Practice

Letting the Small Truths Resonate

This past weekend I was at a retreat in Maryland, and I asked a friend to help me with an experiment. It wasn't much of a request: I simply asked her to try and support me in trying to do my morning protocols while the retreat was going on.

I've always had trouble keeping up with the morning routine when I'm traveling. Remember, for me these consist of four things:

  1. Yoga: I have a 10-minute series of asanas including strength and flexibility poses that I run through to get the blood moving.
  2. Meditation: I sit zazen for 15 minutes in the morning.
  3. Journaling: I linked this one to my first coffee in the morning: writing a page of free-association thoughts every morning.
  4. Inspiration: For a while it was TED talks, or a “deep” book like Thinking Fast and Slow. Lately I've spent time looking at Pinterest instead, which disengages my too-active cognitive brain and engages a more visual and imaginative part (I especially enjoy seeing examples of hand-lettering and typography; I share a folder with a fellow enthusiast and we tag neat words we find for each other).

You'd think it wouldn't be too hard to do all of these every morning, and in truth it's not – when I'm home, it's actually easier to do them than not do them. But when I'm traveling, there are many reasons it becomes more difficult. Here's just a few of the obstacles that have gotten in the way:

 

  • I lost my yoga mat.
  • There's not a space for yoga.
  • There's not a quiet place for meditation.
  • If I'm doing yoga or meditating, people are going to think that I'm weird. Or full of myself.
  • My journal takes up even more space in my luggage.
  • There's no internet connection to find inspirational videos
  • I was up late the night before – and sleep is important, right?
I know, I know. None of these are insurmountable – in fact, some of them can be turned into little personal triumphs, such as how hard-core I felt at the retreat when I did a 90-minute yoga class without a mat. That's right, I shevasana'd right there in the grass, the way we did it in the Corps!

But the truth is, it wasn't any of these things that kept me from doing the morning routine. No, the real reason is that I just seem to not want to get out of bed and do the protocols.

 

I wasn't going to ask my friend to do anything as extreme as waking me up with ice water or threatening to withhold my coffee if I didn't do the protocols. Actually, her support was much more soft-spoken than that. She would simply remind me of my intention to do the protocols, and then subtly open up some time or space for them to take place – for example, she might notice that I'm about to journal and offer to get me a cup of coffee so that I didn't even have the excuse of getting up to find some at the campground.

 

The best support came on Saturday morning. With her help I had managed to do both Thursday and Friday mornings, but Friday night was a very late and active one – I'd danced two duets (one with my friend) during the regular evening jam, and for my aging dancer's body that was a lot. I had also taught a 90-minute workshop on creating protocols for building stronger relationships, and it also took a lot of energy as this was a campground and there was a lot of noise and activity around to compete with as I spoke. I had also hosted an impromptu talent show and then stayed up until about 2am talking with old friends over cigars and hot chocolate.

 

So when Saturday morning rolled around, I was feeling especially ache-y and tired when the 8am alarm went off. I craned my eyes open, sat up in my bunk, and saw that my friend was already standing there, looking to see if I was up.

 

“I'm totally beat from yesterday,” I told her. “I think that today needs to be about self-care.”

 

She nodded. “Probably a good idea.” I imagine that she was also sore from the duet and her own activities from the day before, but you sure wouldn't know it to look at her. “So you're going to do more yoga?” she teased (my dislike of the activity is becoming well known amidst my friends).

 

“Well, actually, I thought that would be skipping the morning protocols and maybe get some more sleep,” I mumbled. “Self-care…”

 

“Huh!” she said, looking wisely off into the distance. “That sounds like self-neglect to me.” And then she left me there.

 

I grumbled. I swore a few times as my joints reassembled themselves and I managed to stand up. But I got up and did my yoga, and my meditation, and everything else. Because of course she was right; I was falling victim to what Gretchen Rubin would call the Morality Clause: I have worked hard, so I deserve a break.


The truth is that the reward for a job well done is another job. The reward for my previous day's activities were the joys of dancing, the excitement and satisfaction of helping people grow closer and share their talents, the pleasure of re-connecting with old friends and new. None of those had any relevance to my morning protocols.

 

All I needed was my friend to softly remind me. And I have to wonder if, with all the fancy alarms and gadgets and external motivations we try to get ourselves to do the things we already know we should – maybe just expressing the small truths to each other can be just as effective, if not moreso.

 

What subtle truths do you need to be reminded of? I'm serious about asking; I will give the first five commenters a personally crafted message reminding them of what they need to hear, just because I want to.

 

What do you need to remember to keep on doing what you want to be doing?

2 thoughts on “Letting the Small Truths Resonate”

  1. For me, I think that I need to continually be reminded that whatever I do is exactly all I could have done in a given situation. Similar to the un-conference model of whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened, whatever I do is exactly the right amount of effort and done-ness required for a certain task, and that beating myself up with the idea of “I should have done more” just isn’t productive.

  2. A good reminder for me lately would be that practice takes practice.
    More often than I’d like, I find myself quitting practice ventures even before they’ve begun. I won’t sign up for that class or build time into my day for a new protocol because I *KNOW* I’m going to fail in the first two weeks.
    I also know that’s a load of bologna for a whole host of reasons. And hell, even if I do “fail” to maintain the intended practice, I could really use some more practice at “failure” anyway.

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