I spent the last week in Costa Rica, one of the most amazing places on the planet, with my teacher, Beryl Bender Birch – one of the most amazing and inspiring people I know.
On the first morning of the retreat, Beryl set the stage for the week by reminding us that yoga is a 24/7 practice. And she asked “Can you be happy BEFORE something happens.?” Before you meet the perfect partner; Before you get the perfect job; Before you get a better seat on the airplane; Before you lose weight.
This question gets right to the root of why we practice yoga – to have some tools to get our attention into the present moment.
If we spend our energy thinking thoughts about how things will be better once something is different, we’re missing our life. Missing the moment is missing the only thing that’s real: We can’t change the past. The future hasn’t happened yet. This moment is the only one we have to be happy in.
I spent the week contemplating this. For most of the time in Costa Rica, this seemed so simple and easy. Why don’t I live like this all the time?
Of course, everything seems easier when I’m on retreat and many of my “befores” are temporarily in place: Beryl is there to guide me in and hold me accountable for meditation and posture practice; I have almost no work to do; I can walk everywhere I need to be; Swimming in the Pacific Ocean is a daily activity, I’m free each day to watch the sunset, read books, converse with interesting people, or nap; Healthy food is prepared and served for me three times a day. Basically, there’s not much that isn’t already in place in this setting.
And then, Friday night, we get a message that our flight to Boston the following day is canceled. Boom! Right out of the moment and into worrying about the future!
Can I be happy BEFORE I find a flight home? The next 72 hours presented many opportunities to ask different variations of this question: Hundreds of dollars in extra expenses, more flight delays, difficulty walking due to back pain, and more.
Although I can’t claim I was present in the moment and happy for the entire journey home, I can say that the tools that yoga provides me with made a huge difference. Instead of a day of frustration and worry, we spent a pleasant evening in Liberia, Costa Rica enjoying a parade of cowboys that were part of a local festival. Instead of resenting all the extra walking with my back bothering me, we explained the problem and were given wheelchair assistance.
More than two days past when we expected to, we very happily arrived home. And, hey, at least it was better than what happened last year!