I often make elaborate commitments for Lent. But, this year, I kept it simple. I committed to yoga, twice a week.
Why yoga? Several reasons.
Prior to Lent, I didn’t have a regular exercise routine, and my physical health is undeniably the most neglected area of my life. Two days a week isn’t much, but it’s enough to start a routine and hopefully a habit. Hopefully, more will come.
And, given my physical issues, yoga works for me.
And, while I find MOST other exercise options BORING, I actually enjoy yoga, and find the class passes rapidly.
And, though I don’t practice yoga as a spiritual discipline, I do find yoga to be good for my soul!
As I’ve not attended classes for long, I’m very conscientious about where I place my mat. Call it, “yoga etiquette!” I don’t want to take a space someone else usually uses. I don’t want to crowd anyone – I’m not a small guy. I don’t want to block anyone’s view of the instructor. I especially don’t want to fall on someone, if (when) I lose my balance! As I struggle with some of the standing/balancing positions, I also prefer to be near a wall, in case (when) I need something to grab.
So, last week, I arrived to a new class, early. I was among the first to arrive, so I chose a likely unused space near the back of the room, away from everyone else. Slowly the room filled, more-or-less, but with plenty of spaces left for late-comers.
About 10 minutes into class, a “larger” woman dropped her mat REALLY close to mine – TOO CLOSE – and plopped down next to me. Then, she just sat there – not actually doing yoga – saying one comment after another. She just sat there, on her yoga mat, inches away from me, talking. You DON’T do THAT in yoga! You just don’t!
Yoga’s not a spectator sport!
I was so pissed! I was mildly irritated from the start. But, my irritation steadily rose to full-blown outrage! She was totally violating yoga etiquette – not to mention invading my cherished personal space!
Assuming she was talking to me – since we were only inches apart – I ignored her. No eye contact! No verbal recognition or response. I acted like she didn’t exist. Not very nice of me, I know. But, there’s no chatting in yoga! And, I definitely didn’t want to encourage MORE chatting!
I guess I could have asked her to stop talking, or to move. But, then I would be violating yoga etiquette, and I was NOT going to be “THAT guy!”
As the class went on, she never moved. SHE JUST SAT THERE! And, every time the instructor led us into a new position, she made comments; something like, “I can’t do that!” “I’m not doing that!” And on, and on, and on, and on………
At one point, I tried to slip my mat over a few inches, away from her – not too subtle, I know.
At another point, as I was really struggling with a pose, I could tell she was staring at me! How did I know, if I wasn’t looking at her? Trust me – I knew! I KNEW!
Well, needless to say, while I did all of the poses I could, and still had a decent workout, I didn’t feel any peace. In fact, my soul was anything but soothed. I was distracted for the entire class, with a growing internal rage. Instead of enjoying a centered place of inner peace and harmony, I was seething inside.
NOT what yoga is supposed to be! NOT what I intended for my Lenten discipline!
How dare she ruin my Yoga and Lent?!?
As the class was winding down, we were told to lie on our backs, and as I did, I noticed that the annoying, rude, yoga-offending, Lent-ruining, etiquette-breaking, space-invading woman beside me has Down Syndrome. Yep. For the previous 45 minutes, I’d thought and felt the most horrible assortment of hate-filled venom, for a young Down Syndrome woman – probably a teen.
I’m scum. Total scum.
And, yet, at least, I had the opportunity to discover how scummy I am, and how wrong my judgements had been. If she didn’t have Downs, or I hadn’t actually looked at her, I would probably still be ticked off today. But, when you know better you do better. That seems like a good Lenten lesson to be learned!
Yes, she invaded my space and broke a few yoga-rules – or, at least, MY yoga rules. But, had I taken the time to SEE her earlier, to acknowledge her presence, to not assume the worst, to not judge prematurely or unfairly, I might have been a little more understanding and tolerant. I might not have lost my peace.
I still wouldn’t have liked her proximity or her chattiness. But, hopefully, I would have been a little more tolerant and forgiving.
Knowing, now, she has Down Syndrome makes me a bit more understanding and a whole lot less judgmental. And, a lot more ashamed of what I was thinking and feeing.
At least for me, and I suspect for you, it’s easy to be more generous and less judgmental of someone with special needs. I can make greater allowances. I can be more patient, more understanding, and more forgiving.
Why would that have been so hard if she didn’t have Downs? Why am I less gracious for someone less “special?”
I recently read Brene’ Brown’s book, Rising Strong. Brown suggests the possibility that everyone – given their history, their life experience, their wounds, etc. – is doing “the best they can.” The issue is, we expect better than a person’s best, and we get frustrated when they fall short of our expectations. If we could just accept that everyone is doing “the best they can” – given their maturity, morality, manners, abilities and disabilities, etc. – perhaps we would have more reasonable expectations, and be a bit slower to judge.
Like, the waitress who messes up your order. Maybe she’s new and inexperienced. Maybe she wasn’t trained well. Maybe it was the cook’s fault. Maybe you weren’t 100% clear about your request. Maybe she’s doing the best she can.
Like, the driver irritating us, in traffic. Maybe he/she is lost. Maybe he/she is having car trouble. Maybe he/she is having a medical crisis. Maybe the driver in front of them is really at fault. Maybe he/she is doing the best he/she can.
Like, waiting a long time at the doctor’s office or emergency room. Maybe, someone before you had a greater emergency. Maybe, the doctor is giving someone else the kind of care you’re hoping to get. Maybe the doctor had a flat tire on the way to the office. Maybe, given the patients’ needs of that particular day, the doctor is doing the best he/she can.
Like, when we call for “customer support” and we can’t understand the customer service agent’s accent, because they live in India, or because they don’t know how to answer your particular question. Maybe, he/she is doing the best he/she can.
Or, possibly, like someone who has never been to a yoga class before, and doesn’t know yoga etiquette, and isn’t aware of MY need for extra space. Maybe, that someone is doing the best they can.
James 1:19-20 offers helpful advice, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”
Great advice. SOOOOOOOO so so so hard to do.
I’m reminded of the Ian Maclaren quote, “Be kind; everyone you meet is fighting a tough battle.” Most of the time, in our haste to judgement and anger, we don’t even consider the other person’s needs, challenges, or struggles. We just selfishly fixate on our own annoyance or inconvenience.
We are such savages. Well, at least, I am. Maybe you’re better.
“Doing the best I can” isn’t an excuse, justification, or rationalization for bad behavior. We can all do better, and usually do as we learn and mature. We all do better in some situations than others. “Doing the best I can” acknowledges I’m not perfect, you’re not perfect, no one is perfect. In any given moment, given our current circumstances, we’re just doing “the best we can.”
An ongoing joke, in my family, from when my kids were teens, is the phrase, “I’m still learning,” for any time we do or don’t do something we should have known to do or not do. After my shameful yoga incident, I realize, I am definitely “still learning.” And, I still have a LOT to learn!
So, maybe, in addition to yoga, I really need to work on being less judgmental and more patient, less condemning and more understanding, less angry and more accepting. Maybe, I need to remember, most of the time, even when I screw up, I’m “doing the best I can,” just like everyone else.
I’ve got a lot of work to do – and not just on my “standing tree” pose!
How many more weeks are left in Lent? Probably not enough.
I’m “doing the best I can,” and working on doing better.