It’s raining. The rain in Los Angeles is one of my favorite things. It drives my husband crazy because all of LA is designed for outdoor living, and so on rainy days it’s hard not to just feel…left out in it.
I, however, have always been a lover of the rain. Having been a child who was much happier reading books or playing pretend in the confines of my own room than going, ugh, outside…the rain was the perfect wash-away-er of any playtime guilt. No need to make excuses for not stomping around in the woods…it’s raining! Also, having grown up in the Pacific Northwest, the majority of my childhood memories are under-written by a soundtrack of rain–rain on the nylon tent roof, rain being whisked away by the shoosh of windshield wipers, rain filling the gutters and splashing down the sides of the house. The smell of rain, the feel of it, the patter as it hits the sidewalk below the window…it is a tool for load-lightening. So, today I am happily ensconced inside, letting the rain sooth my tired brain.
Yesterday I went to class for the first time in several days.
My practice lately is hard-won. I recently got married, which was amazing, but I came back from the wedding with a lot of questions. Not about my marriage, but about my life at large, and for the first time, my heretofore-blissly-uncomplicated relationship with yoga has become, well…complicated. In a class I taught on Monday I talked about how important dedication is, and how it’s easy to devote yourself to something when it brings you nothing but pleasure, but the challenge is to devote yourself to something even when you don’t want to. Like for me, lately, going to class. One of my favorite teachers, Gina Zimmerman, likes to quote this saying:
“If you want to strike water, don’t dig twenty wells ten feet deep. Dig one well two-hundred feet deep.”
In private Gina has told me that her meditation practice used to be a catch-all of methods. One day she’d try one technique and the next day another. When she found her teacher, she told me, one of the first things he said to her is that the worst thing you can do, when sitting down to meditate, is think, “what should I try this time?” His point being that dabbling, when it comes to a spiritual practice, isn’t going to lead you very far. You have to dig one well, and dig it deeply.
The trouble, I find, is that usually for the first, oh, fifty-feet of well-digging, things go along swimmingly. It’s all sand and grass and silt, and you feel like progress is yours for the having. Until, eventually, you hit rock. And you’re just banging your shovel against it in a spray of sparks, feeling, for the first time maybe, the impossibility of the endeavor.
This is the moment you either tell yourself that you’re probably digging in the wrong place and that you ought to pick up and move elsewhere. Or you continue. With only the faith that there IS water down there, and with your aching arms as the only proof of forward movement.
There was an article in this week’s New York Times magazine about these two schools in Manhattan, one a fancy-pants private school in the Bronx, and one a charter school for lower income students, both run by progressive headmasters, both of whom are deeply engaged in a mission to change the way that studentship is measured. For years both of these men have been studying trends in learning and psychology in order to develop a practical way to both measure and develop character in their students.
Their reason for doing this?
At both the fancy-pants school and the charter school a disturbing trend was emerging. Those students who had done the best, academically, were exhibiting the largest failure rate in college and beyond. At the private school it became clear that the students of privilege were so accustomed to sailing through their life that they crumpled at the first instance of push-back, post-adolescence. And for the kids at the charter school, the students who had learned how to get the grades, had not learned how to have optimism about their future. No one else in their family had managed to do it, so why should they?
The problem for both sets of students was the same…they had not learned how to fail, and they had not learned, in particular, that after failure must come re-commitment.
Grit, both of these headmasters soon discovered, along with qualities like optimism, curiosity and zest for life, were the real factors that contribute to success. Not GPA or even IQ scores.
Grit. The trait that allows one to set a goal and follow-through, no matter how long it takes, and no matter how many obstacles show up along the way.
Grit. To keep on digging, even when it feels like you’re going nowhere.
The Bhagavad Gita, one of the great (and aggravating) texts of yoga, is full of recommendations for enhancing grit:
“It is true that the mind is restless and difficult to control. But it can be conquered…through regular practice and detachment. Those who lack self-control will find it difficult to progress in meditation; but those who are self-controlled, striving earnestly through the right means, will attain the goal…
Through constant effort over many lifetimes, a person becomes purified of all selfish desires and attains the supreme goal of life.”
Phew! Talk about taking the long view…“constant effort over many lifetimes”?! That is one deep f-ing well. But the point is well-made. Keep on keeping on. In meditation, in particular, the idea that we could learn to control our mind–our mind which we have been letting run wild, most of us, for as long as we’ve been alive–the idea that we could achieve this without real discipline and dedication is just…foolish.
And so it goes for anything that we want. To change our habits. To make a contribution to the world. Just to achieve the very simple trophy of saying we are going to do something and then actually DOING it…these things take devotion.
For myself, I am going to class. Even if I’m not sure I want to. I am writing. Even if I’m not sure I have anything to say. I’m finishing the articles I have started reading, I’m making recipes into food, I’m studying and progressing and completing, even in those moments when I don’t know why I’m bothering and what it’s all for. And though for the most part I’m having to just put up with the little voice in my head that says we should just shove off and find another place to dig, there are moments, like yesterday when I was in class, where all of the sudden the sky turns a dusky pink and the sidewalk becomes a matrix of raindrops, when I feel like maybe all I need to do is just…keep…digging.
originally published on my blog, Shanti Town.