Taking Action and Responsibility for Your Own Practice April 30, 2021 10:52
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When I was a very young kid, my family moved into an apartment complex on the far east side of Indianapolis. Braeburn Village was a brand new complex in 1970, and we were one of its earliest tenants.
I was very curious and playful as a kid (as most kids are), and I would sometimes peer into the windows of the first floor apartments to see how other families lived. I was curious about what they were doing, how they spent their time, and, most importantly, what they were having for dinner.
Often, the windows revealed dark, empty kitchens, but since then, I have always been curious about how other people lived their lives. It was important for me to feel like I belonged.... and that I fit in.
I have long since abandoned peering into my neighbors' kitchen windows :), but this need to fit in, to feel connected and understood... well, that still lingers.
Even now, I can be easily influenced (and overly curious) about what others do--to the point that I question my own judgement and whether the way I choose to do things is OK. This tendency can be a blessing... and a curse.
Comparing myself to others, and then changing or adapting in order to accommodate can be unnecessary. It often hinders learning for me and can lead to great frustration and confusion. At other times, it can enhance the learning process, accentuate curiosity and play, and lead to discovery and more creative and innovative ways of doing things.
I've been studying the Tibetan language for a little more than a year. Because of COVID, my lessons have been online. I've been working with a wonderful teacher, who is originally from Lhasa, and one other student.
We've been using a textbook that is fairly advanced and not really ideal for new language learners, so from the very beginning, the weekly lessons were challenging. As we progressed more deeply into the text, the lessons became even more overwhelming and stressful for me.
I didn't think much about it at first since everything was new in the beginning. I expected some degree of confusion. Confusion, after all, is an important aspect of the learning process, and it can often be a motivator for discovery. However, as we made our way through the chapters, my confusion and frustration escalated, rather than subsided. The information in the text was daunting to me, and it lacked clear explanations and adequate exercises for practice.
Unfortunately, my need to fit in, belong, and stay caught up pushed me to continue. It would take me hours to complete the short, weekly exercises, and, worst of all, nothing was sticking. I wasn't retaining the information from week to week. This drinking-from-a-firehose technique of learning was NOT working for me, and it was crushing my curiosity, playfulness, and motivation to learn this beautiful language.
My fellow classmate, however, LOVES this book. He enjoys sifting through mounds of information and was even pushing to move even faster through the text.
My need to keep up and my tendency to accommodate others hit a wall in the middle of Chapter 5. I reached out to two friends for additional resource suggestions. One is a professor of Tibetan Studies; the other is a translator for a Tibetan lama in Canada. Both recommended additional texts that might be helpful for me.
I also reached out to my Tibetan teacher and asked if she could work with me individually. She agreed that the book we were using was too advanced (for both me and my fellow student) and agreed to work with me on another day of the week.
By taking action and responsibility for my own learning, I have a renewed sense of commitment, curiosity, and motivation. I'm honoring what works for me, and I'm looking forward to slowing down and focusing on just a couple of concepts at a time--and taking more time to practice, play, and explore with those concepts before adding additional information.
In this case, "keeping up" was NOT helping; it was actually hindering my progress. It was also sabotaging my motivation and mental health.
The new books my friends recommended have arrived this week. I'm looking forward to diving in and exploring them on my own terms and in my own way. I'm also looking forward to the one-on-one sessions with my teacher soon.
Sometimes, however, examining a subject from a different perspective can be inspiring--and can even ENHANCE one's practice.
Recently, I've joined an online book group. We are reading Lama Rod Owens' Love and Rage: The Path of Liberation through Anger.
We meet twice a month and discuss a few chapters at a time.
Last week, we discussed Chapter 4, which includes detailed descriptions of several personal meditation practices that Lama Rod incorporates regularly in his own practice.
I appreciated that he took the time to carefully outline and explain each step of each practice.
He explained each part of the practices by including examples, and he also followed up each with a brief outline. Lama Rod carefully explained at least a dozen specific practices in this chapter.
I found these detailed descriptions to be extremely useful, and I even had time to explore and play with a couple of them before we had our most recent book club meeting. His explanations have enhanced my own personal meditation practice.
Ironically, during our online discussion, a few members of the group found this chapter to be daunting and overwhelming: "TMI for one chapter."
They wondered if Lama Rod could have mentioned one practice at at time--maybe dedicating one chapter to each practice rather than cramming all twelve into one chapter.
This made me think of my online Tibetan class, and my classmate who loved the TMI text--but my frustration with it.
Although, compared to the Tibetan text, Chapter 4 in Lama Rod's book was nothing in terms of being too confusing or overwhelming :) !
