“Repetition is not failure. Ask the waves, ask the leaves, ask the wind.”~ Mark Nepo
Do you show up to mundane or tedious everyday tasks feeling inspired? How about staying patient during the frustrating or repetitive ones? (Spoiler alert: I was inspired to write this post after re-heating food for my toddler three times before it eventually ended up squashed on the floor anyway!). #mumlife
I’ve come to realise that the routine and simple tasks of our day can in fact be insightful things: they provide perfect mirrors into our own inner state, moment to moment. Because while many of the activities we do each day may stay the same, we can also see that the way we meet them each time likely changes. And the better we ‘see’ ourselves exactly as we are, (along with our bad moods and habitual patterns), the better placed we are to learn that “we are not our thoughts” ~ and how to respond mindfully to life as it unfolds, rather than react unconsciously.
For years I loved to roll out my mat each morning and practice something new or different every time. When I couldn’t get to a studio class I’d try a new sequence that I had written, or I’d take a different online class that sounded good to me for that day. But over the last few months I’ve been exploring doing the same simple yoga and meditation practices over and over again, for a few days or even weeks at a time. (Traditionally this is what the yogis once did, sticking with the same practice their teacher gave them for long periods of time so as to reap their full benefits.) Once my stimulation-craving mind got over the initial resistance to the “boredom of sameness” each morning, I began to sink into a deep appreciation for the insight repetition can offer.
Familiar and simple situations can become comfortable containers inside of which we are well placed to observe our ever-changing states (the yoga teachings call these the chitta vrittis ~ fluctuations of the mind). When we show up cranky one day to a task we did so joyfully yesterday, we are witnessing our temporary states. The more familiar we are with the fleeting nature of our thoughts, the easier it is to create space around them ~ and so, get less caught up as we encounter them.
One of my favourite Ram Dass dharma talks explains the short journal he kept while caring for his elderly dad. Each day he’d help his dad get ready for the day, and his journal entry would list briefly how it went. What he too found the most interesting in his observations was that the two-hour routine never changed, but his relationship to it always did. Some days he was joyful in his approach to it. Some he was calm. Others bored. Some he was totally overcome by how much he loved his father. Others he was irritated by his dad’s helplessness. But he was only able to see with such clarity the extent of his fluctuating inner states because of the repetitive nature of his tasks.
In this way, yoga is available to us (and always is) everywhere and in everything when we open ourselves to seeing it ~ And so, doing the dishes, chopping veggies, and even negotiating a toddler into their car seat can be yoga too, when we let the stability of these repetitive activities shine mirrors onto those parts of us which are always changing.
Practicing detachment (Abhyāsa) helps us perform a task without an attachment to a desirable result (Ragā) or an aversion to a less than desirable one (Dvesha). In this gap where we aren’t caught up in our ‘liking this’, and ‘disliking that’, we find space to see ourselves clearly. Through studing ourselves (Swadhyaya) we get to know our own steady midline ~ so often hidden underneath our changing pieces (chitta vrittis). That part of us is our true nature, (Purusha), always there, and always steady. ~ I feel grateful when I find my real-life observations are explained so well in the ancient teachings. 😌
So now each morning when I come to kneel on my mat and close my eyes in prayer, I know to proceed unattached into the familiar routine ahead. I’m no longer bothered by a ‘bad’ mediation practice when I just can’t focus my attention, or caught up by any ‘less than ideal’ aspect of my familiar asana practice ~ because each is simply a mirror into my evolving state that day. Knowing my inner state helps me to better decide how to approach the rest of the day. And I know that tomorrow will be different once again.
A prayer to close these thoughts on practice and routine:
🙏🏽🌿 May we open ourselves to finding the ‘magic’ of clear perception available to us through the mundane and frustrating tasks of the day ~ especially when it’s hard!
🙏🏽🌿 May the space we create through our self-observation help us to build more patience and compassion ~ for our challenging thoughts and emotions as well as for others’.
🙏🏽🌿 May we remember the impermanence of our thoughts and emotions ~ and through this find freedom in that which helps us to better see ourselves as we are.
🙏🏽🌿 And through these practices may we come to see a beauty to the ritual of routine.