First thing each morning Susan and I head out to the Royal Gardens. A morning walk with exercise is our favorite activity of the day. This morning, though, we were each feeling creaky and sore. We over did it yesterday just because we want to be ready for those cycle tours we’d like to try if we ever get out of this disheartening Covid epidemic.
As our warm up got longer and longer, Susan observed that we probably couldn’t take on one of the high intensity mixed martial arts classes that we used to enjoy. We’d still be warming up when the class was half over. Almost in the same breath she added, “Start where you are today. " She paused, then added, "Not where you were when you were twenty, or where you were twenty years ago, or even where you’ll be tomorrow.”
“Where’d you get that?” I asked. She didn’t know.
It got me thinking. How do you start where you are today? So we talked about it. And you know, the concept applies to so much of life. Maybe everything we do.
Begin with today’s body
It seems to us that to begin today, or this hour, or this moment, you might want to be aware of your physical state. As we walk to the park each morning our bodies are slow to catch up with our intentions. These days we have to gently coax them into the pleasure of physical activity. Neither are our stamina wells as deep as they used to be. And recovery after injury? That takes so long we’ve adopted the mantra, “To go beyond is as wrong as to fall short.” -- a saying that I copied into my little “Good Ideas” notebook without attribution more than 20 years ago. The internet thinks it was Confucius. I don’t know. I wasn’t there at the time.
Then there’s your mental state
Susan and I decided that to begin something well you need to focus because sometimes it’s really hard to remember to pay attention. In the first weeks after Lizzie, our best dog ever, died, my mind kept wandering off to how I missed my little friend. Even when making morning coffee, I had to be especially careful to maintain my focus.
Another component of our mental state is intention. Like many of us, I spent most of my life thinking of chores as, you know CHORES – stuff you had to do. Didn’t have to enjoy it, just had to do them. And don’t waste any time in the process.
Then I read, and heard, and read again, and again through several iterations “do the dishes to do the dishes.” You know what? It works. With the right intention, the time I spend on what used to be chores can be a peaceful, easy interlude. My hands are busy while my mind is calmly observing me doing chores. Huh!
And what about skill level
Ahh, but mindful attention isn’t always enough. I’d love to be able to draw like Leonardo da Vinci, but no matter how mindfully I focus my intention I always come up short. Short as in not even the same ballpark. Not in the same ballpark as in not really in the same universe.
When I draw, I have to start where I am today.
Doesn’t it seem that every time skill comes into play, to do something well requires us to begin where we are today? Maybe that means tempering our intentions with an open-eyed awareness of our ability.
When it comes to improving a skill, -- drawing for me, or maybe it’s a great golf swing for you – try to begin a practice session with the idea of failing forward. I start a drawing with the notion that I will fail -- but with tiny improvements -- until I succeed. Then my early efforts don’t seem futile. If I think only of drawing and not succeeding, I will use all my skill. I can enjoy myself, whatever the outcome.
When it comes to learning a new language Susan and I have become intimately familiar with failing until we succeed (ever so infrequently). Without failing forward in mind, my grapes would always be sour.