“Be like a duck. Calm on the surface but always paddling like the dickens underneath.” – Michael Caine
Life has a way of sneaking up on us
It doesn’t matter that you practice yoga, meditation, or some another form of mindfulness. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been practicing or even how much you have allowed your practice to enter into the depths of your being. Life sneaks up on you.
Sometimes, like any younger brother worth his salt, life will leap out at you with a well-timed “BOO!” It is in these moments of startled upheaval that your practice comes into play. For in that moment lies a whole slew of choices.
You could freak out. Melt down. Crumble to the floor in a mix of tears and hysterical laughter. This is certainly how I handled many of these moments growing up with a super stealthy little brother.
Or you could take the “I’m way too cool for you, baby brother” route, shoving your startled state down and somehow maintaining your veneer of calm, cool collectedness. (Let me tell you, those were such awesome moments of sibling victory.)
No amount of practice will help you avoid upset
The real news here is that we will all experience tumult and upheaval in life. There is really, truly no way around that. We are all, like any big sister worth her salt, working to navigate these moments without inflicting our fright, startle, agitation, fear, or general upset on those around us.
You see, it goes deeper than pretending not to be scared when your brother startles you. It’s having the awareness to recognize that you are startled, upset, or scared to death and then choosing to take a step back to give yourself the time and space needed to respond rather than react.
It takes a LOT of work to maintain your cool
Giving yourself this time and space takes a lot of work. It is worth mentioning that it also is not a way to avoid your upset. It is a way to allow your tumult to pass through you, so that you are free to respond mindfully.
What happens during this time and space is often not pretty. For me, at least, it can involve monumental strength and resolve. It can involve tears and even tantrums. It can involve biting my tongue so hard it feels like it’s going to bleed.
What am I doing in these moments between reaction and response? Honestly, it often depends on timing. If I’m lucky and there’s no urgency, it can involve a conversation with my therapist. If the situation is a little time sensitive, it can involve journaling or a long walk.
Interestingly, it’s when it is a wildly urgent, crisis-level event, that it is most critical that I insist on some time to get on my yoga mat or sit in meditation for a few minutes. Please hear me: the more confidence you and I have that giving ourselves a little bit of space will yield a whole lot of clarity, the more we begin to resemble the duck in my opening quote.
Your practice doesn’t make a calm life easy; it makes it possible
This bears repeating. Seasoned meditators, experienced yogis, and deeply spiritual folks may seem calm on the surface. But I assure you that they are paddling like the dickens to maintain what looks like serenity.
I’m not saying the serenity we see is fake, pretend, or inauthentic. I’m saying that while it may look effortless, that is far from the case. It takes persistence and determination (a.k.a. effort) to maintain mindfulness practices.
We practice because life can (and will) sneak up on us in ways much more startling than my younger brother ever managed to pull off. We practice because we are absolutely going to need the astounding reservoirs of inner resolve, strength, and skills that our practices provide. We practice so that we know how to calmly keep paddling like the dickens even when we feel decidedly un-serene.
It turns out that controlling yourself is a whole lot easier than controlling life
In the end, our practices teach us to shift our focus to self-management and self-control, which is 1,000,000 times easier than trying to control life itself. “All” we have to do is allow even the most upsetting bits of life to unfold as they will and then choose our response.
Easy-peasy? Nope. Effective? Heck yeah. Just ask a duck.
Looking for help developing and/or maintaining a mindfulness practice of your own? I can help with that. Explore the philosophy, spirituality, and yoga pages on my site, or, better yet, drop me a note or give me a call.