August 27, 2013

The Problem with Passion.

Don’t you admire those people who are passionate about their convictions?

No matter what the temptation, they stay the course, strong in purpose, true and unyielding.

I used to be like that. And though I might often give the impression that I still am, I’ll confess here: I am not. I stick to things maybe 90 percent of the time. Maybe 85. I mean 80.

I am the avid meditator who forgot to meditate this morning, and when I remembered that I had forgotten, still didn’t sit down and do it.

I am the vegan who had a piece of pizza last night… with cheese.

I am the Yogi who would rather be on my bike than in the studio. Who, though maintaining a “yogic” state of mind while riding nevertheless realizes this is the fifth ride I’ve taken this week, and the zero-th time I’ve practiced Yoga.

And my bike was precisely where I was today as I ruminated on the old me.

Like always, there were lots of other people out on the bike path when I rode. Cyclists, who were zipping around me left and right as I ambled along on my jalopy. They were passionate. I could tell.

I used to be one of those cyclists. You’d see me all hunched over in my brightly colored jersey (purchased on a cycling tour in Spain) with my clip-less pedals and my speedometer cranking along at 21 mph.

Everything irritated me. Other people, dogs, branches on the ground.

“Get out of my way, everybody and everything! Move, for God’s sake!” (In my defense, I am from New York).

I was a crazy person as I muttered and grumbled and checked my pace, all while trying not to kill the chipmunks racing under my tires.

Then something fortuitous happened. My daughter, who lived in Florida, needed a bike. I sent her mine and bought myself a gleaming new, silver, state-of-the-art road bike. Even my dad liked it, and he’s a big bike snob. But it hurt to ride. Try as I might, I could not get comfortable. Just the sight of it seemed to bring on back spasms. (I would later discover I had two herniated discs, but at the time I was blissfully unaware of them.)

One morning, with back pain creeping down my butt and making it’s way toward my left foot, I decided I would just ride my husband’s bike instead. It is not a cool bike. The word”granny” comes to mind, as does “wheelchair,” because that’s about it’s maximum speed. It doesn’t have a basket on the front, or tassels on the handlebars, but it might as well. The advantage? I could sit on it upright which would be easier on my spine. As I eased it out of the garage, I just hoped no one would see me.

It didn’t take me long to realize that tooling around at 5 mph changes everything.

First, no one was in my way. I was in everyone else’s way, but that didn’t bother me so much. I was immediately less cranky. Second, I could see things. Oh, what a fantastic spectacle I had been missing! Birds, everywhere, of every kind, whistling and flying joyfully about. Deer, loads of them, bucks and doe, a raccoon, massive ancient trees and violets right along the path!

And the smell! The aching sweetness of growing plants swelled through the air one minute, and then disappeared, only to be replaced by a chill breeze washing over me filled with the scent of the river.

It was a lot more interesting than my speedometer.

I never got on my old bike again. Something shifted in me during that slow ride that has never shifted back. I realized that for me, obsession is boring. Even more than that, it’s blinding.

In some ways I miss the person I used to be on my fast bike, because that is the woman who would be on the Ashtanga second series by now. I might own a vegan cooking school. Or maybe I would be meditating so much I could levitate on command! Or I might not.

The problem with passion is that it smacks of attachment. Dedication: good. Strong values and beliefs: good. Attaching yourself so strongly to an idea, any idea, that you become immersed in it to the point of being unable or unwilling to conceive other ideas: dangerous.

That 10 (or 20) percent of me that doesn’t do what I’m supposed to, is the percent that makes me human. That likes to play. That likes to test stuff out. It doesn’t mean my beliefs aren’t sacred, it just means life is messy, beautifully messy, and pretending that it isn’t feels like prison.

Maybe the great teachers and leaders of the world would disagree. Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, even many of my own Yogi peer group. Or maybe they, like me, are only human.

I may never know, but I know this: I’m on my slow bike and I’m enjoying the view—even if it means I never get quite as far down the path as I intended.

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Ed: Sara Crolick










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