Unrealistic Healing

The new yoga teacher looked dangerous. Compact and lithe, she marched to the front of the class, got on her mat with her back to us and began barking poses. It was my first yoga class in a long time. All around me, younger, more flexible people twisted, stretched, and grabbed their ankles behind their backs. I sweated and creaked. Felt like I was hiking a long hard climb up a dark, washed-out path.

A xeriscaped yard has no grass and no ground cover. It has desert-adapted plants and crushed granite.

Coming home, I noticed a flicker of something in the front yard. Tired and stiff, I got out of the car to find my front yard flooded. A xeriscaped yard should not flood. We have drip irrigation so flooding shouldn’t happen. Yet, there, in the light of the full moon, my front yard shimmered with water. Something was very wrong, and had been wrong since morning. Since the yard guy had come to change the watering pattern for the summer.  He’d forgotten to turn it back to automatic. Twelve hours my water had been running. The back yard was floating. Water pressed against the foundation. Cacti standing in two feet of water. Water lapping out of  plant beds and edging toward the pool.

I found the end of my rope really quickly. It was fuzzy and wet and fueled my anger and exhaustion. It took me another half hour to figure out where the shut- off valves were and turn them in the right direction.

After all that work on compassion and forgiveness, I still had wanted to dismember the yard guy. After all the conscious choosing to see the better side of life, I did not live it.

Moon reflected in standing water from http://www.ghostinthemachine.net

And then I had another realization:  we distrust improving ourselves because we are afraid we can’t keep it up. Not forever. And we can’t. We will slide back. We will do that thing we hate about ourselves.  That’s why I love the Buddhist saying, “Before enlightenment–chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment–chop wood, carry water.”

There is no final goal to self-improvement. We don’t recognize a shortcoming and then cure it. We don’t admit to a flaw and then have it surgically removed. We don’t pull out our bad characteristics and never have to deal with them again.

Even the enlightened get angry, feel despair, make mistakes. None of that goes away with awareness. It doesn’t vanish because we admit to weakness.

No, we have to keep working on it. For years. That’s the strength in change. It requires upkeep. It’s the lie most self-help books tell—take this quiz, work these steps and then you will be perfect. Glowing. Complete.

It’s not true. We have to keep working at our lives. Every day. We do not undergo a transformation and then spend the rest of our lives resting and comfortable. Nope. Transformation is a step, not the goal. The real goal is to become self-aware. We see the shortcomings, the flaws, the mistakes and love ourselves anyway. Then we look at where we ran off the rails, fix the break, load the train (and our life) back on the track and move on. Chop wood, carry water.

—Quinn McDonald is finally ready to go to bed. In the moonlight, the standing water still shimmers, but it’s not rising.

20 thoughts on “Unrealistic Healing

  1. Thank you sooo much Quinn…I will save this where I can read it everyday! You are truly a gift. There is a word “metanoia” (tur naround/change/transform) that I have read about in several spiritual study books. You defined it here perfectly.

  2. Oh, this is so true. So true! We want the self improvement projects on ourselves to come with a money back, return the effort, guarantee. And none exists. But all that self-work is another name for life, which is so easy to forget. We think we want the easy life, but I’m not too sure we’d be happy if we had what we imagine.

    I’m OK with chopping wood — I get cranky and tired after a day of hard work, sure, but following those days are the nights that I sleep soooo well.

    Great post, Quinn!

  3. This is just what I needed to read this morning. I was beginning to berate myself for falling back into some old habits I thought were extinguished – I’m back at the wood block with that axe!
    Same antecedents, same behaviour, same consequences – time for some change. Thank you.

  4. Thank you so much for the post. It was my little reminder and much appreciated. I knew it sounded familiar and rang true. It is like what I write in my book and my blog. Thank you again. And by the way, I always appreciate your blog and thoughts. Such needed thoughts in this world. Thank you.

  5. What really happened: yoga instructor and yard guy got together in advance to make sure you had plenty of water to carry. Original plan was to hide the valves behind a wooden panel you’d chop through, but it turns out that yard guy really IS a dope.

  6. Truth well spoken Quinn. Forgiving ourselves for being human, loving ourselves not just in our head but in our heart – that is the hard part.

  7. Transformation is the step, not the goal. Boy is that true! Thanks for the post today, I am working on this concept as we speak. Lord give me patience!!!

  8. When, I wonder, did it become ‘wrong’ to have normal human, emotional reactions to things? When did anger, grief, sadness, etc. become negative emotions that must be treated and removed from our lives? If we cry for more than a month after a loved one dies there must be something wrong and we must take anti-depressants. If we get angry because someone is careless and floods our yard, we are not enlightened. This seems wrong to me and I don’t want to live in a world where everyone walks around holier than thou and emotionless. We can’t let our emotions rule our lives but why is it wrong to be real?

    • It’s part of our culture that we “deserve” a comfortable, easy life. I was amazed at how angry I was last night, as my house stood in a moat of water. The work, of course, comes from not acting out of the emotion, but owning it and then choosing a better reaction, one that is effective. It was a lot of work, and I think a lot of people don’t want to put in that work.

  9. I am holding your hand, Quinn, in solidarity, with all those moving towards clarity and openness and awareness, one step at a time. I also long for transformation, even as I stumble and fall.

    • Transformation is a renewable resource–we have to start again every day. The starting point is in a new place, but it’s daily work. I’m glad you are next to me; I like the company!

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