Yesterday I didn’t write a blog post. Very naughty I know. I wrote a mail-out on the practice of rejoicing in merits and then I kind of ran out of steam and decided to chill out instead.
Fortunately, this ties in with something I’ve been thinking about concerning flexibility. So I’m getting some blog fodder out of my laziness.
Knowing when to give in and when to fight strikes me as an important skill to practice. But we tend to be out of balance with this – habitually choosing one or other of these approaches whether or not they best serve us.
Which tool you choose is often conditioned by where you’re from. You can even see this in the different Buddhist schools.
If you’re American, my guess is you have a tendency towards pushing through. It seems to be a key part of the American spirit – that old thing ain’t gonna lick me, whup my ass, or whatever else you guys say.
In Europe we’re a bit more inclined to put up with life. The bus is late? There’ll be another one along soon. The restaurant doesn’t have what it says on the menu? Oh well we’ll have something else.
I’m being flippant. Sometimes this ‘putting up with things’ or fighting can get pretty extreme. War, cancer, poverty. Every day we make a choice how to respond to the cards we’re dealt. Which is the right myth to believe in? The superhero or the willow tree?
When to hold ’em and when to fold ’em
Here are some ideas for working this stuff out.
1. Practise mindfulness. As with practically everything, mindfulness is vital to success. With mindfulness you get to see the world, see yourself, and see how the two of you interact. Instead of the movie you have playing, you get to see the real deal.
2. Decide what’s most important to you. When you know that, you know what you aren’t prepared to do without and what isn’t such a big deal. When you have to make the inevitable compromises, you’ll know which way to go. As I’ve got older, I’ve learned that life is at least as much about what DON’T do as what you DO. If you decide you’re going to be an astronaut, that means you’re forgoing a life of being a professional footballer. If you want to be a master at tai chi, that probably means you won’t ever be a master at yoga. Learn what you’re prepared to let go, let it go, and then focus on what you decide to pursue wholeheartedly.
3. Love yourself. A lot of people push themselves because they are, on some level, punishing themselves. They don’t think they’re good enough. Must try harder. As I’ve said elsewhere, that’s one kind of motivation, but don’t think by letting that go that you’ll stop achieving. Actually, you free up loads of energy when you stop fighting yourself, and you can use that energy in pursuit of your goals.
4. Embrace the pain. Personally, the whole ‘run till you throw up, then run some more’ approach to life has never particularly appealed to me. I just don’t care that much about being able to run a long way. But if you want to achieve something, just accept that it’s going to be hard. It might be fun, but there’ll be times when it’s not fun and you just need to get on with it. Often I’m too tired to write this blog. But I write it anyway because I know that, deep down, it’s what I want to do. Being able to do what you don’t feel like doing is a useful skill. And there is something pleasurable, or at least satisfying, about going beyond your current personal preference for your own long-term benefit. That in itself is a practice. Do you think monks want to get up at 4am, eat gruel and wear those robes all the time?
5. Build pleasure and fun into your life. If you’re pushing yourself, make sure you have plenty of treats and do things you enjoy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. A friend of mine used to get in red wine, French bread and posh cheese every year when doing his accounts. If you listen to how top athletes actually do their life (rather than how Hollywood presents them) you’ll find they’re actually quite gentle with themselves in many ways. For muscles to grow and for training to be sustainable you need plenty of rest. They don’t grow while you’re working out. They grow when you stop and they have chance to repair themselves. This is true of many things.