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There was a time when a snow day could send me into a tailspin of angst. I would be anxious about the “lost” time. I would be frustrated by my looming list of things to do. I would feel derailed from my schedule. By the way, it wouldn’t have to be a snow day. It could be a child home sick. Or a broken-down car. Or the phones or cable being down and the requisite 4-hour window I’d have to wait for the repair person.
In short, there was a time when life’s little hiccups could leave me feeling victimized. Not anymore.
I’m going to chalk up the change in me to yoga. After all, if fifteen years of practice have taught me anything, it’s that I can count on nothing. I could have the most feel-good practice of my life one day and the most painful one I could imagine the next. I could spend three straight years doing an inversion and go out to practice one day to find I am no longer be able to do it. I could struggle with a nagging injury for months and show up on my mat one day to find myself mysteriously, miraculously healed.
I’m not making this stuff up. It’s all true and it’s all happened to me. The vicissitudes of a daily yoga practice can rival the nonsensical theatrics of any soap opera on television.
It turns out that showing up when you have absolutely no idea what to expect takes an astounding amount of practice. I still fall prey to expectations. I still dash excitedly out to practice the day after I was super bendy, my anticipation for another rubber-band practice at a fever pitch. I still find myself feeling smacked down when I feel more rigid than flexible. In fact, I think it’s the exhausting emotional impact of these crazy highs and devastating lows that have taught me to walk contentedly down the “middle way.”
In pure yoga fashion, the very physical practice of unrolling a yoga mat and moving, breathing and sweating has provided me a stunning level of intimacy with a great big philosophical concept.
The Middle Way is the name Buddhists use for this concept. Not to oversimplify things too dramatically, but Buddha taught that there are addictive qualities to both self-indulgence and self-mortification. In other words, we humans can get hooked on highs as well as lows. Avoiding these extremes by choosing moderation or “walking the middle way” yields peace, calm and even enlightenment.
Christian scripture also teaches this idea. St. Paul wrote (in Philippians 4:11-13) that he learned to be content in any circumstances – in need and in plenty, in hunger and when fed, in plenty or in want. Contentment and peace, Paul discovered, come from within. If we hinge our well-being on seeking certain circumstances of life, we risk exposing ourselves to highs and lows that we must then navigate.
The Hebrew scholar Solomon Ibn Gabirol, who wrote in the middle ages, taught the idea of seeking contentment in all situations with brilliant simplicity. To paraphrase, “He who seeks more than he needs hinders himself from enjoying what he has.”
Yoga philosophy offers us the idea of Brahmacarya. This idea is found in verse 2:38 of the ancient text, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The word literally translates as “to walk with God.” It asks us to seek moderation in all things. Not because it’s right or because doing so makes us extra-virtuous or because if we find moderation we’ll somehow also find enlightenment. We are taught to seek moderation because our experience of life is better when we do. The reward of moderation is balance and centeredness.
Over the years, then, my practice has taught me (honestly, sometimes the hard way) all about the peace that is available to me when I find contentment with “what is” – a tight day or a loose, injured or well. This lesson has not been limited to the confines of my yoga mat. Actually, very few things I’ve learned on that rubber rectangle have only benefited me there. This practice of walking the “middle way” or moderation has seeped off my mat and into my life.
Which is why I believe that snow days (and, yes, even four hour waits for the cable guy) now feel like gifts to me. Even though some things may not get done. Even though my schedule is interrupted. These unexpected windows of time feel like opportunities. They feel filled with surprises just like my very familiar yet always surprising practice.
I will close this with a familiar Hebrew greeting which offers you peace, harmony and tranquility no matter what type of day you’re having.