During these last few weeks I have come to feel that this is like starting over. Sitting here in rural Spain, waiting for the Ph in the pool to drop down to 7.6. It's not easy. You have to be prepared to let go of what you have already done – maybe even let go of who you are and where you think you are going. When so many of us define ourselves by our jobs, our status in society, our possessions, our cars, our achievements, it's a big deal to put that on the line and start over. So why do it?
If you ask me, reptiles have got it right – the ones who shed their skins. They go happily about their business for some time, reproducing, eating, sleeping, reptiling about and then a little alarm goes off and it's time to change – get a new skin – become a new person – perhaps reinvent. I'm not aware of any big-shot successful reptiles who decide not to do that, but rather stick to the skin they've got. It's like they got half the river bank sown up, stashed away a few thousand eggs in some sand bar, and now they're looking forward to another successful season as one of Nature's possibly least attractive animals. And then, there's the buzzer and it's time for a new skin. They're starting over. I'm pretty sure I heard the buzzer some time ago.
It's a big risk to start over. But twentieth century wisdom suggest that with risk comes reward. That is perhaps not the best source of knowledge but it is where I am rooted. Even worse, I am grounded in finance, project management, accounting, double entry book-keeping – the indisputable logic that requires every credit to have a debit - otherwise a black hole immediately opens up and we are shunted off up some ladder to another, possible parallel universe where things might not be quite the same. We lose control – and for many of us, control has been paramount in our lives. Starting over requires the willingness to cede control, roll the dice and climb up the ladder or slide down the snake. Maybe even trust the Universe.
The yoga analogies are obvious: every time we fall out of a posture is an opportunity to start over; don't get cross and frustrated because your body is not performing like last time. Just accept where it is and try again. I think we all know that one. But what I think are the real gifts are the countless opportunities in class to bring our mind back to the breath, refocus and start again.
There are so many times that I have been lying there in savasana, grateful to my tired body for having got through another standing series, and waiting for my mind to settle down and be still. But instead, I get all kinds of junk – images from who knows where, from my past, childhood, that morning, tomorrow, just anywhere, anybody and anything. My mind just sends me stuff – what do you think of this one? Don't like it, try this – hey, here's another, and so it goes on.
And then I have to let all that junk go and bring my attention back to my breathing. That is my meditation – right there. Starting over. Meditation is full of little restarts – coming back to the breath and letting the mind follow what the body is already doing. If I am inhaling, then I follow the inhale; if I am exhaling, I follow the exhale. The body has figured this out already – it doesn't need advice or guidance from the mind.
Some times we make meditation so very hard: we try to make the environment right, some nice music, get the candles going, some pillows to get comfortable and then what? And then we are frustrated because our mind races off somewhere at top speed and that quiet, that stillness, that peace, seems unobtainable. My best meditation happens when I trust my body to do what it already knows. I bring my mind back again and again, as many times as necessary – come back to my breath and start again to follow the breath – look for that little still point between the inhale and the exhale – rest there for just a moment – and then follow the next breath. Not controlling it – not making it shorter or longer – but just allowing it to be what my body wants it to be. For me, my breath is the key to my practice. I used to say my yoga class was 90 minutes of breathing with a few postures thrown in to keep everybody from getting bored. Maybe next week I'll write about breathing.
And if it happens in the yoga room, then it can happen outside the yoga room too – in the office, in the sitting room, on the deck. Take the opportunity to be still during the day, maybe for just a few minutes, bring your mind to your breath and focus. Expect your mind to wander – that's its job. But gently coax it back to the breath and start again. The rewards are those little glimpses of stillness, and that's a pretty big deal in my books.