I’m coming to realize that one of the dreamiest and most life-affirming things about yoga camp was the lack of choices. Pretty much every day, the alarm clock went off just before 6 AM and class started without a hitch at 6:30. Breakfast, lunch and dinner were in the dining hall – which meant that if you didn’t get there in time, you didn’t eat. Once there, your choices were lovely and healthful and in terms of the choice-limited life we were living, seemed Bountiful. But really, I mean compared to making dinner or flipping through cookbooks or even walking the aisles of the grocery store with a growling tummy and an empty cart, the choices were pretty few: Kale or steamed carrots. Feta dressing or ginger sesame dressing. Olive bread or gluten free bread.
During the month I was there, I had three days off. The first of these was terrifying. Suddenly, I had choice. I could go into town. Hike. Do more yoga. Read and look at homework. Sleep. Swim. It was too much. So I did what I think comes naturally to us when we are overwhelmed: I got depressed. Seeing this, I did better on the other two Saturdays, setting my intention of advance as to what I wanted to accomplish on those days. Not “to do” lists of accomplishments, but a kind of energy I wanted to have, the kind of space I wanted to be in.
I thought of that the other day while shopping for school supplies. Since the really big store I usually go to for this annual sojourn is currently off limits (a blessing in disguise since the choices would have been even greater there), I was at what I lovingly refer to as The Ghetto Kmart. Though it’s no red bulls-eye, there were plenty of choices. I’d made my way through most of the list but still couldn’t find the right notebooks. Spiral bound, wide-ruled, single subject in red, green, blue, yellow, and purple… Look, look, look. When I finally found a stack and started to reach for them, a man standing next to me gripping glue sticks and markers, said, “They have those for 19 cents cheaper at Walgreen’s.” My heart lurched. Another drive. Another store. More decisions. I couldn’t do it.
Earlier this summer, a friend was overwhelmed with information she was reading about sun screens. It turns out that the bulk of American sunscreens contain less than healthy ingredients, including oxybenzone, which produces free radicals and is a possible carcinogen. The information was too much for her. There were too many options, none of which were perfect since the best products out there are both hard to find and unduly expensive for a family of five. I could tell she was thinking herself into a dark place — well, as dark as one can get over sunscreens. (Remember Andie McDowell in Sex, Lies and Videotape thinking about all of that garbage? This wasn’t that bad.)
I called on a piece of advice recently given to me when I was feeling overwhelmed: “Do the next right thing.” In other words, there’s not a perfect thing. Let go of the notion that there is. Rather, what can you do NOW? What can you live with in this moment?
I’ve been reading the Bhagavad Gita lately – in which Arjuna contemplates going to war and Krishna counsels him again and again to act. According to folks wiser than I, this ancient text boils down to this: act and don’t look back. Do the next right thing in front of you and don’t fret about the consequences. Buy those slightly more expensive notebooks in your hand and let go of the thought of the others. Get the sunscreen with the lowest possible carcinogen rating but that’s still in your price range – and worry no longer.
Slather it on. Go forth into the great sun of late summer. Embrace. Be. Enjoy. Inhale these golden days and know that more choices await you. And you’ll make each one to the best of your abilities.
On this path no effort is wasted,
no gain is ever reversed;
even a little of this practice
will shelter you from great sorrow.
~ The Bhagavad Gita