2 MEN and 2 MULES
A new year is unfolding week by week. There are so many new destinations before us. Discoveries to make. Lessons to learn. Places to go and see.
Have you chosen your mantras for this new year? Streamline and simplify! Have more fun! Maximize joy! Live and work efficiently and effectively. Love more. These are all good ones for me. And of course, always the best—find pleasure and beauty in the ordinary—pretty much echoes all the rest.
Intentions chosen and mantras spoken are good starts on any new path to a new place whether to Paris or to a lower number on the scales or to expanded awareness and enlightenment. Though our words can be easily spoken, the follow through and the actual living and doing usually take some
Knowing that our thoughts spring forth from the seeds of our feelings and emotions, Margaret Thatcher’s wisdom rings true: “Watch your thoughts for they become words. Watch your words for they become actions. Watch your actions for they become…habits. Watch your habits, for they become your character.”
Old, obsolete thoughts and patterns, habits and practices, like roadblocks, can hang up our efforts to move forward. Their familiarity can be seductive, alluring and intoxicating. They create distractions and diversions and detours. They build resistance. They cause us to lose our focus and wander off course and even turn backwards. So how do we stay the course to newness? We practice.
In the midst of his family, business and travel commitments, my son works with a personal trainer. Choosing this relationship keeps him accountable to show up, do the work, rest and repeat. The trainer says his January schedule is always tightly packed, because lots of folks sign up with new year’s resolutions and good intentions. Then comes February and one by one new clients start to fall away. Excuses are made. Diversions and distractions creep in. Old, lethargic patterns return.
Newness isn’t always easy. Newness requires transformation. Transformation comes and is sustained with time and ritual practice.
I’ve just finished reading a book that’s all about the practice of ritual, transformation, the invocation of inspiration and the beauty that rituals create. Daniel James Brown, the author of his exquisitely written “Boys in the Boat” has certainly practiced, and practiced well, his own rituals of researching, showing up at his desk and putting in hundreds of long hours crafting a complicated true tale into an inspiring adventure story—a textbook of hard work, tenacity and creative accomplishment.
In “The Boys in the Boat” Brown seamlessly interweaves the waft of personal challenges and the warp of the hard historical times stretching from the days of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl leading to the Berlin Olympics of 1936. Skillfully he tells the saga of nine young men—eight oarsmen and their coxswain—the sons of farmers and dock workers and lumberjacks, who overcome all manner of obstacles to attend the University of Washington, to train in Seattle’s sometimes harsh weather and waters and to develop into an American gold medal-winning long boat crew. Theirs is an intriguing tale of focus, tenacity and ritualistic practice raised to the level of an art form.
Among those influential in their success was the British shell building artisan George Yeoman Pocock who sagely counseled “rowing a race is an art, not a frantic scramble. Your thoughts must be directed to you and your own boat, always positive, never negative.” “It’s not hard work when the rhythm comes—that ‘swing’.” The young men listened. The young men practiced. The young men learned to swing, and they brought home the gold.
Pocock also said, “Just as a skilled rider is said to become part of his horse, the skilled oarsman must become part of his boat.” I remembered this when my husband David and I were recently out seeking beauty in the ordinary and enjoying our ritualistic Sunday walk with our puppies. Since our usual go-to destination, George Washington Carver Monument Park, is temporarily closed, we were following the Nature Conservancy trail along Shoal Creek in Joplin. This early January day was exceptionally mild. We encountered joggers and dog walkers and courting couples and families pushing strollers.
Then to our great surprise we saw approaching two men riding large, saddled mounts we took to be horses. They were not horses. They were two huge mules! Out loud we wondered, “How can this be? Mules are supposed to be stubborn and less than ideal rides.” These long-legged, long-eared elegant mules, one a lovely chestnut the other a blazoned-face paint, moved with grace and a steady gate. Their skilled riders were definitely parts of their ordinary creatures. Together they were travelling with the beauty and “swing” of oarsmen on their way to Olympic gold. They’d done their practice. They were starting this brand new year with big hooves clicking a swingingly beautiful mantra as they began to climb a high bluff to the panoramic vista waiting above.