Growing up, my Dad, an engineer who wore a pocket protector for most of his professional life and tried to teach us all how to use a slide rule (to varying degrees of success), would offer little maxims as guidance. For instance, when we might have been frustrated with people or situations, he would pull out Abraham Lincoln’s “You can please some of the people some of the time, all of the people some of the time, some of the people all of the time, but you can never please all of the people all of the time.” And invariably, the night before the first day of school he would provide Benjamin Franklin’s essential “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” I can confirm that neither resonated as a child as loudly as they do now as an adult. I guess, in looking back, he was sort of an old school version of #instaquote #inspiration.
Raised in the snowbelt of Ohio, Winters were seemingly endless…snow and grey…grey and snow…October through May. Needless to say, I’m not a huge fan of Winter. But the lengthy season gave my Dad ample opportunity to use another of his favorites, “Big Snow Little Snow, Little Snow Big Snow.” And while you may have heard it before…it is said that when it’s snowing in those big fluffy snowflakes…don’t expect too much accumulation, but when it’s small tiny flakes you can expect something significant.
Back in January, in the midst of a mid-morning snow shower, I stood at my window watching large fluffy snow flakes fall from the sky and disintegrate as they hit the pavement below. In that moment, I recalled my Dad’s “Big Snow Little Snow” quote. I felt a bit of relief knowing that these big snowflakes wouldn’t amount to much (because Dad says so) and sure enough…the duration was limited and the accumulation was nil.
I got to thinking about this quote in relationship to what we do on our mats or our cushion.
We want fast results. We want it now. Pop a pill…BOOM! Headache goes away. Got a wrinkle…slather it with a cream and BAM…it smooths away. Invest in the morning…sell it for big dollars in the afternoon. Meet someone new…plan the wedding. It’s ingrained in our culture…fast…and BIG results with, quite frankly, a modest amount of, if any, effort.
Our practice, however, tells us something different. We train ourselves in the subtle…the tiny. But subtle is not sexy. Subtle isn’t marketable. We want ROCK STAR…we want the circus. And when it doesn’t happen yesterday…we can potentially become frustrated and throw in the towel. When we try to zoom ahead…grasping at the BIG results…the lasting effects are nil. It winds up just being fluff and disintegrates before it hits the ground and we find our stability.
Practice becomes firmly grounded when well attended to for a long time, without break and in all earnestness. Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 1.14
These days, there’s no shortage of someone’s #selfie or professionally photographed yoga pose online. They’re always gorgeous. It offers a tangible goal that we can move towards. But wanting that pose today…that’s BIG snow. Looking at those images, we miss the work that goes into moving towards that pose. We miss that the pose happens by bringing awareness to this area or that area of the body. We miss that the pose happens, perhaps, because of a tiny bit more breath. We miss the little snow accumulating into the big snow. We miss the yoga.
We sit on our cushion and there are those days that our practice lasts for a nanosecond. But we continually move back to the breath, we continually move back to the subtle, we continually move back to the point. It all accumulates.
While checking online for other folks who have written about taking small steps, I ran across this. The piece provides a list in which small steps can provide very tangible benefits to aspects of our life we may be working on. But the quote at the beginning of the article is apropos here:
When you improve a little each day, eventually big things occur. When you improve conditioning a little each day, eventually you have a big improvement in conditioning. Not tomorrow, not the next day, but eventually a big gain is made. Don’t look for the big, quick improvement. Seek the small improvement one day at a time. That’s the only way it happens – and when it happens, it lasts. ~John Wooden
Gandhi says, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” At least once a week, I see this quote posted somewhere. Oftentimes, I think it can be misinterpreted as meaning we must do something huge…heading to a far off land to “help” people in need. I don’t believe the gesture of “Being the Change” needs to be grandiose. It can be giving your undivided attention to someone right next to you on the sofa. It can be holding a door for someone to pass first rather than barreling through. It can be offering a smile as you move through your morning or evening commute. Or…like me…if you’ve been following along…being slightly less of a dick (and trust me…it’s taken more than a few little steps to get to that “slightly less” place.)
As you move out into the world today, begin to recognize the LITTLE steps you can take that can accumulate into that BIG SNOW. Start to become aware how those tiny steps will begin to permeate all aspects of our life. I’d love to hear about it…so share below. Also, if you’ve written a piece about small steps in a sustained sort of way…please share the link in the comments section!