Essentials For The Spirit

forearm-tatoosI have been keeping a journal for a long time.  I started my first one when I was 14 years old.  At that time, I had a friend who was a nun and she gave it to me as a graduation gift from the 8th grade. The Journal has a wheat field on the front cover with inspirational quotes from the New Testament on some of the inside pages.  It is only about 30 pages thick. My writings in this journal have one theme:  “My search for inner peace.”

In one of the first entries I wrote, “If I could ask for one thing in the whole world, it would be to find a sense of inner peace, calm and tranquility.” I was 14. I already knew I did not have inner peace but for some reason I wanted it. Something inside me knew what I was lacking.  It knew somehow what I needed.

I now realize my exploration of various religions and even yoga was my path back to an internal sense of peace. Even at the young age of 14 I was looking for something I felt I had lost.  I have an innate feeling we come from a deep sense of calm and tranquility which goes back even further than mankind’s origination.  I believe we seek to find that sense of calm again throughout our existence on this planet.

For some of us this calm may seem to elude us our entire life.  We see other people and circumstances as getting in the way to our happiness and serenity. Blaming anything outside ourself is just us making excuses. There’s a motto scrawled in chalk across the wall of our gym. It reads:
“If it’s important to you, you will make it happen. If it’s not, you make excuses.”

The first time I read it I remember feeling a slight punch in my stomach which signals me to pay attention.  I find the motto to be true when I look at the times I place blame on things or people for my shortcomings.  If I make an excuse it’s not really something I want.  If I really want it I will find a way to make it happen.  My personal default excuse is “I don’t have enough time.”  The more I tell myself I don’t have the time, the more ‘time’ eludes me. I keep making excuses about the lack of sand in the big hour glass of life.

My partner Steve recently made me a chart which breaks down the day into one hour increments.  I wanted to chart exactly what I was doing with my time to see if there was a way to make changes and accomplish more of what I was telling myself I truly wanted to do.

It was eye opening. As I looked over the data I collected on myself, I realized I did lots of little things around the house which made me feel productive.  I work from home so I found myself doing the dishes or a load of laundry. I felt productive but not towards anything on my “to-do” list.  Laundry and dishes have to be done, right?  Maybe, but did it have to be done at that moment in the day?  Did I have to stop a project to do household duties?  NO! I was entertaining excuses and distractions.

I also realized my work day got much shorter when I had a glass of wine as evening approached.  There is nothing wrong with a glass of wine or a beer unless you find it has become a distraction from your life rather than an event in and of itself.

My “drink” for the most part was another distraction or excuse.  It was disguised as a reward for a job well done or for a hard day’s work.  Yet, what had I done?  Inside I felt the low simmering “unsatisfactoriness” that yoga philosophy describes as a state that will slowly eat away at your life and happiness. Yet I continued this pattern.

What are we all trying so hard to avoid in our lives?  We all want a sense of inner peace yet we do so many things that take us in the opposite direction.  Why?

I realize my mind and ego, left untethered, lead me on many paths in the course of a single day.  I may have one goal for the day but my mind takes me to many interesting and less involved places than the places I want to go.  My mind, like a child left without any direction, flits from one thing to another and can rationalize the most inane activities on the planet.

This is where the importance of discipline comes in.  The word discipline gets a bad rap because it is associated with our concept of “hard work”.  What a great sense of accomplishment we get when we work toward something and stick with our plan. So why do we avoid anything that smells of dedication and consistency?  Why does it overwhelm us?  The yoga sutras from thousands of years ago and the most current self-help book on the newsstand all agree and point to our need for a daily practice.  Discipline!  We need something healthy and meaningful in our life to feed us.

My deficiency of discipline has a lot to do with a lack of self-esteem.  I once heard Caroline Myss, a medical intuitive who teaches how our mental frame of mind directly influences our health, say, “Nobody is born with healthy self-esteem.”  She explains it takes work, discipline and a daily practice.  Practices help us reframe the way we think and allow us to build spiritual muscle to take on anything that comes our way.  Over the years her words have become truth for me.

There are still times when I tell myself I just want to sit in my chair and drink coffee in the morning.  “Just sit here.  You deserve it.”  But I am not just sitting there.  My mind is going. I am doing email, Facebook, ruminating about the past or the possible future.  I know I feel much better about “me” when I get up and do sun salutations that allow my body to feel open and expansive.  I know I feel better when I ready my body to sit quietly and listen to my breath. Sitting is wonderful but the power is in concentrating and focusing on the nothingness of my being as I simply sit and listen.

Discipline of practice helps me find an internal anchor that is not contingent on any outside force or person. Discipline and practice aide my mind to learn to concentrate so I can develop a strong will that can keep bringing me back to the present.

Caroline Myss also says; “If our spirit is not disciplined, we will have an addiction.” Addictions are not just to food, drugs and alcohol.  Addictions can come in many forms – social media, television/movies, technology or even another person who you tell yourself you “can’t live without.”  Do any of those sound familiar or hit close to home?  They do for me.

I am coming out a period where I feel unanchored. “Unanchored” is the only way I can describe it.  In the last 60 days Steve and I have traveled a lot for work and pleasure. We’ve been in a car for many hours at a time and not sleeping in our own bed. I use the preceding two sentences as rationalizations or excuses for not doing my practices on a regular basis or my need to shorten them. These excuses get me nowhere! They take me further away from what I want— a sense of inner peace and tranquility in as much of my day as possible.  What gets me closer to what I want is recognizing how uncomfortable I am without the anchor of my practices.  I face the reality of the excuses and I get back on my mat and cushion.

My friend Lisa S. once said to me, “Being human is hard!” It can be until we find the discipline and practices that ground us toward what we know to be the true meaning of our life.

Nothing we do is ever going to make all the bad days go away or keep the storms away from our tiny boat on the ocean of life.  But a daily discipline can help us to gain confidence in ourselves and in our life.  With a deep sense of confidence we might be able to look at each storm differently.  Maybe we will see the beauty in the nimbus clouds as they approach or enjoy the raucous wind on our face.  Maybe we allow ourself to feel anchored in our love of Self and the experiences life offers rather than being rattled by the truth of constant change.

I am contemplating having two simple reminders tattooed on each forearm.  “Discipline Equals Freedom” and “A Disciplined Spirit is Essential.”

We will see if I go through with the physical tattoo but for now I know they are indelibly inscribed on my heart and call me each day to get up, get moving, breathe deep and be true to myself.
I am listening and in this moment I heed the call.

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