We are on the playground again, and it is freezing. My hands went numb at least 20 minutes ago, and I want to go home. But my not-yet-2-year-old daughter is climbing straight up a muddy hill, one arm gamely waving me onward, as if to say, “Come on, Mom, don’t be such a baby!”
We stay. We play. When we finally head home, we come upon another small, though slightly older, girl on a scooter, her dad walking beside her. As we approach, I realize that she is just as ready as I am to be home.
She sobs as she scoots, “I can’t. I can’t. I CAN’T DO IT!”
Her dad is good-natured. I can see he doesn’t want to make light of her struggle. He definitely doesn’t want to laugh. He smiles gently as he tells her, “But you are doing it.”
“I can’t,” she insists, her little feet pushing off the sidewalk.
“But you are,” he reassures. The scene continues like this. The thing she cannot do is the thing she is doing.
I keep thinking about how relatable this feeling is, especially when it comes to cultivating our own health and happiness as adults. There are times when I feel like this little girl, overwhelmed by something that I may already be doing (though perhaps in fledgling form). People I know and love or to whom I’ve taught yoga and meditation over the years often express similar feelings.
Students and friends, even casual acquaintances, confide that they wish they could meditate. I hear this almost daily. People read the studies; they know the research is promising. It’s a simple and accessible way to rewire our brains, away from patterns of stress and anxiety and toward those of concentration and calm. And meditation is often free. How few wellness trends can say the same?
But still, they tell me, they can’t meditate. They try, but their minds wander. Which makes me feel a bit like that dad must have felt. But you are doing it. I want to assure them. The nature of the mind is that it wanders. When it does this, you haven’t lost the meditation or messed it up.
The problem is that the way experiences of growth feel rarely syncs with how they look. Scooting looks so carefree! Meditation seems so blissful! But, in reality, they can also be difficult, frustrating, or tedious, especially in the beginning.
I want to go home, we think.
“People have lots of parts to their personalities. You can think of them as sub-personalities,” Chip Bradish, a licensed mental health counselor in Jamaica Plain, explained recently. “Sometimes there may be a part of us that’s overwhelmed and putting our foot down while another part of us moves forward.”
Bingo, I thought.
Tackling positive change — say, eating healthy, starting an exercise program after a long absence, or taking on a small but dreaded project at home or work — can regularly evoke these conflicted feelings. When the stakes are higher, when the consequences of not changing are grave, the fear is greater.
Grief, illness, and addiction are just a few areas of mind-body health that require more resilience and the unglamorous skill-building of putting one foot in front of the other. Over and over again.
“It’s OK to lack faith in your ability to do something, but what I have found is the importance of doing it anyway. Resilience is not something we are born with; it is something we build,” said Chanel Luck, owner of the yoga studio Radiant Yoga Boston in South Boston, who has wrestled with all of the challenges mentioned above. Disclosure: She’s also a dear friend, and her journey to sobriety, in particular, has been eye-opening for me to witness.
“In moments that I thought I simply could not even put my own two feet on the floor to do the next thing, to get through the next minute, the next decision, the next phone call, I would ask the universe for help and swing my bare feet onto the hardwood floor and give myself the one-minute pep talk. Right, OK, I can do anything for 60 seconds,” she continued, after I told her the scooter story. It was a familiar scene. She’s been there many times.
Life is made up of a sequence of minutes. If we’re lucky, many minutes. They are strung together in their own unique pattern. At times, they fly by. We blink and we are 30. We blink again and our kids are 30. Other times, the minutes are interminable, unbearable. We are freezing in the cold. We are melting in the heat. We want to go home. We want to be anywhere but on that scooter.
In my own life, even on a good, ordinary day, and amid admitted good fortune, I can tally the can’ts: of new motherhood, of affording child care — never mind preschool, which costs as much as college now, apparently — of being self-employed and of writing for a living, all of which can feel like trying to build a jet out of paper clips and chewing gum at times.
Then there’s the grinding effort of weathering this dark political era, merely scrolling the news some mornings; sitting down to meditate despite all of the above; figuring out what to cook for dinner so that everyone eats and nothing is set aflame. Any of it can feel like too much sometimes.
But I’m doing it. We’re doing it.
Chin up. Eyes ahead. We scoot forward, sometimes without realizing.