Today a student pulled me aside after class to "remind me of something I had said"... I braced myself -- literally gripped the side of the teaching platform.
"Zac and I were running the marathon on Sunday," Andrea began. How cute is it that she and her husband ran the marathon together?! Andrea and Zac have been taking my class for close to four years. They are quiet, they keep to themselves, but have such a sweet nature about them that I always feel better knowing they are in the room. Sometimes I feel I should pay them to take class.
Already I was almost in tears as she told me about how she had signed up for the marathon to raise money for an organization called Global Water. She had trained hard, and, like all runners do, set a timed goal for herself and strapped a pace band to her wrist. The first half of the run was a breeze, she was ahead of schedule, waving to onlookers and trotting along jovially, but then something changed.
She got hit with a searing cramp in her side that got worse with each step. The pain sent her into a spasmodic breathing pattern, which only increased the pain. She had to stop and walk, but with every walking minute, she saw her time goal slipping away and it sent her into a state of acute anxiety. Though she knew it was silly, she had to fight back tears at the thought of not reaching her goal, she was feeling like a failure.
Then, something happened.
"I know this sounds weird," she told me, "but out of nowhere I saw your face, and I heard you, it was as if you were standing right next to me, I heard you say 'If it's not fun, then change it.' You say this to us in class all the time. When we are in some crazy challenging pose, you remind us that we have a choice. All of a sudden, I realized what I had to do. I stopped running and grabbed Zac's hand and said 'This isn't fun. What can we do to change it?'"
Zac got it immediately and started tell her "knock-knock" jokes -- really bad ones. Made-up ones with no punch-line, anything to shift the mood and get Andrea laughing again.
At mile 17, she was still walking and took a moment to close her eyes and check back in with her breathing. She was able to do some of the rhythmic breathing that we do in class to get her heart rate under control; it helped with the pain in her side and she felt her anxiety melt away. When she opened her eyes it was a whole new race. She tore off the pace band wrapped around her wrist and started running again -- this time, for fun.
She didn't finish in the time she had set up. But was that really the goal in the first place? Our culture is so funny when it comes to setting goals. I see people make lists, then make more lists about how they are going to achieve their lists, then they repeat affirmations for these goals, sometimes even hire a personal coach to have someone walk them through it! We are a culture totally addicted to setting goals. But what isn't addressed, is "is this the right goal to be making?"
The problem with these goals is that they send us into what the Buddhists would call attachment/aversion mode. Goenka-ji, a preeminent Vipassana teacher calls this raag "I like" and dves"I don't like." It is human nature to either desire or be repulsed by something. These feelings drive us and we are in a constant state of fluctuating back and forth from what we want and what we don't want. This translates to our sense of self-esteem. We are really angry with ourselves if we don't achieve the goal, and we are really pleased with ourselves if we do. Either way, the result is fleeting.
What Andrea came to realize is that she had set the wrong goal. Who cares if she ran the marathon in 4 hours or 7 hours? She may not remember her time, but she will always remember the bad knock-knock jokes.
There are really do-able goals in yoga and in life. Practice balance, stay relaxed within each challenging moment, or Andrea's favorite, if it's not fun- change it.
Andrea and Zac having fun before the marathon...
[To read Andrea's blog about the LA marathon visit: http://www.kuusisto.typepad.com/