I have an issue with patience and the immediate fulfillment of my desires.
For example, I currently have the desire for a cellulite-free ass. And I want it now.
Don’t laugh, I have a medical condition. Just ask my chiropractor. He refers to it as “flabby-ass syndrome.” Now it creeps into my mind daily ever since he brought it up.
Basically, he told me in passing and in a non-specific way that he sees a lot of women suffering from “flabby-ass syndrome.” He says they do cardio exercise and are thin but have flabby asses. He and his chiropractor friends have all seen it and discussed it at their chiropractor conference and they recommend lots of squats.
I thought to myself while he was telling me about it, “that is interesting, I would hate to be one of THOSE women with flabby-ass syndrome.”
Then, a few days later, K, who sees the same chiropractor, randomly brings up that he was telling her about flabby-ass syndrome too. He essentially gave her the same spiel as me: that he and his chiro friends have all seen it, blah blah blah.
But when he told her the story, he added,
“Between you and me, some of your yoga friends have it.“
What the wha?! He didn’t mention that last part to me!! Wait a second, do I have flabby-ass syndrome??
Holy shit, I do. Fuck. Now I gotta get my fat ass in shape. The problem is I don’t really feel like waiting until I can do a million squats. Isn’t there some sort of immediate treatment for this medical condition??
E seems to have an issue with patience and the need for the immediate fulfillment of his desires too. He’s had a few tantrums lately, brought on when he does not immediately get what he wants.
How do you teach a three-year-old patience? I remember what my parents tried. Whenever Daniel and I would scream about something that we wanted, my mom would sing, “You can’t always get what you want” (“but if you try sometimes, you might just find…you get what you need”) by the Rolling Stones. Car rides would often go like this:
Us kids: Mom, we want ice cream!
Ma: We aren’t going to stop for ice cream today, we’ve got to get home.
Us kids: But mom, we really want some!!
Ma: What would Mick Jagger say?
And then she would start singing. Or sometimes she didn’t have to. We were bested again by Mick.
So I learned the lesson that you can’t always get what you want, but you get what you need. Its not a bad lesson; and I see what my parents were trying to impart: patience and an appreciation for the fact that our basic needs were always taken care of.
Still, I think there is a better lesson to be learned than what my brain took out of that childhood experience: that life can be a bitter pill where we are forced to go around with unfulfilled desires.
I want to teach E a new lesson: That you CAN always get what you want, when you are patient and open to receiving your desires in inconceivable forms.
So I’ve been telling him just that, and showing him the clip of Veruca Salt’s “I want it now!” on YouTube. I think its having the desired effect. He’s learning that impatience can be a bratty feature and we are trying to reward him with what he wants when he waits.
He says, “Mommy can you show me the video of the girl who didn’t want to wait?”
I ask him, “Are you like that girl?” and he says, “No, I can wait.”
It is a difficult lesson for us adults too. I want what I want when I want it. Ram Dass talked about this phemonemon in a recent blog. He explained how he wanted to learn to meditate. So he used to force himself to attend meditation retreats, even though he didn’t want to do it and didn’t enjoy being there. Then he gave up. A few years later, he noticed he wanted to sit quietly for long periods of time. He was meditating, and it wasn’t an effort; he wanted to do it and it was easy. He says:
It has to do with timing. It’s as if our minds see in advance where we’re going, and then our mind-overkill makes us imitate where we think we’re going, which doesn’t give us a chance for our intuition to get us moving in a timely manner.
Its like our minds understand our desires; and, being the good servants that they are, want to help us fulfill our desires in ways that the mind can conceive of:
Mind: Oh you want to be a meditator? Well let’s go to classes and practice everyday and make you into a meditator!
When, in reality, once the mind let’s go of the form that the fulfilled desire will take (i.e. meditation classes), the desire (meditation) takes care of itself.
