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“Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when we look back everything is different?” – CS Lewis
We got a new showerhead in our bathroom last week. It is (to quote my husband) “the greatest showerhead of all time.” Actually, I don’t even think it’s a special showerhead. The feature we love most is its water pressure. I can now successfully rinse the shampoo from my hair in the blink of an eye. So, essentially, we’re thrilled to have a showerhead that actually works!
It may come as a surprise to you that I find a new showerhead newsworthy. I don’t, really. What made me pause and think was the fact that, for so long, we didn’t realize that our old showerhead wasn’t really working. I remember mentioning to my husband after an overnight at my sister’s that her shower was nicer than ours. I remember him speculating that our new water heater must have thrown something off with plumbing. But, mostly, what I remember when I look back is not really thinking about or even particularly noticing the fact that taking a shower (which has always been a really pleasant part of my day) was no longer satisfying.
Gradual change like the failure of our old showerhead can be sneaky. If you have children, you absolutely know what I’m talking about. I’m sure you’ve looked up as your child walks into the kitchen to find that you’re smiling at her shoulders rather than into her eyes. She has grown so tall that eye contact requires you to hold your head at a different angle than before. You know she’s been growing gradually for weeks without you noticing, but it seems like she shot up overnight.
The same can be true as you or your loved ones age. Or with the development of a new skill – in a sport, hobby or work. Or with shifts in relationships. Or with wear and tear on your home, car or even your favorite sweater. Change happens, yet, somehow, we miss it completely.
For me, practicing yoga is an opportunity to practice the art of noticing subtle change. Every day I unroll my yoga mat and move through my practice. My routine rarely varies – drop into child’s pose to suss out the state of my lower back, wiggle around in a trial downdog to check out my cranky right hip, stand at the top of my mat and say a little prayer. Even after that little ritual, the postures are all familiar.
While this familiarity is comforting, I’ve learned over the years that I have to stay tuned in. Though I know which postures I can do and which ones I am still learning to do, there are always surprises. The unchanging nature of the postures highlights the constant changes of my body. Every day I witness change – in my flexibility, in my energy levels, in my ability to focus, in my emotional state. Sometimes this change is as stunning as the day I noticed that my son “suddenly” towered over me. Sometimes the change I see is a miniscule, but inspiring, ability to move deeper into a challenging pose.
If I’m not tuned in, I have learned that I can get hurt. In other words, if I fail to notice a tight or sore muscle and go into a posture the “way I always do” I can end up injured. After so many years of practice, thankfully, that kind of inattention doesn’t happen very often. What happens more often is that my inattention can cause me to miss new abilities that have been developing slowly. I may not even attempt the next iteration of a posture because of my assumption that I can’t do it. In other words, I’m on autopilot or cruise control just sailing through my practice.
Just as I feel more at risk of falling asleep at the wheel when I have the car in cruise control, being in autopilot on a yoga mat makes for a snooze-worthy practice. Not only am I missing out on the small details of the scenery (as it were), but I am missing out on any chance for it to be a moving meditation.
When I let my mind disengage and for my body to just “do its thing,” I will not sit up from my rest at the end of practice feeling any different than I did when I stood at the top of my mat before I stated to move. I will not have created any shifts in my emotions or settled my thoughts. I will not have connected with my spirit, let alone with the Creator of that spirit. In other words, by not noticing and engaging with the changes my practice reveals about me, I will not be changed by my practice.
The same is true in life. If you’re not tuned in to the little, gradual changes in the world and people around you, you will miss out on opportunities to let life amaze you. You will miss out on chances to let the people you know surprise you. You will miss out on the inevitable progression of time that is your life – and that can be heartbreaking when you realize it’s happened.
While my failure to notice the failure of my showerhead is not even a little heartbreaking, it does mean I missed out on months and months of enjoyable showers. And now that I own “the greatest showerhead of all time,” even that small cost of inattention seems like a crying shame.