These are probably just rainy-day thoughts, but what’s a blog for if you can’t open up to all your imaginary friends, right? It’s obvious that as you approach middle age, your metabolism slows down and it gets harder and harder to keep off extra weight. I keep waiting for the body I had as a 20-year-old to show up, and it’s just not happening. (Not that it was that great anyway, but at least I was a size 34, instead of a 38 like I am now.) As a working, married father of two, there are so many demands on my time that unless I give up sleeping, regular daily exercise is almost an impossibility. I do OK for awhile, and then my commitment wavers. I don’t see the immediate results that I used to see, and I get discouraged. I want to do better, but I also don’t want to become some kind of exercise nut at the expense of my family, whom I love more than anything. I once heard Terry Francona, manager of the Red Sox, say, “Some things never change. I woke up this morning and I still had no hair.” Well I wake up every morning and I still see a chubby guy in the mirror, no matter what I do. Women are traditionally supposed to have “body image issues”, but I can tell you from experience that men have them too. I mentioned in an earlier post that sometimes I really feel the dichotomy between the physical person I am and the person I wish I was. I want to have the vital energy that hard core yoga practitioners have. I want to eat only whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, instead of tortilla chips, pizza and beer. I want to be able to wake up at 4 AM to do an hour’s worth of yoga, but my body wants to sleep. In many of the spiritual texts I’ve read, there are strong criticisms of the lazy and indolent. These kinds of people won’t be able to seriously undertake a path of true personal growth. I know I’m supposed to go easy on myself, but at the same time I feel like I go too easy. I keep thinking that maybe when I turn forty this August, I’ll wake up and have an epiphany. I’ll finally find that inner strength, that willpower, to make the healthy changes to my lifestyle that I know I need to make. But I’m also a realist. I know that the only changes that can last are the gradual ones. Maybe by writing all this down, I can make a commitment to all of you that I’m going to try and change my ways. I’m going to try not to be lazy and indolent. I’m going to try and wake up earlier and do yoga, at least a few sun salutations, before going to work. I’m going to give up the beer. I’m going to give up caffeine. I’m going to get more aerobic exercise. I’m going to eat healthier. I’m going to look like the guys in the Kripalu catalog…someday.
Satya is a Sanskrit word meaning “truthfulness.” This concept is mentioned in numerous Eastern religious texts. The one I am most familiar with is Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, a codification of the Raja Yoga of his time, about 200 BC. In his sutras, Patanjali includes satya as one of the yamas (restraints) of his ethical system. I often struggle with this concept. What does real truthfulness mean, and what does it require from us? It’s very easy to speak truthfully about obvious things, like the weather or the color of the apple you are about to eat. But you may notice in your daily activities that you are many things to many people, and that you will often modify your speech or actions depending on who you are interacting with. We might be our most “truthful” when we are with our immediate family; our spouse or our children. We may continue this attitude when we are around very close friends. But when we move outward from our comfort zone, into our work environment or other public venues like stores, sporting arenas, restaurants, etc., are we still truthful? I am thinking mostly about our speech. Take work for example. There, we fall into familiar patterns. With some colleagues we may play the role of comedian, always cracking jokes and making others laugh. To other workmates, we might take on the role of advice-giver, sage, or confidant. When we are “the boss” we have to act another way, exhibiting confidence, leadership, perhaps doling out occasional discipline. I think one of the easiest and least truthful roles we can fall into at work and elsewhere is what I would call the cynical accomplice. When we are with our other co-conspirators, we band together and laugh at the rest of the world, making judgments about others, putting ourselves above them. I know I have been guilty of this many times. It’s very easy to fall into the role of cynical accomplice for the simple reason that we want to be liked by others and included in a group. We want our egos to be stroked. But in the Zen Precepts of the Mountain and Rivers Order, based in Mount Tremper, NY, it says “See the perfection…do not speak of others’ errors or faults. Realize self and other as one…do not elevate the self and blame others.” When we band together to criticize others, we are not only conspiring against them, but against ourselves as well. We are undermining our own integrity. We are not being truthful. And yet, if we don’t find ways to interact with others at work or elsewhere, if we don’t laugh at other people’s jokes once in awhile, we might be looked upon as some kind of snob or outsider, and shunned. So sometimes we might go against what our true self might believe in order to fit into a particular group. Maybe I take things too seriously. But of all the organs of our body, the tongue is the hardest to control. The only help I can find for this dilemma of mine is to look to the example of the Buddha. Because of his Enlightenment, he was able to immediately see into the hearts and minds of all the various people who came in contact with him; kings, soldiers, prostitutes, untouchables, children, servants, and his own monks. In the record of his discourses,we can see examples of the skillful ways he dispatches his wisdom. He uses very simple teaching for the unschooled, and deeper esoteric teaching for the high-minded. But no matter who he spoke to, or in what manner, his inner perfection, his truthfulness, remained pure. I don’t know. Maybe each one of us can be all things to all people, doing what each situation calls for, while always keeping our satya intact? Let’s try it for just one day and see what happens. A scarier idea to contemplate might be that we have no permanent “true” self at all, but that we are simply conditioned by our surroundings to act a certain way, and that these reactions to external stimuli become solidified over time, giving us a false sense of “I”….but that’s too much to think about tonight. Maybe I’ll save that one for another post.
I just received my Kripalu yoga catalog in the mail today. Looking through it always reminds me of the difference between my real self and the person I imagine myself wanting to be. This isn’t a bad thing, just a curious occurrence. I think we all have an idealized image of ourselves, of who we might become if only we didn’t have to work and pay bills. I’ve been to Kripalu, and it’s a truly magical place. The night I was last there, we were on our way to visit family in Upstate New York. We needed a break and stopped for a restorative vegetarian dinner. As we were leaving, people were chanting kirtan in the main chapel, their voices floating up through the open windows into the night air as we walked to our car. I often think about returning there, and this is when visions of my imagined self start to take over. My imagined self is the one who eats a strict vegetarian diet and has the body of an Olympic swimmer. This imagined self sticks to routines, exercises regularly, is spiritually advanced, and never loses his temper. But my real self worries constantly about money and the peeling paint on his bathroom ceiling, about the furnace breaking down and the old tree in his front yard crashing through the roof while his family sleeps. My real self does the best he can, caring for his family, working hard, trying to be the best husband and father that he can be. Buddhism was once described to me as simply doing what’s required. That’s what I try to do every day, but sometimes I wonder if I don’t have an imaginary twin somewhere, living in a secluded mountain yoga retreat. It’s morning, and right now he is meditating and doing sun salutations. He’s waiting for me to join him. But I can’t at the moment. I’m too busy enjoying my real self’s life.