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I ran around like crazy all weekend. A happy crazy, mind you, but still crazy. With Christmas carols blaring I was quite the whirling dervish. Business Christmas cards needed to be assembled and mailed. Our annual pilgrimage to Longwood Gardens to enjoy the lights had to be taken. There was shopping to be done (yes, sadly, at the mall with literally everyone else in the area). Gifts had to be wrapped. Decadent recipes needed to be dug out and grocery lists made. Boxes of presents had to be packed and labeled for the mailman.
On Sunday evening, I threw my church clothes back on and slid happily into a pew at church at the same crazed pace I’d kept up all weekend. My girls were singing in a service called “Lessons and Carols,” which I remembered enjoying very much last year. From the opening prayer, I was completely absorbed. I could almost feel my heartbeat slow as I listened to the “lessons” (9 readings from scripture selected to tell the Christmas story). The choir’s carols – some ancient, some in foreign languages – left me covered in goosebumps. When the congregation rose to sing more familiar carols, I sang freely and joyfully.
As we bowed our heads for the final prayer, my weekend was turned on its head. All the running around that I’d done made a little more sense now that I’d reconnected with the reason behind the seasonal hubbub. Not only that, but the list of projects, tasks and errands left ahead of me now seemed much less daunting. In fact, as I dwelled in the hope and glory of what we’re celebrating – God’s exquisite, selfless love for us and our desire to mirror that love in the world around us – whether or not it all got done suddenly felt less important. I found myself returning again and again to the intention behind it all – Love.
Interestingly, I’ve been in the midst of a similar epiphany on my yoga mat. Ever since I began practicing, I’ve known that the reason it’s so easy for me to maintain the discipline of my practice is the way it leaves me feeling inside and out. Yet on a regular basis I can make myself crazy (not necessarily happy crazy like I was this weekend) over the trappings of the practice. I can get obsessive when I’m working on an elusive or challenging new posture. I can become sick with worry when an old posture slips away. I’ve been known to completely wear myself out working on a single posture, so that I drag around for the rest of the day. I’ve certainly had moments when my frustration makes me wonder why I’m doing this all anyway.
In other words, I lose sight of why I practice.
A few weeks ago, because life has been extra-full and I’ve been navigating some off-the-mat worries, I decided that my time on my mat was time I needed to nurture myself. To be honest, it’s difficult to put into words exactly what has changed, but as soon as my intention shifted away from “success” in postures and toward taking care of myself, my whole practice felt different – light, peaceful, content. Interestingly, what I’m doing on my mat hasn’t changed. In other words, I’m not doing easier or fewer postures. It’s as if I’ve somehow softened, and, in so doing, the work I’m doing (even postures that have been real challenges for me) feels less like work and more like time spent caring for myself inside and out.
In other words, I’ve reconnected with the intention of my practice.
The serendipity of these lessons is not lost on me. In fact, my newly awakened awareness feels like a priceless gift. In neither instance was I aware that I’d allowed myself to drift away from the deepest meaning behind my activities. I was as happy zipping through my Christmas “To Do List” as I was in my daily yoga practice. I didn’t feel depleted, rebellious, lethargic or ambivalent – all typical signs that I’m off track. Yet, looking back, I can see that I was in danger of veering away from the real meaning of both.
My return to the true intention of my practice – to be quiet, to make space, to reconnect with my spirit and with God, to live more like the person I yearn to be – has restored my practice’s ability to take care of me so that I can better take care of the people who fill my life. Likewise, my return to the true intention of the holiday season – to love, to give, to spend time with family and friends, to celebrate – has slowed my pace so that I can savor the joy of the days leading up to Christmas.
Why not slow down for a moment yourself? Pause to check in with why you’re doing all this anyway. I suspect the answer will leave you, too, feeling lighter and brighter.