom shouts, dog leaves the garden, repeat. For six months a year (the growing season in southeastern Pennsylvania), for six years straight (my dog’s age), we’ve been doing this dance.

The power to change is ours

A realization dawned on me as bright as the sunbeam I was still sitting in: I do not want to participate in this “dance” anymore. More powerful: I don’t have to. I have a choice to break this cycle. I have the power to walk a different, smoother, more peaceful, happier path.

At dinner that night, I asked my husband if he would help me put a little fence around the garden. He agreed a little quizzically. I explained – “I am smoothing away a bump in the road that I’d gotten so used to that I stopped seeing it as something I could fix.”

Self-study can uncover surprising causes of our struggles

It is clarity like this that yoga helps us achieve. Yoga suggests an ongoing practice of svadhyaya or self-study in which we unmask reality from the layers of our assumptions, patterns, beliefs, and habits. We can be quite surprised by what we discover through self-study. Often, we discover that choices we make can be our greatest source of stress and friction.

Rather than beating ourselves up about the bumps we place in our own paths, yoga invites us to notice these behaviors with loving kindness. Even to give ourselves a little pat on the back for finding one we’d like to change. A friend once described to me the “grandma” voice she uses with herself – “Oh my dear, this is so hard for you, isn’t it?” Noticing is a huge step toward change.

Kindness is the secret ingredient to change

In my case, now that I’ve noticed this dance that my dog and I have developed, I can choose to approach myself and him with understanding and kindness. Of course, I’m going to be upset when he crushes my little plants. And, of course, he’s going to bound into the garden. He doesn’t know that corner of the yard is any different than any other corner of the yard. In fact, with its view of three other backyards, it’s one of the nicest corners of all.

Putting up a boundary to guide his circuit of the yard in a new direction is much kinder than hollering at him. This same boundary will also guide my behavior in a new direction. It will allow me to sit on my patio, peacefully reading a book in a sunbeam while enjoying the sight of my dogs enjoying my yard.

Clarity is contagious (in a good way)

With this new clarity, I have started to look around my life for other hiccups masquerading as “the way things are.” The drawer shared by bathing suits and exercise tops that is so overstuffed that I must fight to open and close it every morning. The ridiculously inefficient way I store the power cord to my WaterPik. The fact that the route I habitually take to work has an avoidable left turn across traffic.

While I would hesitate to call any of these “problems,” each is a habit that creates a little, avoidable burst of friction. Each is an invitation to notice an old pattern and to make a new choice. Gently, I have begun to change my ways. The biggest (and best) change of all is my intention to notice and smooth away little stressors in my life so that I have more resilience to navigate the unavoidable stresses of life.

What about you? Which of your habits is creating a problem you’ve gotten so used to that you’ve forgotten you could fix it? What bumps in your road could be smoothed away with a little clarity? Don’t forget the loving kindness and you will be well on your way to a smoother, happier way of life.

You can learn more about the powerful practice of self-study in my self-paced, online Yoga Philosophy course.