I just read The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach and find myself thinking over and over again about a certain passage. Without revealing too much of the novel’s plot, there comes a moment about two-thirds of the way through wherein a star baseball player starts to lose his confidence and questions the years of practice seeking the perfection of his skills on the field. I think some of us could easily replace baseball with yoga, and how we hope the practice will bring meaning, peace or perfection to our lives.
All he’d ever wanted was for nothing to ever change. Or for things to change only in the right ways, improving little by little, day by day, forever. It sounded crazy when you said it like that, but that was what baseball had promised him….The dream of every day the same. Every day was like the day before but a little better…Every thing grew simpler, little by little…Hitches, bad habits, useless thoughts – whatever you didn’t need slowly fell away. Whatever was simple and useful remained. You improved little by little till the day it all became perfect and stayed that way. Forever.
…Maybe it wasn’t even baseball that he loved but only this idea of perfection, a perfectly simple life in which every move had meaning, and baseball was just the medium through which he could make that happen….
Becoming completely consumed in yoga or practice of any sort can become its own addiction and a distraction from the present moment. Meaning all of our attention can become focused on the future when we will be ‘better’ rather than the present in which we live.
I was still thinking about this when last week I was sent a review copy of Mark Van Buren’s book Be Your Shitty Self: An Honest Approach to a More Peaceful Life. I was compelled to read by the rather crass title which appeals to my sensibilities. Behind the humour of the title and the American bro-style conversational and fun tone of the book, is a rather serious look and guide to simple Buddhist meditation and mindfulness techniques to live a life of less suffering.
From the beginning Van Buren distances himself from ‘self help’ books that implicitly or explicitly advise you to become a new and ‘better’ person. Rather we need to accept who we are now and then go through practices that help us become more of ourself, removing obstacles we place in the way between us and the present moment.
I have come to realise that what I need to do is just be my shitty self. But more than that, be completely and fully myself – exactly who I am with all my neurosis and suffering, along with all my love and joy. No more struggling or running away from who I am. No more trying to be someone I’m not…In time, you may find that by not trying so hard to change for the better, self-transformation will naturally occur
The practices found in this book are not meant for you to be someone else – they’re meant to make you more yourself. From personal experience, I can tell you that when you are trying so hard to be a perfected being, you don’t think very highly of yourself. You are definitely not accepting your shitty self but rather running away from the realities of who you are.
Van Buren’s book was a fun and helpful introductory guide to hugely helpful practices. His is not the most sophisticated or revelatory book I’ve read on the subject, but he keeps instruction practical, easy to comprehend with loads of stories and analogies, and never preachy or holier than thou. All things I appreciate very much.