It is our ritual to start our classes with a question to our students: Use one word to describe the most important thing that you want to get out of our class. We write a list of these words on a blackboard: mindful, energetic, flexible, lean, etc. It’s usually an interesting list filled with physical, mental or spiritual qualities that people need to function well in the world. Then we juxtapose them with the antonyms, which reveal what they lack. They feel scattered, sluggish, stiff, overweight. This one word makes them focus on what they’re going to master first. The focus takes them out of their comfort zone where they’re already defined, even if it’s in a way they don’t like. There are as many words as people in a group, and there’s always variation because of the range of what people feel is missing to have a good life. And you must commit to the word you choose. So, if you want to really see yourself as a mindful person, then you have to pursue a practice that will significantly change you. You can’t be just “a little” mindful.
There is a slight difference between a dreamer and a visionary, and it’s in the eyes: the former has them closed in fantasy while the latter keeps them wide open. The worst place to be in is to know what you need to do but lack the courage to make an effort. Courage can mean different things for different people. For one, it may be skydiving but for another it may be changing their diet, giving up the unhealthy foods they love. So you have to become your own hero, jumping into territory that’s unknown and sometimes very uncomfortable.
We all have a hero inside us, but we also have a coward. If you really look closely you can see that a coward can be a disguised fatalist, frozen, looking away from what’s happening around them, feeling incapable or lacking. They wait for others to take action or for an outside hero to change their circumstances, hoping they’ll be lucky. On the other hand, there are people who are aware of their own inner coward but they take action anyway—make their own luck. They may fail, but they have the satisfaction of knowing they tried, which is always heroic.
In tipping the balance between the hero and the coward, it’s always important to remember the wisdom of taking small steps forward toward your intended goal. Once you pick that word describing the quality you want to achieve, you are clear in your intention and the work that needs to be done. Even when you feel despair or frustration, if you keep putting one foot in front of the other in pursuit of your desired result, you’re still on your way. Steadfastness is the quality of a hero, and sometimes it just takes a little extra patience and commitment to step out of the coward’s shoes and pick up the hero’s cape.