This past week in yoga, my teacher quoted a verse from a poem by Rumi. Some of you might know it already; the title of the poem is “On A Day”:
When the wind is perfect
The sail just needs to open and the world is full of beauty.
Today is such a day.
I wasn’t surprised at my teacher’s timing. We New Yorkers had just had two of the warmest and most beautiful days of an otherwise cold, rainy spring. The gleeful mood that settles on the city when the weather finally becomes warm had finally emerged, and it was impossible not to notice it.
My teacher wasn’t quoting Rumi in order to underscore the beautiful weather, though. He had something more thoughtful to say. When it’s beautiful outside, metaphorically and literally, he told us, “it’s easy to live our practice.” He reminded us that, no matter how much we give thanks for days of loveliness and light, the yogi’s real work is to practice gratitude, equanimity, and generosity when it’s cloudy and cold. Both without and within.
Victor’s words couldn’t have resonated more. In spite of the beautiful weather and that first, sweet taste of summer, I wasn’t living my practice that morning—or anytime this past week. Because of challenges related to this leg of the internship, I was finding it next to impossible to practice gratitude, to avoid irritability, or to participate in the seemingly universal lightness of mood. Instead, I was feeling glum and short-tempered. I wasn’t even glad to be at yoga, honestly; I’d dragged myself there in the wee hours, driven only by the hope that I’d face the day with more goodwill if I went.
Getting myself to class was a good instinct, thought. It allowed me to receive Victor’s wise, compassionate words. He wasn’t telling us that the cloudy days wouldn’t happen; he was reminding us that they always will, and that they’ll challenge us to keep our capacity for celebration alive and well.
His message reminded me of something another teacher of mine once shared. She was raised Catholic, and in spite of the fact that she no longer identifies with that faith, she’s never forgotten a piece of advice that her mother gave her: “don’t only pray when you’re desperate or afraid. God wants to hear from you when things are good, too.”
This may seem like the opposite what Victor was sharing, but the messages are intertwined. Practice gratitude when there’s a lot to be grateful for. Practice gratitude when it seems as though there isn’t. Do what you can, as you can, when you can. Or—to bring another piece of guidance that I’ve gotten from a yoga teacher, one of the many who have blessed my life—“it will never be easy, but there’s always something to celebrate.”
I’ve spent most of my life grouping things into binaries: good/bad, desirable/undesirable, healthy/unhealthy. It’s a natural impulse for us to place experiences and ideas on a spectrum of positive and negative feeling, but I suspect that these categories have a special kind of power for those of us with histories of perfectionism and extremes.
In recent years I’ve learned to soften my vision of life experience, to spread it out across a spectrum in which things don’t always have to be good or bad; they can all be opportunities to learn and grow. Or they can simply be. Victor’s dharma talk reminded me to keep this in my heart. I couldn’t help feeling discouraged and gloomy this week; it’s just where I was. But I did what I could do to live my practice—at least insofar as it means treating other people kindly, taking deep breaths, re-centering whenever I could—anyway.
On Thursday, just as I was pondering all of these things, the balmy weather plunged into scattered T-storms and predicted hail. Hail! In May! I had to chuckle; we just never know what’s coming. It was an adventure getting from work to my evening class. On the cramped and damp subway ride uptown, I closed my eyes and asked myself if I could practice gratitude. My conscious mind could of course list many things I was grateful for, but it felt a little more like an intellectual exercise than something I was feeling in my heart.
I wish you a week of gratitude when it’s accessible, acceptance when it’s not, and joy if you can swing it. And a good Memorial Day, too, if you’ve got the day off and celebrate it. Here are some recipes and reads.
Watermelon really isn’t my favorite, but I’m always trying to warm up to it. This simple and vibrant salad may just be my ticking to enjoying it this summer.
Another beautiful summer salad: Shelly’s cucumber salad with strawberry yogurt and za’atar. The recipe calls for Greek yogurt, but you could easily use an almond or coconut yogurt instead.
Speaking of strawberries, it’s strawberry season! Heidi recently posted her roasted strawberry recipe, which looks wonderful. I’d love to try these on toast or over oatmeal.
Need a hearty vegan option for your Memorial Day celebrations? I’d bring Alissa’s teriyaki tempeh burgers to any cookout.
1. Healthcare reporter Alexandra Glorioso was only 31-years-old when she was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer. In this interview with Stat, she opens up about how her illness and treatment has changed her understanding of the healthcare system, among other major shifts in perception.
2. Also on the topic of cancer and cancer treatment, HealthDay reports on the alarming rise of colon cancer among young adults.
3. I felt very validated—since I’m always freezing at work—when I read Olga Khazan’s article on how super cold offices are lousy for women and their professional productivity.
5. Since we’re on the topic of memorable advice today, it’s worth sharing this NY Times assemblage of good advice on parenting, work, and love. Touching and thought-provoking.
Alright, friends. Have a wonderful Monday. I’ll be back around here very soon.