Friday, September 24

A Little Patience....Yeah....

Yes, I just referenced Guns n' Roses in a blog post. Welcome to the Big Show.

Patience: it's one of the essential elements in a peaceful life, and yet it is sorely lacking in how we interact with others and how we interact with ourselves in modern times. I am sure you could look around yourself today and point out a number of instances where a little loving patience could have easily smoothed out a difficult or unpleasant situation: either while stuck in traffic on your way to work, or bustling with the crowds onto the subway, or waiting in line at the deli, or working on a project in the office. New Yorkers are especially gripped by the Disease of Speed, but it's happening everywhere: these days, we expect everything to move and work and travel at lightning speed, and we extend that expectation to ourselves when it comes to things we are trying to learn, embrace, improve on, or become successful at. While you may be able to admit that you could have been a little more patient with that car driving a bit slowly in front of you on the road this morning, or that person who was confusedly swiping their faulty Metrocard and holding up the line, or the server at the deli fumbling with the change, or even your coworker who didn't get you that report you needed right when you asked for it for your project, when was the last time that you looked at yourself and realized how far a little loving patience could go? Or have you ever acknowledged how much you are depriving yourself of it?

We all have aspirations and expectations for ourselves. You can call them dreams, goals, whatever you want. We think about them, daydream about them, plan for them, motivate ourselves towards them, and seek encouragement to reach for them. However, more often than not in this process, we are employing resolutely negative thoughts or feelings about ourselves in order to propel us forward to this desired goal or dream. For example: "I need to learn to eat more healthfully, because I am overweight and unattractive", or "I need to go to the gym 5 days a week, because I am flabby and my body isn't strong", or "I need to work harder and get a promotion, because I am not making enough money or holding an impressive enough position in my career", or "I need to re-organize and re-decorate my home, because I haven't done a nice enough job setting up my environment and I'm too sloppy". We then drive ourselves relentlessly towards these insufficiency-based goals. What's the common thread here? It all comes down to "I need to change, because I'm not good enough as I am. And I need to change fast, NOW." So where's the problem? Deep down inside, we don't like being told that we aren't good enough, by others or ourselves; it causes a pain that resides deep within, a pain that we may be unaware of but that is very real and that results in procrastination and resistance towards the very imperatives that we feel so compelled to fix, change, and improve about ourselves. Do you hear an echo of yourself in the above statements? And if so, how's that "self-improvement" project going??? Let me's not working out very well. But you're ON IT, right?

Instead of ceaseless criticism and a constant driving pressure to be better, faster, more, less, stronger, richer, higher, prettier, what if we just focused on sending love, kindness, and patience to ourselves right where we are in the quest for our desires, accepting ourselves fully for wherever we are in the process...and then approached our dreams and aspirations from a place of wanting to grow and learn naturally, according to our current capabilities and at the pace that is right for us, by standards that we ourselves define according to what comes intuitively? Doesn't that sound a whole lot easier, more pleasant, and more realistic as a method of actually getting what or where we want?

I'll give you a personal example: I love yoga. I Love Yoga. If you've worked with me as a client, you probably know how I feel about yoga; its transformative powers, and its unique ability to combine a spiritual, emotional, and physical practice seamlessly into one awe-inspiring, mind-and-heart opening, body-toning, spirit-soothing soul shakedown party. You get the idea? I'm into it. I learned about yoga from my Mom. My Mom was doing yoga when I was a little girl, way before it was so fashionable, and that's how I first came to know yoga and the wonderful secrets and powers that it promised. My Mom brought me with her to a yoga class when I was so young that my memories are hazy...but what I do remember is this: the teacher was soft-spoken, gentle and kind, there were green plants around the room, the other practitioners were open and welcoming to a curious but shy child in their midst, morning sunlight was streaming through windows into a quiet and warm space, and I saw my Mom in a light that I had never seen her in before: she was ensconced in her yoga Practice. I saw her in a different way than I was used to...I was in awe. She was moving her body into positions I had never seen; it seemed vaguely gymnastic and yet profoundly calming at the same time. It felt powerful and yet freeing; and everyone was quiet, but still moving...they were part of something unique, something special and beautiful. I was hooked. I can't tell you anything more specific than that, because it is the overall shapes and feelings that are still with me, but I remember those elements and the energy in that room like it was yesterday. That experience was the beginning of my intense feelings towards yoga, and my joy in the possibilities that it holds. I am forever grateful to my Mom for introducing me to yoga. And to vegetables, but that's another story.

