“The future is not someplace we are going to, but a place we are creating. The paths to it are not found, they are made.” – John Schaar
Just this month, Diana Nyad finally – in her fifth attempt – achieved a goal she set 35 years ago: To become the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage. The three messages she triumphantly announced as she took her first shaky steps on the beach are worth repeating: “One is we should never, ever give up. Two is you never are too old to chase your dreams. Three is it looks like a solitary sport but it takes a team.” At 64, she didn’t let age stop her. Nor did she give up after four failed tries and four years of grueling preparation for this last chance. In addition to having to be in top physical condition, she had to contend with nature – jellyfish and water conditions – which had forced her to abandon the attempt in the past. Diana also had a new diagnosis of asthma to cope with this time, but she didn’t let it stop her. As she stated in her third message, it took a team of pros, including a pulmonary doctor and a support team of shark divers ahead of her to overcome the odds. Her courage and perseverance is admirable. She’s a career swimmer, making her goals much more ambitious and doable than an average lap swimmer, but one can assume that swimming will no doubt be her life-long routine. Swimming is kinder on the joints, making it an ideal sport for aging bodies, but we will perhaps see even Diana adjust her goals and routines now that she has accomplished what had bedeviled her for so long.
As the summer season winds down and the autumnal equinox begins in late September, it’s a good time to reflect on what rituals, routines and goals have harvested positive results and which ones have died on the vine. As a former gardener, I remember really wanting to grow certain favorite perennials, but each year, no matter how hard I tried, they didn’t do well. Many other plants flourished, and all received equal care and sun, but the soil or conditions just weren’t right for that flower in my garden. If you have been working on achieving a goal and had many attempts, maybe it’s time for an honest reassessment. Ask yourself if it’s due to lack of effort, practice, or talent, or if you are approaching it in the wrong way. Is your goal reasonable or relevant to your current status and desires? Can you give up a goal and just accept where you are, enjoying the activity without being good at it? Or is it worth never, ever giving up, like Diana said? After 14 years of yoga practice I’ve come to realize I will never be able to sit in lotus pose or perform some other advanced poses that require very open hips. And I’m okay with it. I realize some people may think I’m copping out, making excuses. But usually those are the people who are naturally flexible and don’t understand the limitations of a stiff, arthritic, injured, or genetically tight body. (As a yoga teacher and trainer for 30+ years I think I have some insight on human potential.) Will I give up hip-opening poses? No. I won’t give up trying, but I’ve given up fixating on poses that are out of reach considering my bone-on-bone knees and tight hips from my past wear-and-tear years of teaching hard core high impact aerobics classes. As I have developed my mindfulness muscles, being able to perform difficult poses is not as important as being able to experience a higher level of consciousness and ease in a pose. As we let go of the striving to “do” we can “be” more in the pose or in any exercise or art we choose to pursue. We can be more aware of the breath and the body and feel a much greater connection to ourselves, others, and the rituals we decide to honor.
This past summer, life has taught me more about the importance of rituals. Almost seven years ago I gained a new personal fitness training client, an 86-year-old. We began a Sunday ritual of hiking in a canyon, at a good pace, covering three miles in an hour-and-a-half the first couple years, until his hips couldn’t handle hills. Then we found a flat paved trail where we walked for two miles in 45 minutes. After another year or two our course shortened to one mile. When he reached age 90, we dropped to ½ mile and began a new ritual of going to a special tree and back. Soon, that was too far, and now, due to his shortness of breath from congestive heart failure, we walk a flat trail and enjoy the ritual of “our ocean view,” a walk that’s barely a quarter mile that takes 15-20 minutes with many pauses. For the past two months he’s been using a walker to help take some of the load off his lungs, while providing a seat to rest when needed. I sense the time is nearing when I will be pushing the walker and he will be riding. But still, we will have our Sunday ritual. He looks forward to it, and so do I. We have formed a friendship over the years from sharing this time. One day, I fear soon, I will go there alone on some Sunday and visit our view, our tree, and remember how our ritual kept him moving and on his feet for much longer than anyone would have thought possible. Rituals are sacred. Embrace them.
For more on mindfulness, rituals & routines, read “Twelve MIndful Months: Cultivating a Balanced & Fit Body, Mind & Spirit” by Carol Tibbetts. Stay on the mindful path with me by signing up above, right, to get future blog posts delivered directly to your inbox.