I didn't feel compelled to try ALL of the practices, and the ones he outlined weren't linear. In other words, I didn't have to practice the first one before experimenting with the second one, etc.
I read through the chapter, picked a couple to explore, and enjoyed the practices as a result.
I may not need to take the time to explore the remaining practices. I took what I needed and moved on.
Learning has always been an important part of my life, and everyone learns in a different way. Trying to fit into someone else's learning style or educational paradigm is NOT a good thing.
Learning to honor my OWN path and to follow what fascinates and nourishes me has been a lifelong journey, too, just as honoring what fascinates and nourishes others--giving them the space to explore their own path is just as valuable and important.
At this point, I'm back on track. I'm curious, playful, and motivated about continuing to learn Tibetan in a way that resonates with me. I'm also fascinated about bringing fresh awareness into my personal meditation practice by learning more about what works for Lama Rod and the other members of my book club group.
Peering into my neighbors' kitchen windows when I was a kid has been a helpful and humorous metaphor for gauging if it's appropriate to follow along with others, abdicating my own viewpoint (and power) in the process. However, that's not always the best approach. Learning to observe, listen, and trust myself, to take responsibility and action for what fosters and nourishes my own curiosity has been an even more powerful life lesson.
This process turns the kitchen window metaphor around for me, and it involves paying closer attention to what's happening in my own "kitchen," appreciating that it, too, has value, worth, and the potential to nourish. Viewing the world through this lens (or window) allows me to acknowledge and appreciate my own perspective, and it also allows me to observe what's happening in the outer world while simultaneously maintaining a sense of connection, belonging, and understanding.
While you're here, I invite you to check out the current Middle Moon Malas online collection. Several new designs have been added to the online shop. These one-of-a-kind designs are made with love and care, and they're intended to enhance your meditation, movement, and wellness practices.
Bruce Lee and Butterflies: Absorbing What Is Useful June 30, 2017 17:04
I have entered my fifth decade, and yet I still occasionally struggle with self-acceptance. I wonder if I’m doing life “right,” whatever that means. Even though, on an intellectual level, I know it’s important to honor what resonates with me, when I observe others or hear them speak about their yoga or meditation practices with such confidence and authority, it can stir up questions and doubts.
This morning, I saw my favorite type of butterfly in our garden. I don’t know what it’s called. It’s not fancy or famous like the Monarch or the Tiger Swallowtail. This butterfly is very small, and it flies around in a very haphazard and erratic way—almost as if it’s surprised by its own ability to defy gravity. Its wings are white on one side, and pale blue on the other, so when it flies, it looks purple, lavender or lilac, really.
Even though it’s small, and a wobbly flyer, it’s still a butterfly, and it serves its butterfly purpose. It’s not trying to be the Monarch, the Cabbage White, or the Blue Morpho. It’s in the garden, hanging out with the lilies and hosta blooms being true to its quirky self.
I have deep admiration for people who do this, too. People who can embrace who they are unapologetically—who can “absorb what is useful,” like badass Bruce Lee, and integrate it in such a way that they still honor and maintain their own individuality. Even if they wobble or teeter a bit, they have the courage to stay on course, their course, the path that best suits them.
I tend to descend into doubt and second-guessing when I hear a yoga or meditation practitioner singing the praises of his or her own personal practice—elaborating on how great Iyengar or Ashtanga is…hot yoga…goat yoga…or some complex, esoteric sadhana found in an obscure, scholarly text.
If Ashtanga resonates with you…great. If you can achieve Samadhi by practicing yoga with hooved livestock…awesome. If reading complicated, philosophical texts resonates with you and enhances your meditation practice…fabulous. By all means, rock on with your enlightened self.
I prefer a slower, gentler practice. One lineage is not enough for me—I like variety. Diversity matters…a lot. I like reading meditation texts that are clear, concise, practical, and…well… a little funny (thank you, Brad Warner).
So, why do I feel prickly and antsy when I hear about other people’s practices? It can feel a little jarring to me—it can make me feel like my path is inadequate somehow…less than. During these moments of doubt, I offer myself tenderness and permission to question, investigate, and reflect—to explore these practices and texts objectively, whether up close or from a distance—and then decide if they’re appropriate for me or not.
I’m not a Monarch or a Tiger Swallowtail. I’m more like that nameless lilac butterfly haphazardly zipping around the yard. I’m still learning to navigate this life with ease, grace, and acceptance. I'm still figuring it out. I’m still learning to be gentle with myself, but strong enough to keep going and growing in my own way, even if I teeter and wobble a bit. I'm still learning to absorb what is useful, and to adapt and apply it to my own life in an authentic way...to be compassionate (and patient) with myself, and with others. Whether it's on the mat, on the cushion, with or without a mala, this, too, is the practice.