April 13, 2012

Shedding Our Need To Plan Takes Practice.

Expectations Can Be Blinding and Plans Can Be Downright Frustrating When Beachcombing.

I love to spend hours wandering along the beach looking for shells. My kids think I’m crazy. When they tag along they pummel me with non-stop questions: “How much farther are we going?” “What time are we turning around?” And my favorite, “What are you looking for today?” I think it confuses them that I don’t have a plan. After all, I usually do. Were it not for me and my plans, there wouldn’t be clean uniforms in their sports bags or dinner on the table. Certainly, without my planning they’d rarely get where they needed to be when they needed to be there.

But, short of deciding which direction to walk, plans are absolutely useless when looking for shells. In fact, when combing the beach for treasures, plans are downright frustrating. They suck the joy right out of the experience.

Let me share my theory of shell hunting with you: You have to receive what the ocean gives you. If you stay open to its gifts, you will have a fabulous time and return from your stroll feeling blessed. You simply never know what the sea is going to offer. One day on our vacation last week, I returned from a walk with 77 fossilized shark’s teeth! (That’s got to be a complete mouthful!) Another day, I found dozens of tiny, pastel colored, pairs of coquina shells shaped like butterflies. On yet another day, I came home with two rarities that I’d never before found – a smooth, freckled, snub-nosed alphabet cone shell and a spiny, curvaceous apple murex.

Expectations can blind you to the ocean’s gifts. If you head out planning to find a sand dollar, you may overlook the conch or lettered olive or breathtaking pink and orange scallop at your feet. Especially when looking for shells, your eyes see what they seek. It’s happened to me a hundred times. I’ve walked right past a beauty only to have my husband exclaim from behind me, “Look at this!” The key is to keep your eyes open to what is rather than to what you want to see. Otherwise, you risk returning from your journey empty handed or, worse, frustrated by what you didn’t find rather than overjoyed by what you did discover.

This is a lesson we learn on our mats as well. Yoga goes best when you arrive unencumbered by expectations or plans. If you practice regularly in a group class, you know this well. Part of your practice is to shed your own desires and accept the series that your teacher offers that day. To arrive at the studio determined to work on hand balances can be an exercise in frustration if your class is filled with beginners. You may miss out on the lovely experience of a twisting series if you’re focused on how badly you had hoped to explore backbends. To show up to class fixated on your own agenda is to rob yourself of the gift of the series that comes your way.

The lesson is no less powerful if you practice on your own, you just have to be a little more aware. Your body is different each and every time you unroll your mat. And the needs of our body are not always in synch with the desires of our mind. Perhaps this has happened to you? You’ve decided to work on back-bending, only to find when you start to move that you are feeling quite stiff that morning. You have a choice. You can respect and honor what your body needs each moment, or you can bulldoze onward into those strenuous backbends as you had planned. If we let it, yoga will meet us where we are and we’ll end our practice feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. Or we can end our practice feeling frustrated at our lack of “progress” and slightly beaten.

The operative word here is choice. There are times when it is fitting (indeed rewarding) to choose to shed our plans and expectations. When these times present themselves, we can choose to approach our experiences with open eyes and a grateful heart. Or we can choose to hold tight to our plans.

While making the choice to free ourselves from the fetters of expectations and plans seems easy to do on a yoga mat or while combing a beach, it requires practice. Often the first thing we practice is recognizing when we’re gripping our plans so tightly that we’re missing out on our actual experience. Once we’ve developed a heightened awareness to our own patterns and tendencies, we can, a little at a time, begin to work on letting go. After all, it is less concerning to have your yoga practice veer off in an unexpected direction than your day or even your week.

Thankfully, practice does yield proficiency. This is a skill that can help each and every one of us to navigate the ups and downs of our lives. Doctors never know what illnesses or injuries are going to walk into their office each day. Lawyers do not choose their cases, but are rather chosen by their clients. A great chef will cook from the freshest, seasonal bounty available to her rather than yearning for fresh corn on the cob in November. While they show up to class with a lesson plan, the very best teachers keep a gentle hold on these plans, trusting that the most memorable, meaningful classes come from a willingness to explore their students’ ideas and questions.

Which is why my answer never varies when my kids ask me again and again what I’m looking for as I wander for miles along the beach. “I’ll find whatever the ocean wants to give me today.” I can’t wait to see what it is. Can you?

Happy hunting,
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Amy Nobles Dolan  |  Contribution: 9,100