Begin Now, Mess and All

by Janet Arnold-Grych

Start Where You Are. The directive is simple, and yet sometimes menacingly daunting. How to just begin when things aren’t in order? When there isn’t time? When the unknown looms larger than the desired outcome? Start Where You Are. I read the book title again, staring at it. I felt almost a physical resonance, as though the message had been laid out for me. Either the student was ready or the student was in desperate need of a motivational kick.

My meditation, and really the whole of my spiritual practice, had become lackluster. I pointed the finger at a host of things and reasoned that when this or that calmed down, I would renew my practice, take it up a notch. I'd been saying this for a while and the gap hadn't closed. I know that sometimes our arms become too full and it makes all the sense in the world to sequence activities. And yet, at other times, if we wait until all conditions are perfect for launch, we remain a prisoner of our own moorings.

Why not dive in? Why not commit to deepening a meditation practice or listening with more compassion or aligning to a purpose you know to be more true to who you are? It’s easy to be curious. It’s even easier to be waylaid by roadblocks. Two of the most common seem to be fear and inertia. With fear, goals, including small ones, suddenly come packaged with weighty requirements for accomplishment. It’s not bad to want to “succeed,” but when our investment is measured solely by outcome, we stack the deck against ourselves before we’ve even begun. We close the door on serendipity and what our intention reaps.

Intertia is my roadblock of choice. Actually, I’m an “Achiever,” according to my assessment profile. This means I have a relentless drive to learn and to tick things off my list. On the plus side, it means I work hard and get things done. On the negative side, I sometimes choose what I know rather than what I could know because it’s more “efficient.” In short, I exchange richness for reliability. And each time I do this, I deepen the groove of that conditioned response, or samskara, which adds another impeding knot.

So, standing up to my knees in floating work projects, unfinished household activities, and family needs, I went back to yoga and the Sutras and found the outline for that motivational kick to begin, mess and all.

  1. Recognize. Starting where you are means recognizing and dampening the voice of the ego in order to move. The chattering mind will always come up with an excuse based in fear or inertia or any of a hundred other reasons to cling to what is known. The beautiful thing? We are not our minds, and we can choose when to listen. The key is listening to what you know in your heart to be true or more important.
  2. Reframe. When the end goal of our activities is to help not only ourselves but also others, those activities become imbued with greater meaning and can propel action. My meditation practice isn’t just about me; it’s also about developing a larger ability to be present and grateful and ultimately serve as a change agent. In my practice, I sometimes think of Swami Satchidananda’s words, “Receive each breath with reverence and use it to serve others.” We are all connected. I have an opportunity and a responsibility to act on that.
  3. Relax. Your core self, your purusha in Sanskrit, is already just fine. It’s the prakriti, or outer layer, that may seem disheveled. Don’t get pulled under by the prakritic noise. Know that your core is peace and awareness. Lead with the knowledge that you are at a terrific place right now to be driven by curiosity and compassion; and overlay good nature and a sense of humor for the impending stumbles and revelations. It's all part of the journey.
  4. Recommit. The Sutras tell us that we don’t need to focus on extinguishing our habits or messy behaviors. To limit their power, we only need to refrain from feeding them. In effect, step over the gates of fear or inertia, focusing instead on the desired goal. What is the driver? What is the goal? Recommit to that rather than feeding the behaviors that hold you back.

Starting where we are means accepting who we are in this moment, and the importance of our journey, and using that knowledge to embolden our actions. It means having faith in our goals and being open to discoveries along the way. Imagine starting now. Where might you be in a month? What discoveries might you make in six months that could change your conversation with yourself and others? Yes, limit or restructure activities when life requires it, but ensure that you are making that choice, not your fears or your to-do list. I’ve put mine to the side. Now it’s time for the cushion.

Janet Arnold-Grych is a yoga teacher and writer whose work has been published in Elephant Journal, Huffington Post, Third Coast Digest, and other outlets. She’s also a marketing manager for a Fortune 200 company.

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