Saturday, June 11, 2016

Every Now and Then, Practice Works

Things have been winding up and settling down.

There have been many sleepless nights as I worried about some of the choices my two teenagers have been making.  Trying to find the balance between guidance and support and the teenage equivalent of shouting angrily - STOP! - when your toddler appears to be about to run out into the street.  When the toddler is 19, one must take another tact - more subtle and yet still as startling and forceful.  No one said it would be easy.

But we are getting there.  When I see Finn gently and eagerly care for Lucy's pet rat (yes, she has one!  She is named Violet), I feel hopeful that this sweet, gentle side of him is the underpinning that props up the rest, even the less than sweet parts.  And when Lucy points out some aspect of how I am deluding myself, this time with clarity and directness but also compassion (versus when she just sticks it to me like a dagger in the back), I marvel at her innate wisdom and try to trust that when she tells me that her summer plans are to go live on a commune in rural Tennessee.

Neither of my two are taking the traditional post-high school graduation route.  I see and hear other parents talking about university and scholarships and accomplishments and it gives me pause.  Did I do something horribly wrong?  Then a friend said to me, somewhat impatiently at my dimness, "What did you expect?!  You raised them to think for themselves and now they are!"


Still, as a parent, I want some sense of security, some sense that they will be, not just alright, but good - really good and happy - in the world.  Of course, I want the impossible.  Maybe in six months time they will have found a direction that will guide them for the coming years and it will feel more settled, but it's never really settled.  It's never settled.

The only thing that can be settled is our mind.  The slings and arrows will just keep coming - this is guaranteed.  Are you running around in a panic, trying to avoid them, dashing this way and that?  Or are you calmly watching them land, stepping aside as needed?  Maybe getting hit as needed too.  It is becoming more and more painfully obvious to me that the only way we can approach reaching that second state of mind (the calm one not the dashing around one) is with practice.  By this I don't even mean yoga practice or Zen practice but I do mean some kind of regular, daily practice of engaging with discomfort.

I am talking about a practice that challenges us to face up to the little things that might send us racing about - a momentary itch in our nose when we are trying to sit still or the frustration of trying and missing an attempt to do an āsana (posture) that we do every single day.  Small and unimportant things.  And that's exactly it!  So small and so unimportant that we can practice them and the consequences of not meeting their challenge (I hesitate to say fail) are equally small and unimportant.  Ok, I scratched my nose during meditation.  Or I fell out of parivritti trikonāsana again.  Again!  These small experiences are the drip of water that creates the hole in the rock over time.  Day by day, they are not a big deal but check back in a few years, or a few decades.  These small practices matter.

A few years ago, I went to an Ashtanga primary series class led by Sharath Jois (Pattabhi Jois's grandson and heir to his school and role as "guru").  It was early in the morning and very crowded with people who all seemed to know each other and all seemed to be very fabulous and all seemed to have very advanced practices.  I totally freaked out - I felt surrounded by a thick air of competition and was overwhelmed by feelings of being inadequate.  It thoroughly infected me and my response was to make my practice so aggressive that, by the time I finished, I was completely depleted.  I honestly thought that I would not be able to walk to the subway without collapsing.  I remember being really scared about how I would get home.  It was something of a wake-up call.

Sharath is in town again now.  After that horrifying practice a few years ago, I vowed never to do that again.  Yet, for some reason, I signed up for three of the six days of practice that he is offering.  This morning was the first one.  The crowd was even larger this time - 350 people!  We filled the gymnasium at a local college, with our mats just inches apart.  Normally that alone would make me very anxious as a long-limbed person who needs a fair bit of space but this time all I could feel was a kind of awe that we were all there practicing together.  It felt beautiful, not anxious.  I actually had the best, most relaxed practice in months.

My working myself to exhaustion last time was not about Sharath or the bevy of gorgeous 25 year-olds (male and female) in their Lululemon outfits who could float through the practice barely touching the ground.  All that crazy was my crazy.  Like the water dripping on a rock, several years later I am pleased to see that I am a little less crazy.  No worries - there is plenty of room for improvement but, as one of the monks at the Monastery likes to say, "practice works!"

Finn and Lucy are launching themselves out into this horrible, cruel, beautiful world in ways that I never imagined.  There will be trouble ahead.  There will be moments of poetry.  Those are certainties.  The rest is up to me to create.

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