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Spring is flamboyant in my garden with roses and peonies blooming simultaneously in glorious, ready-made bouquets. Summer, on the other hand, is a little quieter. While the blue, magenta and pink blooms of my beloved hydrangeas are probably what you would first notice as you sit at our patio table, it would be a shame if you didn’t get up and take a wander.
Unless you get up to walk around, you will miss some special secrets hiding around the yard. The delicate lavender flowers on the hosta in the shady far corner. The multi-colored daisies like white, yellow and orange smiles under the magnolia tree. The pale pink fronds of astilbe by the stone wall. Delicate pink and yellow blossoms of anemone waving from their long stems over the tops of the potted ferns. Even the weeds are pretty at this time of year – dark purple violets speckle our grass.
Therese of Lisieux, a Carmelite nun who lived and wrote in France in the late 1800s, noticed the same thing and she wrote, “The splendor of the rose or the whiteness of the lily do not rob the little violet of its scent or the daisy of its simple charm. If every tiny flower wanted to be a rose, spring would lose its loveliness.” It was as she observed the gardens around her home that she came to understand her role in whole of creation. In her mind, she was like a tiny violet, able to make the world a better, sweeter, more beautiful place simply by being who she was. Richard Rohr writes in his July 31, 2017 essay, that Therese’s motto was to “do very little things with great love.”
We often get caught up looking for the grand gestures, the perfect gifts, or exactly the right words. We wrongly feel that life’s big moments – births and deaths, successes and failures, sicknesses and remissions – can only be suitably marked or noticed with rose- and hydrangea-like expressions. Yet a daisy or a violet of an expression – a note, a phone call, a hug, an invitation to take a walk, even a simple text message – is a perfect way to say “I am thinking of you and I care.”
It’s not the gesture that matters, but the fact that we are inspired to make a gesture at all. What is important is that we reach out to connect, to love and to give of ourselves.
My yoga practice has taught me the power of little things. The act of folding forward on my mat takes five breaths – maybe 30 seconds. For years (a lifetime really), I couldn’t reach my toes. But simply bending over and staying there for five breaths a day eventually created something of a miracle – the forward fold I’d yearned for. Patience and persistence created the equivalent of a rose on my yoga mat – a pretty nice forward fold.
But it’s important to look a little more closely at what was really going on. Yes, breathing, counting, stretching, moving – nothing fancy or grand – yield physical change in my yoga posture. But my intention in doing these simple things matters as much as the fact that I’m doing them at all.
You see, I’ve hurt myself doing the same forward fold that eventually, gently lengthened my forever-tight hamstrings. When I was new to the practice and in an awful hurry to “be good” at yoga, I pushed and strained. Rather than practicing to take care of myself inside and out, my intention had twisted. Somehow progress and physical perfection had replaced peace and centeredness as my goals. It’s no surprise really that I pulled a muscle on the back of my leg.
When I was a new teacher, eagerly sharing yoga, I failed to move with my breath. I allowed my mind to wander to my students’ mats and didn’t pay attention to what I was feeling on my own. My intention had again twisted. Instead of teaching, instead of helping my students to find the appropriate path into and out of the posture for themselves, I took the short-cut of “showing.” While I sincerely hope this wasn’t the case, perhaps I was even excited to “show off” the changes yoga had created in my body. Again, it’s no surprise that I pulled that same muscle.
Intention, then, is the violet or the daisy of a yoga practice. Intention imbues your practice with meaning. Intention insures that you’re on your mat for the right reasons. Intention keeps you focused on what matters – that you are taking time out to take care of yourself, to step away from your chattering thoughts and to tune into your heart and soul.
When you watch an experienced person practice yoga, you may at first be captivated by his grace, fluidity and physical prowess. These are the flamboyant roses of the practice. Look more closely. Try to find the violets. You will see a soft expression in his eyes. You will sense a tenderness in the way he moves. You will sense respect in the way he cares for his body. You will notice that his smile is contagious, as is his steady breath. These are hints that the practice is being done with love. These are glimpses of the intention behind his practice.
Intention makes your yoga practice a gift of love from you to you. This same intention, the one you practice each and every time you unroll your mat, will absolutely become a habit. Before you know it, you will find yourself, like Therese, looking for ways to do very small things with great love. Each time you do, your practice becomes more than a gift from you to you. It will become a gift of you to the world around you.