Practice Notes: Persistence & Patience
By Jools Andrés, SOYA, RYT500, E-RYT200
It only takes me a couple of minutes to walk from my home to a busy esplanade that attracts large numbers of casual strollers, power walkers, joggers, and serious runners each and every day of the year. On some days there are outdoor tai chi classes, kite surfers, and skimboarders. Others attract bird watching or photography clubs. I like to practice standing and balancing asana far out on the sand at low tide among the squirting clams and squawking gulls. From morning’s first light until darkness transforms the day into night, many come to enjoy the fresh sea air, the flat terrain, and the safety provided by an open public space.
Now, such a busy place brings out the people watcher in me for certain. I see cane-toting elderly and wheelchair-bound folks of all ages; there are children, babies, and smooching young lovers, people of many colours and nationalities speaking many languages. Most are well mannered, but when people litter, for example, I can get up on my high horse. After all, I try to leave nature as clean or cleaner than I found it. Huff. Grumble. Even though my intention is to notice and temper my egoistic reactions, avoiding ensnarement by judgmental thoughts takes more self-awareness than I manage to consistently muster. So far.
One cool, windy morning in early January I found myself observing a woman who was slowly jogging toward me. She was quite heavy and her gait was lopsided, with restricted mobility on her right side, and her shoulders, neck, and head were shifted sharply to the left. She looked to be in agony, labouring to breathe, her face red, and her brows knit.
The former competitive runner in me jumped right up into that lofty saddle. “She won’t keep that up for long! She should be kinder to herself and walk her way to her New Year’s fitness resolution.” My negative thoughts immediately displeased me, but I soon forgot about them. And her.
Several months and hundreds of joggers passed. Meanwhile, I had been increasing my time on my meditation mat by consistently sitting first thing in the morning and last thing before bed each day. I acknowledged my ego’s resistance and made myself give over to the part of me that said it was time to meditate and listen. Over time small shifts in self-perception became evident. I noticed that I was more forgiving of my own mistakes and, little by little, confidence in my abilities increased. And I started to experience these changes as expanding outward, resulting in fewer and milder critical responses to others.
Like most things, progress in yoga has its ups and downs. Many meditation sittings leave me feeling that I have just spent twenty-five minutes thinking and worrying, like I already do much of rest of the time. Complete lapses in practice are a thing of the past, but over the years I have had to really force myself to get back at it at times. I continue to battle for dominance over the internal jabbering so that the quiet, essential me can prevail. Without question, it’s the delightful little tastes of oneness that manage to peek through the mental muck that bring me back. Pavlovian, perhaps, but those are the rewards I seek.
One day not so long ago, after nearly seven months, I saw the same woman jogging toward me. I remembered my previous, ignoble reaction. Here she was, all this time later, still working very hard on her own behalf. She was still heavy and awkward and she still had a strained look on her face, but something about her was clearly lighter, easier. She exuded a kernel of inner glow, a softness.
“Bless her heart.”
What? These totally unexpected words simply burst out from inside my chest. Where had that come from? I had never even used that phrase before.
A flood of compassion for this strong-willed woman rose up in me. I felt grateful to witness her struggle and the gradual, real results of her work – she was no different than I was. I felt grateful for the awareness that I must persevere in my own practice to be able to see truth and beauty in others.
A deep appreciation for persistence and patience, and the words “bless her (or his) heart,” seem to be bubbling up frequently of late, both on my mat and out there on the promenade of my small world.
Thank you for reading.
Prem and Om,
Jools Andrés is a writer, editor, and yoga educator from White Rock, BC. She co-teaches the SOYA Vancouver 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training with Dorothy Fizzell. Visit breathemovesit.com