“I used to be so consistent with my (yoga practice, meditation, eating plan), and then (my job changed, the kids were off school for the summer, I broke my toe)…”
“I can’t seem to get into the swing of things.”
“I wish I could just get into a good rhythm.”
“I lost my groove.”
Does this sound familiar? I know I’m not alone in the feeling that things are easier when there’s a sense of consistency, or rhythm, in our lives. Habits of meditation, yoga, communication, self-care are easier to plug into a schedule when we have an actual schedule. Maybe we even feel that we can’t move forward, make important life decisions until we’ve arrived at a more consistent stage in our lives.
Physiologically speaking, I’m guessing that this is sort of hard-wired in. We need to eat every few hours, sleep once a day, rest after we’ve been working- and we feel safest and at our most secure when our lives are predictable.
When I became self-employed a few years ago, I sorely missed the comfort of my 9-5 schedule. When would I get it all done? How many hours should I work? How would it all get done? Would I burn myself out? Was I crazy to think I could make any money at this*? In an attempt to alleviate my anxiety, I created elaborate systems of scheduling using my Google Calendar. It was a thing of beauty, color-coded so that at a glance I could see exactly how much time I would spend doing each type of activity. Green was free time, yellow was for classes I taught… sometimes, if I were feeling unsettled, I would open it up and look at the time slots to reassure myself that there was some kind of order in my life. I liked to show other people. “Look at this! See, there’s PLENTY of time for rest!”
You can guess how well that worked out, people. Somehow, my life neglected to fall into its appointed color-coded time slots, and at the end of the week, I still had to-do list and somehow I felt that I hadn’t found time to actually really live. I had that nagging feeling that if I could just find the right rhythm, somehow it would all fall into place; that there was some formula I was missing that would bring it all together for me. Stuff getting done, but I really missed the imagined comfort of a simpler schedule in which, I thought, there would be an ease of fitting things in.
Sometime later, I had a fantastic revelation that shifted my mindset. I was walking the dogs (While texting. I was still working on not multi-tasking) when a (musician, and yogi) friend of mine texted me: “I can’t seem to get back into my yoga routine. I was practicing every day, but now it’s like I’ve lost the rhythm and can’t seem to find it.” “I know what you mean,” I wrote back. “I feel like my life is too staccato to even try any more.”
“Yeah… but even staccato is a rhythm,” he responded.
This was a beautiful moment of revelation for me. I’m sure the heavens parted and a shaft of sunlight fell upon my little iPhone. Staccato is a rhythm.
Life does have its own rhythm, I thought. It appears chaotic, but the chaos is its consistency. The tune is so big we can’t even see the rhythm. Maybe there are notes we don’t hear.
While we all may long for the security of a life that offers certain predictability- like a melody or rhythm that you know by heart- well, that’s not even an option.
Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. -Helen Keller
Accepting this was a big relief. I began to release the illusion of my color-coded security blanket to fall into this chaotic, mysterious, deeper rhythm.
Practically speaking, how do I work with uncertainty, fear, and a “schedule” that is likely to fall apart at any moment? Well, meditation, mostly. Basically, I practice being uncomfortable and living through it. This can start in your yoga practice on the mat, where many of us first encounter this principle. As we enter an asana that we don’t like, we are confronted with all of our habitual reactions. If we can truly witness these (with kindness, allowing ourselves to see them without criticizing) we will have the first glimmers of understanding of how we react to discomfort off our mat.
In meditation, I can observe my need to try to control my life. I don’t have time to sit today, I might think. Okay, I know I need to sit, but I really need to write down these five things I just thought of so I don’t forget to do them. If I continue to sit, to be massively uncomfortable (ARGH, I am going to forget to do those five things!), I am practicing for those moments in my life where life’s rhythm is out of my control**. This isn’t to say that there aren’t times where I feel crazed about making everything happen, but overall, I can look at my schedule (no longer color-coded, but a general collection of things that I’d like to get done and places I need to be) and feel like I’m effectively functioning as a balanced human being.
I can also see that in years past, I’ve used life’s unpredictability as an excuse to avoid some activities- even those that would have been really beneficial. I’m also learning to be attentive to the gripping energy of things that seem like they MUST get done and to ask myself if that’s real or not. Sometimes “urgent” tasks are really just me trying to control something. Yep, old habits die hard.
I’ve found so far that the truth is that everything always gets done, and if it doesn’t, then somehow everything’s still okay. I’m learning to listen to the own tidal rhythm of my body and feel that it needs a nap, or a massage, or exercise- and somehow I can find time to fit it in to the staccato beat of life’s unpredictability.
I guess I could say I’m in the groove now. Forgive me if my dancing is awkward- I think I’ll be learning this rhythm for the rest of my life.
*Yes, kind of.
**Wait, that’s all of life.