Fast forward to many years later, when I was 25 years old and living the fast, fun and free life in the city, working at an office job in Manhattan, burning the candle at every end there is....and loving every minute of it. There was a yoga studio on the same block as my office that a friend belonged to, and she convinced me to join. Now at this point, my exposure to yoga had been limited to that one class when I was very young plus a very small handful of other classes sporadically through the years, usually with my Mom. As much as I was romanced by it, I had been tentative in my explorations. I wasn't sure yet if I was up to the challenge; if yoga would have me. So at 25 I was pretty much at the "beginner with familiarity" phase of my practice. But there was a twist to the story: that previous summer, my life had taken an unexpected and profoundly staggering turn when I was diagnosed with malignant melanoma, the same diagnosis that became the final straw in leading me to a path of Health and Wellness Counseling as a future career. But that was a little later; at the time, I had to undergo significant surgery, and an even more traumatic recovery period. In the medical quagmire that followed, I dove into this new yoga practice with all of the fervor of someone wanting to be saved: This was going to make me Healthy! This was going to make me Safe! This was going to make me Fit! This was going to get my Spirit and Heart in line! This was going to make me all Goodness and Purity and Light! Bring it on!!!

(no pressure, right?)

As any of you who have taken yoga classes in the past few years in New York or any other cosmopolitan city can attest to, the yoga can get a bit....competitive. And high-speed. Without dwelling on this, let's just say, this is not the point of yoga. It's about challenging yourself physically, spiritually, mentally and emotionally, yes- but your practice should be on your own terms, challenging you in the ways you need for your own growth; it should not be about how fast you can go to keep up with the others around you or how much can you push yourself to the extreme in order to achieve that next level of ability. I can admit that I succumbed to this mentality a little bit, it's easy to get caught up. I was having fun, I was invigorated, I was getting a great workout, and I was indeed getting the spiritual and emotional benefits of the practice...just not as much as I could have been because I was moving a little too damn fast, literally and metaphorically. Basically, I wasn't having patience with myself.

A few short months into my new yoga practice, I was taking a Sunday morning Advanced Level class. I had been out the night before, I was tired and stiff, and I had no business being in an Advanced Level class in the first place being that I was early on in my yoga practice. My body told me to stay in bed that morning, but my friend and I wanted to be motivated, so I pushed myself to go. The class warmed up quickly, VERY quickly, and before I knew it we were in full swing...a swing I was not quite ready for, but I didn't listen to myself, because I didn't take the time it would have taken to come to that realization before it was too late. Things were going fast and hard, at least for me, and I pushed myself into a position I was not warmed up enough to go into, and I went all the way.....POP, RIP!!! I hit the floor. I had badly torn the muscle that was most affected by my melanoma surgery 6 months before; I had not yet healed enough to regain the strength in that area needed for such a vigorous practice, I hadn't given myself the time. Adding injury to injury, I was devastated...I limped out of class right then and there, spent the next three days horizontal on a couch, and the next 3 years avoiding yoga more or less altogether.

Not exactly altogether...I knew deep inside that I wanted, needed yoga in my life, and so I would meekly show up to a class now and then but very rarely, never more frequently than maybe once or twice a year, and every time I would try to match the same level I was at right before that class when I got hurt, right before I pushed it too far, even though this was nonsensical: I got hurt in the first place because I was going too fast and too hard for my needs. Aside from being nonsensical, it was frustrating: the injury hadn't properly healed and so my body was now hurt more than it had been originally from the surgery, and so I simply could not maintain a consistent yoga practice at that level without causing further aggravation of my injury. But I didn't know how else to approach it, I felt I simply needed to make it happen. Each time I'd gather up my courage and go back, I'd try to keep up with my previous practice, and I'd leave frustrated (and limping in pain), angry at my inability to really embrace the practice, envious of others who could, and I would not go back for months and months. Meanwhile, my heart, soul, mind and spirit were missing out even more....they yearned for the peace and calm and love that yoga brings, but I was unintentionally depriving myself of those things, because at the time I wouldn't give myself the patience and compassion it would have taken to allow myself to approach my yoga practice through slowness and calm, stepping it back a level and taking it at the right speed and intensity for me this time, honoring the needs of my injury and re-injury, greeting and embracing the challenges but with acceptance of my current limitations; ultimately, giving myself the time and space to truly heal, and to move forward with seeking an expansive and enriching yoga practice from there rather than forcing it.