On a deeper level, if we are always looking ahead at our desires and getting “stuck” on the form of their fulfillment, then we are never in this moment; we are never enjoying the miracle that is life on Earth. Life is pretty fucking amazing. Just the fact that we exist and breathe and can talk and interact and eat and think is awesome when you take a moment to just observe life the way that small children do.
The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.
The Buddhist tradition of mindfulness is on the same wave. I’ve been digging the work of Zen Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hanh lately. I’ve been listening to his book, “The Miracle of Mindfulness.” In it he says,
I like to walk alone on country paths, rice plants and wild grasses on both sides, putting each foot down on the earth in mindfulness, knowing that I walk on the wondrous earth. In such moments, existence is a miraculous and mysterious reality. People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child–our own two eyes. All is a miracle.
So what is mindfulness? Thich Nhat Hanh explains that when we do for the sake of doing, rather than as a means to an end, we are engaged in mindfulness. When that happens, there is no attachment to the fruit of desire; no karmic web is being woven. We are doing for the sake of doing, without thought of the reward. We are indifferent to the outcome and we see that all of our desires are ultimately fulfilled, without us having to “do” anything.
I realized I have been doing a lot of things as a means to an end, rather than for the pure joy of doing. So I started to take Thich Nhat Hanh’s advice.
As a daily practitioner of yoga asana, I find I sometimes fall into the trap of doing asana as a means to an end; I perform the postures with the hope of accomplishing more postures. When I am on one posture, I am thinking about the next one, or thinking about how far I will go in my asana practice today.
So I’ve been slowing it down and practicing my yoga for the sake of practicing yoga, rather than a means to an end. Why am I practicing yoga every day if I don’t love it? And if I love the practice of yoga, then isn’t just doing it reward enough?
I want to experience the miracle of each moment of practice: the sound of my breath, the feeling of the movement of energy and prana in my body and in the room, the level of comfort or discomfort in my limbs in each pose, the feel of my mat rug on my fingers.
I also did this with my violin practice yesterday. I started playing violin a little over a year ago after noticing how moved I have always been by the sound of the instrument. I sometimes weep when I hear it. I’m not super good at it, and I often fall into the trap of practicing it for the sake of improving; for the sake of mastering the instrument.
Yesterday, I practiced violin because I love the violin. I love the way the instrument feels on my neck and the sounds it makes and the smell of the rosin and wood. That is why I weep when I hear violin music; because I love the violin. Not for the sake of mastery.
And yet, I am finding that by going through life this way, by doing for the sake of doing rather than as a means to an end, my desires are being fulfilled. My asana practice and my violin practice are improving without any effort.
Jesus described this phenomenon in his “sermon on the mount” (Matthew 6). He says to seek only God’s kingdom and that all else will be given to you.
“Seeking God’s kingdom” is another way of describing mindfulness; it is a way of describing the experience of life in the present moment. In the same sermon, Jesus says:
See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.
In other words, the flowers live in the moment, without thought or worry about the next moment.
It is a way of surrendering the fulfillment of our desires to a higher power; of releasing attachment to the fruits of our actions.
I am reminded of the yogic hymn the “Guru Ashtakam.” In it, we sing about the fulfillment of countless desires: wealth, family, spouse, large house, mastery of yoga, etc. And then we say, “Manascenna lagnam, gurorangripadme, tata kim, tata kim, tata kim, tata kim” which means:
But of what consequence are all these, if the mind is not riveted in devotion to the lotus feet of Guru? Really of what use is all this, what use, what use?
It stands for the fact that we are never truly satisfied by our external desires. If we seek fulfillment in them, it will never be enough. When we get the bigger house, we desire an even bigger one. But when we enjoy life in each moment through “mindfulness” or “seeking the kingdom of God” or “standing rapt in awe” or the bhakti-yoga practice of guru devotion, we realize that all our desires are met; though perhaps not in the form we had initially envisioned with our minds.
Yoga speaks to me. Particularly devotional yoga or “bhakti” yoga. Jesus speaks to others and Buddhism to others and countless other things to other people. They all seem to be saying the same thing: