Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Lessons Learned from...Vacation

The societal sage tells us that a break is as good as a change. I couldn’t agree more. It’s critical to take a break; it’s a chance to reset the mind, body and spirit. In yoga we flow through a vinyasa, a series of postures to reset the body, to ensure we are ready and cleansed for the next pose. I like to think of a vacation as an extended “mental vinyasa”, something we need to do to ensure all aspects of our being are prepared and clear for whatever life will choose to give us as our next phase.

Going away and coming home reminds us of the joys in everyday life. After a week of eating out, we welcome the chance to prepare a home cooked meal in our own kitchen (and perhaps even do dishes). Relaxing the amount of work we have to do provides the chance to relax. Letting the discussion meander doesn’t mean that conversation stops flowing (au contraire!), it just flows wherever it wants to go. Indeed, doing nothing is not at all synonymous with getting no thing accomplished. We need that space to reflect, relax and renew. This is crucial for us to appreciate life.

On the other hand, the word “vacation” comes from the verb “to vacate”. What are we vacating? Our lives? Our minds? Ourselves? If we find ourselves not just enjoying our holiday, but dreading the eventual return to everyday life, perhaps it is time for a change rather than a break. Hopefully as we take that space to reflect, relax and renew we will have the wisdom to know the difference.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Lessons Learned from...Messing up a recipe

Very few things in life cannot be fixed. There is usually some corrective measure we can apply to atone for past errors. But this should not be an excuse to do something sloppily, as it so often is with me. Although it's a comfort to know that things can be fixed, the best course of action is to do something right the first time.

All well and good for the smaller things in life, like messing up a recipe. But what about the more meaningful things we do that can alter our lives for the worse? Can we ever atone for those? I think we do need to admit that there may be some unforgivable things in life.

Naturally we want to minimize these things. I believe in human inertia: good begets good and bad begets bad. So, the answer seems to be to surround ourselves with wholesome ideas, wholesome food, wholesome activities and thoughts. Quite the task.

When we do find ourselves cannibalized by our own lack of judgement, what can we do? Can we really counteract the saltiness of our lives by adding more sugar? Or, once life's recipe has been ruined, are we doomed? I hope not, but I'll be trying to avoid all forms of sodium just to be sure.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Lessons Learned from...Yoga

Part of me feels cheap for writing about yoga because (unlike reality TV or alcohol) yoga is something you are supposed to learn from. Well, sometimes its refreshing to realize how vanilla and boring we all are.

I find yoga interesting and fulfilling because it is one discipline where learning the theory supports you in learning the practise. It's different than, for example, chemistry, where although the theoretical supports the practical, it doesn't necessarily help you learn it. Knowing that a certain chemical reaction leads to combustion may help you avoid flames, but does nothing to help you help you with the frustration of memorizing the periodic table.

Yoga is different. Learning the theory of yoga will actually make you a more successful yoga practitioner. In my yoga class today we focused on the Ahimsa, or nonviolence. The teacher explained that in addition to the more obvious incarnations of this concept, it manifests itself in ways we would not expect: practising nonviolence towards ourselves is the first step in being kind to things beyond ourselves. This means taking care of our bodies and not beating ourselves up when we make mistakes: learning from mistakes and pushing oneself to the appropriate edge is central to advancing a yoga journey on and off the mat.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Lessons learned from…Julia Child

I have just finished reading Julia Child’s My Life in France. When she and Paul first went to Paris in 1948, she knew nothing of the language, culture or food. She could easily have kept it that way, holed herself inside her flat, hired a servant to cook her meals and socialized only with expatriate wives. But she did not. She jumped in with both feet – “took the bull by the tail” as my mother would say (a confused amalgam of “took the bull by the horns” and “had the world by the tail” which happens to fit perfectly in this case.) Immersed inside her world of ‘Cookery’ and ‘Marketing’, she taught frigid Americans the pleasures of la cuisine Francaise.

Like Julia, I tend to jump into new projects head first. At a recent meeting, I was told that this is one of my ‘areas for improvement’ (curious euphemism that hardly softens the blow of criticism). But I agree. More reflection before I start a project would do me well and better prepare me for inevitable setbacks. Like Julia says, “Good results require that one take time and care. If one doesn’t use the freshest ingredients or read the whole recipe before starting, and if one rushes through the cooking, the result will be an inferior taste.” Julia seemed to find balance between ardent enthusiasm and stoic fortitude and so must I.

Even though the books are decidedly different, I confess to be surprised at the similarities between My Life in France and Julie Powell’s Julie & Julia, especially since it is rumored that Child did not approve of Powell’s project. Both women were not content to live an uninspired life; and in finding their own inspiration inspired others as well.

How to find my inspiration? I’m not sure yet, but I’ll definitely be approaching the task with enthusiasm and fortitude.