I learned that lesson finally. I let patience into my life, and into my yoga practice. I re-approached it slowly, it didn't happen all at once. I had to employ all of the concepts above and take it back to basics at first, and that wasn't easy. But I am joyful and proud to report that I now have a consistent, enormously satisfying and expanding yoga practice in my life again, and I got there by accepting a few things:

1. I am where I am. I know where I want to be, but to get there, I have to fully accept and respect where I am, embracing my strengths and my limitations.

2. It is worth it to take on the sometimes difficult but profoundly rewarding challenge of having patience with myself in order to reap the amazing benefits of whatever experience or goal I aspire to.

3. It is not about being perfect or meeting anyone else's standards. I want this for me, for my own reasons, and on my own terms.

This story is about yoga, but we all have something that we love or aspire to, something we want to have or to be a part of; something that we want to look at and be able to say I Am That. This goal comes out of a dream or a desire that we treasure and long for, something we feel will positively effect our lives- and yet we drive ourselves, abuse ourselves, judge ourselves, criticize ourselves relentlessly to get there....does that make sense? And does it work? No, it doesn't. If you can take on the challenge to look at yourself as you are, where you are, and accept it, even love it, with all of it's bumps, inconsistencies, imperfections, beauties, strengths and uniqueness- and then, from that place ask yourself what it is that you want and what you are willing (and able) to do to get it in your own time, that is when you will be embracing patience and love towards yourself on your path to whatever it is you desire- and that's how you get it, without pain, disappointment, and feelings of failure.

I spoke to my Dad on the phone the other day. My Dad is a surfer, a native Montauker like myself and his father before him, and he grew up on a surfboard in the ocean. He may not get out in the water as much these days, but he will always be a surfer to me, and I believe- and hope- he will always think of himself that way. My earliest memories involve my Dad and a surfboard, and his seemingly effortless movement through the water; his natural home. He is the one who taught me how to swim safely and confidently in ocean waves, an experience I will never forget. On the phone with my Dad that day, when I asked him what he had been up to, he excitedly told me about how he'd been surfing the day before. This wasn't just any trip out into the waves: it was his first time surfing since his diagnosis with colon cancer 3 years before, and the ongoing medical complications and recovery that he and my Mom have had to navigate together since then. He described the sensation of being out on his board in the ocean again after so long; the cool water sliding past him as he paddled out, the fresh salt air on his skin, the peace of being in that sacred space that he had missed so much; he had returned, it was all right where he left it, ready and waiting for him. I was thrilled for him, but what I loved most about the story was how he described his initial apprehension about going out into the water to surf: it had been so long, he was out of the habit, his body had undergone multiple surgeries and setbacks since then, how would it be? How would he do? And then he said Hey, you know what? Who cares, I'm just going to do this. It will be whatever it will be, and I might be a little rusty, but I want this, and it's worth it. And he did it, and he loved it, and it was worth it....and he was just fine where he was.

Please consider how hard you are on yourself all the time in your quest to achieve that which you want in life. Take a break and notice all of the little judgements, criticisms, and pressures you issue at yourself all day long. How exhausting that is! Not to mention, how ineffective! In my counseling practice, I constantly have people come to me who want to get to a particular place either with their weight, or their health, or their fitness, or their success, or their happiness, but they feel they've been trying for so long and with no luck- something inside of them has been resisting the process, but they don't listen to themselves and on they march, driving themselves harder all the time with ever-increasing doses of judgement, criticism and self-doubt, feeling that they need to change to be good enough. The harder they have pushed themselves, the harder they have fallen. That is because it takes patience and acceptance and love of who we are to get where we want to go, not constant punishment. Respect who and what you are and what you're working with, and in doing so, you empower yourself to take the steps it will take to get where you want to be- you can do whatever you dream to do, it just takes a little love and patience. Are you willing to take that challenge to get what you want?

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