A few years ago, a friend called me feeling down. She had a very demanding job and wasn’t always so good about taking care of herself, but for the past year she had been really turning her health around. She’d been exercising regularly and paying more attention to her diet, and creating healthier barriers between her work and her personal time. And it had paid off. She had lost the pounds she had always wanted to shed, and she’d been feeling really positive mentally to boot. Then she fell ill. Nothing terribly serious, just regular garden variety flu. But it took her weeks to fully recover. She complained to me on the phone that she felt that the illness had really set her back and that all that work she had done on herself now seemed like a waste of time. She had not felt up to doing any exercise or even cooking proper meals. She felt like she was going back to square one.
I felt strongly that this was not the case. There was another way to look at it, I said. “All of that self-care, it doesn’t just go down the drain. It’s part of your condition now. It’s in you. It’s part of the reason you take care of yourself, so you can get through times like this.” She was sincere in her efforts and had built up positive habits. I knew that she would return to them more easily than she thought. This turned out to be the case, and not long after we spoke, she was her bouncy positive self again and quickly shed the extra pounds she’d gained snacking in bed.
When we build substantive familiarity in our practice–whether it’s yoga or some other form of mind/body system, meditation, mindfulness, whatever—when (not if) we have times when we’re just not up to it, the results of our practice are still there, available to us, however subtly. By substantive familiarity I mean when we have invested time, energy, attention and effort in our practice. Then those off times are unlikely to seriously derail us, though we may end up in the bushes for a while. And who knows what we might find there. They’re mysterious things these energy cycles, and time in the bushes might be exactly what we need.
Yesterday was not a great day for me. I didn’t feel like doing much yoga and kind of phoned in my practice. I over-ate, spent too much time online, and began to plummet mentally and physically by the afternoon. It took some effort to get up this morning. I dragged myself like a sack of spuds to my morning practice, which I eventually did a bit half-heartedly on the carpet in my room instead of outside on the grass like I usually do. But what happened was, that although, yes, it took some initial effort, after that effort, something warmly familiar kicked in. It was like the practice had created a groove that I could slip into without too much huffing and puffing. It wasn’t a brilliant session, but I knew I wasn’t plummeting any more, that all was not lost, that I could RE-SOURCE.
Regular practice puts something into storage. It turns into a resource, and when we return to it, as long as we have built a robust and sincere relationship, it will respond like a caring and supportive friend. It takes less effort than we imagine to enter that ‘groove’ again. We just need to have a bit of faith that it’s still there, and orient ourselves towards it. Not even a second of such practice is wasted.
It’s natural to have days when we aren’t particularly motivated, and worse. There will be the good, the bad, the ugly, and – sometimes the toughest nut of all – the meh. Just remember this. Your practice hasn’t gone anywhere. It doesn’t disperse like water on the ground. It feeds the well. And the well is there waiting. Sometimes it takes a bit longer and demands a bit more effort to lower the pail. But the well has not run dry. And neither have you.