It’s raining today in San Diego, and as I made breakfast this morning for my son, Morgan, who is now 14, it reminded me of one the greatest teachings he ever gave me during a rain time a decade ago. This became a chapter in my first book, Deep Yoga, Ancient Wisdom for Modern Times, which I am posting here to share with you:
JUMP IN ALL THE PUDDLES
It had rained heavily the night before, which is rare where we live in southern California. The next morning, as the sun was peeking through billowy clouds, my four-year-old son and I set out for a walk to enjoy the clean, moist air. Before too long we came to a great puddle in the middle of the sidewalk. It must have been three feet across and several inches deep.
I immediately avoided the pool of water, circling easily around one side where there was higher ground. Upon reaching the other side, I looked back and there was my boy staring curiously at me as if he could not believe what I had just done. With a wry smile he backed up a few steps, got a running start and took a huge leap, then landed – SPLAT! – smack into the middle of the puddle.
“Daddy,” he said urgently as he came up to me with his feet and pants soaked, smiling with glee, “jump in ALL the puddles!” I instantly understood the lesson. I was in a state of constriction, subconsciously avoiding any potential inconvenience or discomfort and completely missing the joy of a spontaneous act. My son and I then held hands and began skipping down the walk, jumping in every single puddle along the way. In no time we were muddy and drenched and our ribs ached from all the laughter. It was one of the best mornings ever.
If you have spent any time with young children you likely have noticed there is something that they all have in common despite their different personalities, strengths and weaknesses. They have unbridled spontaneity and what I call “range”. They seem to get over their bumps and bruises quickly despite their initial screams of anguish. They can jump into an ocean or lake we might call freezing, play all day under a sun we would consider sweltering and become ecstatic in a downpour that would send us scurrying for cover.
Parents often run behind their kids, covering them with sweaters for the cold, shorts for the heat, gobs of sunscreen, hats, gloves and an endless assortment of other items to shield them from their environment. They are well-intentioned, of course, but you might remember being a child and feeling annoyed at the endless admonishments to bundle up, be careful, slow down, back off and watch out! It’s as if we forgot what a badge of honor it is to have a nicely scuffed knee.
This isn’t to say that kids don’t need parental guidance. It’s important to learn the dangers of chasing a ball into the street, riding bikes around cars or straying too far from home. But too much sheltering and controlling begins the process of narrowing our range. As we grow up, our wings are clipped so often that we forget how to fly. We become increasingly dependent upon artificially controlled environments, turning on fans and air conditioners if it’s a bit too warm, turning up the heaters and gas fireplaces if it feels a bit too cool. We spend billions of dollars each year on widgets and gadgets designed to increase our comfort. There is a gizmo designed to make almost every chore in our lives quicker, simpler and easier.
While there is obvious value in some of this technology, we are so awash in it that we become addicted, seeking greater and greater comforts as the natural world begins to feel unnatural and difficult for us. It’s hard to imagine modern day Americans trekking across the wilderness, as their ancestors did, without roads, motorized vehicles and restaurants & rest stops every few miles. Most of us, I fear, would perish on the journey.
Our culture, economy and process of socialization furthers this phenomenon. We learn to conform, becoming fearful of taking chances, speaking out, exerting ourselves, accepting change or trying something new. We lock our doors, set our alarms and try to insure ourselves against all misfortune. The daily news thrives on aggravating our fears and the commercials offer us medications to cope.
We begin to live our lives more vicariously, becoming spectators of life through television and movies as our spirit of adventure atrophies. As our world becomes increasingly constricted our lives become more mediocre, monotone and dull. Ironically, at the same time this narrowed range actually creates greater stress and agitation.
When our range is wide, it contains most of life’s fluctuations and we are able to accept a diversity of experiences with greater ease. As it constricts, which typically happens as we become more socialized, the ups and downs of existence spike outside of our comfort zone. This causes us to become agitated and to respond with fear, anger, frustration and distress. With time, it becomes chronic, which further constricts our range, causing us to overreact to less and less significant circumstances.
Millions of us end up finding it so difficult to cope that we rely upon painkillers and anti-depressants or seek to numb ourselves with drugs, alcohol or meaningless distractions in hopes of escaping the tension that has come to characterize our existence. As a result, it becomes more difficult for us to connect with who we truly are, to fully express ourselves or to experience the fullness and joy of life.
Yoga seeks to turn this paradigm around. Asana is a good beginning. Not only do Yoga postures increase strength and flexibility while promoting healing, they are a physical manifestation of expanding our range. As we expand through Asana, we are also able to take more of life’s aches and pains in stride. We feel empowered and more fully self-expressed as we learn to enter into more advanced and challenging poses. Finally mastering an unsupported headstand, for example, can shift a person’s entire perspective about their ability to self-heal or take charge of their lives.
Through Pranayama we expand the range of our breath. This, too, is self-healing and empowering. We become more connected with our life force and increase our inner power in the process. Through Pratyahara, or withdrawal of the senses, we eliminate some of the constant noise of our society and therein reduce the frequency and intensity of the spikes in our lives. Ultimately, meditation helps us relax and let go of agitation while increasing our ability to handle tension properly when it does arise. Through this process, we are able to move towards finding our Dharma, or path in life. We can access our inner wisdom more readily and more fully express who we truly are.
If you do not already have a daily practice, consider this simple beginning:
Commit to getting up ½ hour earlier in the morning. See this as a sacred time that you have set aside for personal growth and transformation. Find a comfortable place to practice and begin with a few minutes of deep breathing, drinking in life in all its fullness with every breath.
Follow this with ten to fifteen minutes of Yoga poses, doing whatever feels good and comes naturally to you, as you keep your breath deep and full. Finish with some affirmations such as “I am expanding my range,” “I am fully living in my truth” or any other positive statements that arise from your heart. To finish, bring your palms to the heart center and resolve not to sweat the small stuff that comes up in your day. Then thank yourself for taking this sacred time to heal, grow and unfold.
During your day, look for opportunities to expand your range. It can be anything from relaxing into cooler or warmer temperatures that you typically would seek to avoid, taking stairs instead of escalators, walking or biking short distances instead of jumping in your car, no longer being annoyed by noisy neighbors. When agitation arises, as it most surely will, remind yourself that you are expanding your range, that it is already widening and that you are capable of containing the event. Ask yourself how you can act skillfully rather than react to whatever the circumstances might be.
Be gentle with yourself and make little changes instead of forcing yourself to take giant steps or do everything all at once. Consistency with a few things is often far more beneficial than adding more and more items to your practice. You will know when you have mastered this aspect or that, and then it’s time to consider your next steps.
Along the way, remember that wise advice from a four-year-old child and don’t miss the joy of jumping in all of life’s puddles!