What is consistent practice? What does it mean to miss a day (or two) (or three) in the midst of a twenty-one day discipline? How do we begin again? In her book “Ancient Prayer” Rachel C. Weingarten references centuries old rabbinic commentary on Exodus, “Kol Hatchalot Kashot,” All Beginnings are difficult.” She writes in the introduction section “Why Pray?”:
All beginnings are difficult. Not just the beginning of a major life event or chapter. Not just a new beginning as a newlywed, first-time mother, or widow. Not just the onset of an illness or the beginning of grad school, but also every single fresh start: starting your garden or painting a room. Cleaning your closets or getting back in touch with a long-lost friend. Accepting your child’s limitations or tackling a job search. Every single beginning is difficult.
Beginning a new practice is difficult. Here at thecatholicyogi.com, we undertook a twenty-one day discipline of daily yoga practice (which can take a variety of forms). Some of us sailed right through and have continued on. Some of us forgot to practice and then recommitted ourselves. Others of us forgot we had committed in the first place and upon remembering joined back up. And still others of us missed some days and gave it up for lost. Who will keep going? Who will recommit? Who is waiting for the next twenty-one day discipline to begin?
Often times the coming of a new calendar year can be overwhelming if we tend to heap demands on ourselves, demands like remaking our entire lives in every way with the hope of improving to the point of perfection. But, we didn’t start our challenge on the first of the year, or the first of the month. Our Day One was spontaneous, so the pressure was off. One way to keep the pressure off is to throw our notions of “perfection” to the wind and embrace a new vision. Claudia Cummins, dedicated yoga teacher and writer, includes a piece in her book Illuminations called “More,” which encourages a fascinating way of looking at life:
May your perfection be vast enough
to embrace even the broken moments.
The first time I read this poem and encountered this interpretation of perfection I was blown away; and every time I’ve read it since, I shake my head in wonder and admiration. Allowing our understanding of perfection to hold within itself myriad imperfections is akin to lifesaving, especially for those of us who tend to over-think, over-analyze, and over-compare with judgments and evaluations like “failure” and “success,” “good” and “bad,” “better than” and “worse than.” What happens when we look at our experiences as neither successes nor failures but as instances of learning? Judith Hanson Lasater, Ph.D., P.T., writes in her book A Year of Living Your Yoga,
If I am focusing on learning, then I never make a mistake; I just learn a lot.
When we approach our life this way, when we focus on learning, our world opens up and we breathe deeply; we are released from the traps of our narrow definitions, and we revel in all the new space in which we can move and have our being.
We know it’s not always easy to change our way of being in the world, but if we can offer grace to ourselves in the face of our imperfections, we will find the beginning, and the road itself, that much less difficult. Practicing patience is a grace and a virtue, and we will do well to hold in our hearts the teaching of St. Francis de Sales:
Have patience with all things,
but first of all with yourself.
Three weeks is considered an optimal time frame for creating new healthy habits. The same is said of a forty day practice, and, from a biblical perspective, the number forty is said to imply “enough.” Our spontaneous twenty-one day discipline is over, and the Lenten season is already in full swing. But we haven’t missed an opportunity to begin a new season of our lives simply because Ash Wednesday is past. With grace, patience, and maybe a spot of forgiveness, we can jump right in. There’s no pressure to start on “the perfect day” or “to keep on going until the end.” We can make right now our new Day One. In fact, every day can be Day One.
Happy Lent! Happy Practicing!
The Catholic Yogi