The more things change, the more they stay the same
With the myriad of changes that happen each moment in our bodies and the world we live in, it can be reassuring at times that there are places where time passes on a slower scale.
Every year, we retreat for a couple of weeks to a place in France where the the clock slows down and a moment can last as long as it needs. As a result, life here resembles the vegetables and fruits cultivated within the region, vibrant and ripe, each seed reaching its maximum potency on its own terms and in its own time. The spectrum of colour, texture and taste is apparent in everything from the vast array of artists who have brought it to life in paintings, literature and cuisine.
The concept of slowing down to produce a masterpiece is nothing new to our contemporary culture. It is perhaps the most over-exploited concept in the world of marketing and advertising, whether it be for the purpose of selling a car or mass-produced olive oil. But what is the reality that exists behind marketeer’s story, and with what goal in mind? When one moves slowly with intention, extra features and unnecessary gadgets are a burden and words like quality, elegance and simplicity have no context.
There is a vegetable garden before me that has been meticulously designed, with produce ranging from pumpkins to rhubarb, fennel to beet root, carrots to peppers, tomatoes and more. The plot has been carefully considered in relationship to the sun, shade, soil moisture, biodiversity, and the positioning of the garden to the kitchen, with the herbs being the closest in proximity. Among the vegetables and berries, simple flowers have been interspersed as well as tables, chairs and a fountain, so while it is maximally functional as a garden, it is also a work of beauty that one can enjoy. As a result, the holistic adventure of gardening, observing the garden as it matures, and tasting its produce is a sensory delight and part of one experience.
A robust garden doesn’t miraculously appear. Rather, it starts with a few seeds and nourishment, unfolding only over time. While some aspects of germination happen quickly, others take time and need a refined sense for attention to detail. In this way, gardening is not unlike the yoga practice. I remember a teacher telling me to assess my practice only once every 10 years. In his opinion this was the time it takes to plant and cultivate the seeds of the practice. One of the biggest challenges I have experienced living in a fast paced world is letting go of ‘fix-it-quick’ expectations; another is finding the time for a regular daily practice. I have so often found myself refraining from rolling out my yoga mat rationalising that 20 minutes is simply not enough time. I revel in the structure and time I’m afforded during this time away to be more explorative and playful without the regular daily constraints.
Every morning before even the gardener is awake, I come to my mat in a shaded part of the garden just before the sun rises. I pay attention to the sounds of the insects and birds already hard at work while I move to my own slow breath. I observe as the extra features and gadgets (my mental fluctuations) dissipate and acknowledge all the things that are different in my body and mind, and all the things that feel the same from the previous day. In this moment, I’m not focused on practicing any one posture, trying to become more flexible or attaining any specific goal. On the contrary. My practice isn’t about changing who I am or how I am in the short term, but knowing that which is unchanging in me a little bit better. Usually practitioners of yoga refer to the soul or life force when they talk about that which is unchanging. Indeed, for all I know this is the one part of me that will never change, and this is precisely what contributes to making yoga a richly spiritual practice. There is another context of the unchanging, however, that I like to refer to as the ‘slow-changing’. These are things which rarely change, but have that change potential. These are consequently the physical and mental aspects that make each of us unique.
Over time, I have seen shifts in preferences for certain postures and have felt changes in areas of the body that I was sure were vaulted shut when I first started practicing yoga. More than the change itself, becoming aware of these sensations and moving, or staying with a place of non-movement with mindful attention has been pivotal to understanding my body, mind, and practice. Of equal importance. revisiting the these areas regularly and from different angles has infused my practice and sense of self with dimensionality. In a sense, these three elements have become the backbone to my self-practice. When the body and mind are listened to, encouraged to have a dynamic relationship and allowed whatever time needed to mature and grow, the spirit inside the body has all the resources it needs to be vibrant and in full bloom.
Small renovations have been made in the town where we are staying, but the same man still operates his vegetable stand, the same woman works at our favourite restaurant, and the summer festival still has the horse parade and carousel, and falls on the same week every summer. I am certainly benefiting from the slow food, the slow breath, and for the time being, at least in one small village in France, things staying the same.
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