There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way, and not starting. ~ The Buddha
Falling and getting back up again is the pattern of life, from birth to death.
We mess up, and we fix it. We practice stuff, and we get better at it. This goes for bad habits as well as good ones.
My daughter just learned to walk. She takes tentative, baby steps these days, and sometimes she falls down, but each day she gets a little bit more confident and coordinated.
When we employ mindfulness and pay attention to how we mess up, then we will—eventually—get “better,” as in more skillful, more compassionate, more flexible, kinder.
Practice doesn’t make perfect, practice is the means and the end. Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. Do the dishes. Do the laundry. Life isn’t glamorous. It’s pain and pleasure, suffering and sweetness all wrapped in a giant cosmic enigma.
Here are five of the most common mistakes I make in my own yoga practice and daily life practice. Maybe some of them are true for you, too?
1. Beating myself up inside for not fitting the outer mold of how I “should” be.
I (sometimes) berate myself internally for having a flabby belly or bad hair or weak arms or judgmental thought-patterns or whatever. It happens less and less with time and mindfulness and practice, but it still happens.
When it happens on the yoga mat, I have learned to notice, breathe and let it go. I have learned to adore and appreciate my bodymind, just as it is.
2. Being too reactive.
We humans (occasionally) tend to speak or behave in ways that are thoughtless, selfish and perhaps even hurtful. When facing a difficult situation, it’s much better to slow down, breathe and respond with grace and mindfulness rather than reacting in haste and anger.
Breathing and pausing is the antidote to reactionary madness.
3. Forgetting my own basic goodness.
Really, all problems are rooted in this one: forgetting our own (and everyone else’s) basic goodness. You can call it Buddha nature, awareness, the universe, God, Jesus, Hare Krishna, our inner light, our highest selves, our soul, our spirit. That part of us which is basically, eternally good.
Don’t forget it.
4. Resisting life as it is.
Because that is the root of all suffering.
I spent most of my twenties resisting my life as it was, using drug experimentation, binge drinking and casual sex to fill the emptiness in myself that I could not bear to face.
Now that I’m wiser and in my thirties, and I do my best not to resist the reality of what is. But whenever I do, and I get all stressed out and worked up, I realize more and more quickly that I’m resisting the unfolding of life and trying to control the universe and more and more quickly I’m able to let go of that resistance and go with the flow.
5. Living atop the plateau of complacency.
The trick is, while embracing reality and each passing present moment as it presents itself you’ve also gotta keep striving, keep growing, keep embracing change and the truth of impermanence. It’s a lifetime endeavor.
Yoga asana is great for this. Practicing a pose, any pose, we can gain a certain level of mastery. It’s easy to plateau there, to think, Okay, I’ve got this one down. But there is always somewhere further to go, a deeper stretch, a longer hold, a renewed focus on the breath and a heightened awareness of the body.
It’s somewhat paradoxical; you have to both embrace the present moment as it is, and continue the work, continue the practice, in order to get better.
Not that it’s all about getting better. Sometimes it’s okay to hang out on a plateau. Just don’t get stuck there forever.
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Editor: Catherine Monkman