“To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest.” ~Pema Chodron
I have a confession: I was really scared of trying yoga for the first time.
I know, I know, it’s not exactly bungee jumping or skydiving, activities that warrant a certain amount of fear. In fact, yoga seems downright tame by comparison. But I was still scared nonetheless.
Someone recommended the age-old practice to me to stretch out my perpetually tight hamstrings and strengthen my bad knee. But instead of jumping at the chance to heal my body through gentle, non-invasive movements, I just felt breathless resistance.
I was worried about pushing my body to its limits; folding it into all those limb-defying, uncomfortable-looking positions.
I was scared to rock up in my dark-and-sensible workout outfit, entirely unfashionable next to the skimpy neon ensembles I imagined on everyone else.
But most of all, I dreaded the idea of not being good at it. Of being a beginner, a novice, an amateur.
But where does such thinking get us?
If we’re not prepared to start out as a beginner, we are limiting ourselves to a very small selection of things that we have a natural affinity for. We are closing ourselves off from a boat-load of new experiences. We may think we are protecting ourselves, yet it’s really just keeping us small and stifled.
Dan John, a famed weight lifting coach, has an expression which he often uses on his students: “You’re not good enough to be disappointed.”
At first, this might seem like a harsh statement, a “get over yourself, you’re no good anyway” statement.
But it’s actually an extremely liberating concept. When we start out trying something new and unknown, it’s normal to be bad at it. In fact, it’s normal to be utterly terrible at it. That’s what beginning is all about.
And Mr John’s insightful statement tells us that as beginners, we have no need to be angry or frustrated at ourselves for our lack of ability. In fact, we have no right to—we are exactly where we need to be, doing exactly what we should be doing, at the level that is perfect for us in that moment.
We are beginning. And it is a raw and uncomfortable and difficult phase to navigate.
As children we did it boldly, with ease. In fact, we were applauded loudly for making such attempts—faltering steps and crash landings were considered cause for celebration.
Now though, as adults, we are so scared to fall down—to look foolish or downright stupid—that we restrain ourselves from venturing into the unknown. And we are the poorer for it.
Buddha says that we should be cultivating a “beginner’s mind”—that glorious state where we see fresh perspectives with kind eyes and a compassionate spirit.
So, in the spirit of the beginner’s mind, and with the firm knowledge that I had no right to be disappointed, I ventured forth into the mysterious, unknown world of yoga.
And of course, I struggled and I wobbled and I fell over at one point. I got sweaty and frustrated and absolutely wanted to walk out. But I kept up a constant stream of whispering in my own ear: be kind, be gentle, keep going.
And I did.
One class turned into two, then three, then four, until suddenly, a weekly habit was born. A weekly habit that now fills me with such incredible peace and stillness, taking my raucous, monkey mind and allowing it incredibly long moments of peace at a stretch (seriously, like twenty whole seconds of unadulterated bliss at a time!).
And all of this borne off the back of my Buddhist and weightlifting-inspired mantra: Be kind, be gentle, keep going.
What can the mantra of the beginner do for you?
Yoga image via Shutterstock