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.
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 5 of the most common mistakes I make in my own 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.
I (occasionally) speak or behave in a way that is thoughtless, selfish and perhaps even hurtful, even if not (usually) intentionally so.
This happened a few months ago, on the last day of January and the last day of my four-month internship with elephant journal. I had accidentally, unintentionally missed my deadline by like an hour and was told rather abruptly that no exception would be made, which meant that I wouldn’t earn the $400 I had earned. I then bitched and lashed out in a reactive way, which resulting in them paying me but asking to “part ways,” at least for “a few months.” If I had taken a step back and breathed and waited before replying, that almost certainly would have helped. But I didn’t, so the drama blew way out of proportion, and I quit writing for the site. Until last week, when I submitted a post about karma yoga and they accepted it.
Anyroad, long story short: slow down, breathe and respond with grace and mindfulness rather than reacting with haste and anger. Breathing and pausing is the antidote to reactionary madness.
3. Forgetting my own basic goodness.
Really, all these problems are rooted in this one. Forgetting our own 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, I’m oh so wise 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 fucking 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.