I’d have to say one of the greatest challenges of my life to my own happiness and well-being is that as a child I was incredibly intelligent, and succeeded at scholastics without a great deal of effort. I was the sort of kid that was literally the top of my class, and would enter and place in national competitions in math and science. Compounding this challenge is that this intellectual success was at the expense of being proficient in much of anything else. I know, you’re reading this and saying ‘Why the hell would being a super-brain be a challenge? You shouldn’t be bitching!’, but the reality of the situation is, today I’m much worse off than those who were merely good in school, but earned that status through hard work and attention, or even those who were mediocre and merely passed through school. I carry with me the dual baggage of being used to being the best, and not having to work very hard to get there.
The worst part of the journey for me was the last few years of high school, in which I literally missed roughly half the school year and still managed to pull of being ranked sixth in my class. I probably could have gotten Valedictorian if I had kept applying myself, but it would have been a hard and miserable fight, and I’m not certain it would have been worth it. Again, I was used to not working very hard, and what I discovered is that I could work a hell of a lot less hard and still receive nearly equivalent accolades as if I pushed a lot harder for only a small difference in rewards (yes, I discovered the 80/20 rule early). Instead, I learned the thrill of cutting lots of classes, blowing off schoolwork knowing that as long as my homework ended up in on time, and I showed up for the tests, I would still get the grades and have plenty of time to goof off or catch up on my sleep that I wasn’t getting because I was out late every night hanging out at Denny’s with my friends. I learned very bad study habits which did me a terrible disservice in college (skipping classes at Cal is not a good idea — they don’t tell you you need to be in class, but if you aren’t, you really fall behind). As it turned out, college ended up being pretty damned hard, and since it didn’t come easy to me, I was discouraged and that drove me to miss more classes, and do other things I was good at (by that time, it was partying).
But all of this is tangential to the aspect of early success that I’ve been thinking about recently. The truth is, I have a personality that requires for me to be either really good at something without giving it the required energy to actually be really good. It’s this tendency that has kept me from being anything but a guitar hobbyist — in truth, I haven’t been serious about playing the guitar since high school. It’s what’s kept me from attaining any level of proficiency in mostly anything I do. I haven’t learned how to work hard and long and with limited results (though I’m just starting to learn now), but more importantly… I haven’t learned to be okay with being just okay at something. Mediocrity is something my psyche can’t wrap itself around. To be mediocre is to be devalued. I sucked at school sports, and so I chose to not play them. I didn’t stay with it, and try to learn to be better, because frankly, there were other things that I really was good at and that came easy to me. Or, when I decided that I had to be good at something, I had to also be the best. And I yearned to be the best, not for the sake of being the best, but really for the recognition.
In my various spiritual practices, I feel that my ego has often gotten in the way and has supplanted my earnest seeking, and truthfully, this is why I have most recently (last year) quit the Rosicrucian order. I was on the ‘leadership’ track, but I knew in my heart that I was not a faithful aspirant. I was going through the motions, leveraging my innate intelligence and my ability to fake it well, and at a certain point I realized that was not fair to the cause, not fair to those beneath me, and not fair to myself. So, I quit. I think that might have been the most significant spiritual decision I’ve made in a while. Of course, at the time, I had started practicing Yoga as well from a yoga master, and started to get into the deeper spiritual aspects of my practice. I felt that I was leaving one practice and entering another… but, again, the desire to be a master myself began to creep in, in most subtle ways.
The truth is, I am trying to learn in my life how to be okay with being merely okay at things. It’s perfectly acceptable for me to be a dabbler in guitar and play a few songs without being an expert performer. It’s preferable for me to have a modest spiritual practice, than to have no practice at all. I’ve been on a hiatus from yoga for the last 4-5 months due to the birth of our second son, and I’ve most recently started going again. In this yoga studio, there are gradations of classes, levels of rank ‘beginner’, 1, 2, and 3 (there might even be something beyond that), and in my private practice with my yoga master, he has a deep spiritual path that I could be following. I feel like such a novice, and I have a drive inside of me to become the best, to become expert. But the truth is, that’s more energy than I have to expend right now, and I’m trying to learn the value of being a novice. In a creativity class I took last summer one of the lessons learned was the ability to be a novice, and to be a learner. I have to learn to be okay with being mediocre as well. Not because I think that’s the highest level I can attain, or that I think that perhaps I should back off and not try for greatness… no, it’s more subtle than that. I have to learn to be okay with where I am, and not to rush myself through an experience just because I feel I need to be better than I am right now. Be in the exercise. Be in the moment.
Especially in Yoga, the practice itself is the point — the peace of mind, the re-integration of mind, body and (spirit/soul/orange soda) is exactly the goal, not getting to a headstand. I am learning to progress at the rate I can progress. I am learning to be okay with practicing only when I can practice. For some, this is an easy lesson to learn, or for others its something they never have to worry about. For me, however, it’s difficult to let go of ego and allow myself to just be who I am in the moment that I’m being. I’m getting better, but I even have to be okay with being mediocre at being mediocre.
Tonight, in yoga, while doing my tree pose, I reached up in an almost stable balance, and felt truly grounded, and connected with myself. With who I am, right now. As I relaxed into my precarious balance, the balance replied by becoming more stable. If I worried about it, it would get shaky. I guess that’s the same when it comes to balance in life. To have better balance, we need only release ourselves to the moment and release our anxiety and fear. To do otherwise is to lose our focus, and to falter. And so, I am learning to take baby steps in life, towards enlightenment, and I’m learning to be comfortable in the murky twilight of semi-awareness. Yogis can take a lifetime to reach Nirvana. Some never reach it. I may never reach it. But I do know, I will definitely never reach it, unless I release myself to the mediocrity of my abilities, and to relax into a deeper balance.