“We should always be a beginner at something. It teaches us to love ourselves in process whether we do something well or not.” Carol Woodliff
Being a Beginner in My Body.
I started taking private Pilates classes a few weeks ago. I just finished my 5th private lesson with my friend and instructor Jamile. Jamile was looking for students to help her finish her Pilates teacher certification and I have been trying to convince myself that I needed to get moving again. When I was an actor, staying fit was part of my job. I spent 2.5 hours a day in weightlifter gyms. When I quit acting, I had no desire to continue working out at that pace. It felt like punishment. I wanted freedom. So I settled into being a writer, my spiritual path studying healing traditions and taking leisurely walks with the dog. No surprise, being the other side of age 40 the pounds started creeping on. I knew I should develop a new exercise routine but I wanted to find an exercise program that felt compatible with who I am today rather than who I was 20 years ago. But that meant being a beginner again and facing all my “stuff” about doing things well.
Pilates wasn’t even on my radar. Pilates was for thin very fit dancer types, not overweight uncoordinated me! My total dance experience was a musical comedy dance class in high school and a few community ballroom dance classes where I always felt like I had only left feet. But I felt that spirit nudge to respond to her Facebook posting, with “I’m in.” What? Wait a minute! What did I just sign up for? I considered it a triumph when I actually did the hardest part and showed up for the first class.
The process is retraining how I hold my body, how I move and how I breathe. Certain movements are not possible right now. One session, I was on the reformer doing what sounded in theory like a simple exercise. Breathe in twice while moving the carriage of the reformer up and down, and then breathe out twice while moving up and down again. Repeat: In (up) In (down) Out (up) Out (down). My brain and body could not communicate; breathing erratically puffing in and out like a woman in labor, laughing because what I was telling myself to do and what I was doing were not at all the same. Inside my mind a drill sergeant saying, “Woodliff, this isn’t that hard, Just do it!” a small frustrated child saying, “I can’t. It’s hard!” a cynical bitch saying snidely “Seriously? Is that the best you can do?” and thank goodness a kinder voice saying, “Just keep trying, you’ll get it!”
Jamile is a gem and holding space for me of non-judgment. “That’s hard for you right now. That’s okay. You will get it as you work on it. Try it again.”
As my mind and body try to communicate and do things that look simple but at this point feel impossible to master, I realize how much gentler I am with myself being a beginner. Thirty years ago, I expected myself to do everything well instantly. What an expansion to start at the beginning and see the incremental changes as I take on things that feel difficult and develop a loving place of learning and growth.
As a shamanic practitioner and healing guide, I spend lots of time journeying with spirit out of my own body. It feels so good out there that sometimes coming back into the body is challenging. Without grounding practices such as exercise it is easy to never fully come back. I often wear bruises from walking into things. I am not physically present in the here and now.
The beauty of Pilates work is every little movement is a new way of connecting to and holding my physical form. The breath work that goes with each movement helps the energy stored in those neglected parts to surface. I feel old patterns being released, old belief systems being crushed. Old thought: “I have to be good at something to enjoy using my body to do it.” I am practicing a new sort of enjoyment—simply being in my body.
I notice how head tries to initiate movement even when it is supposed to stay still. That sums up my previous life approach: always trying to lead with my head. Having a mind that can think things through is a gift but it doesn’t mean I also shouldn’t listen to my heart and my gut. I often discounted what the heart wanted because the head said, “you might get hurt” or “seriously that isn’t very practical!” The need to be good at something right away has prevented me from enjoying learning. I was always out wanted to be proficient, never enjoying the process of getting there. I often quit doing physical things before I could achieve that proficiency because it seemed too hard. I let my head convince me that I should stick in that comfort zone rather than be uncomfortable in that new physical endeavor. I learned this early in life. I can still hear my mom saying to me, “Don’t worry Carol everyone has their gifts. We aren’t coordinated or physical people. You are smart. It doesn’t matter that you are having problems with that sport!” Bless her. Mom was trying to make me feel better and coaching me the best she could with the skills she had, but seriously couldn’t she have said, “Keep your eye on the ball and swing level—you’ll get it!”?
I’m practicing being a beginner in this body that I’ve inhabited for 55 years, discovering it again. Pushing it to do things that are hard at the moment and being gentle with my expectations at the same time.
Some of you may be comfortable in your body. You may have been raised to take on new challenges with gentleness. Good for you! Celebrate that! I believe for many of us, there are new challenges outside of the comfort zone of our lives that we have shied away from because we fear not being good enough.
Being a Beginner in Writing
I see this fear in some of my writing and editing clients. They step up to write a book from their passion but the fear of not being good enough lurk there under the surface. They compare their first drafts to the published works of others much like I compare my body’s ability to tackle this new movement to people who have been studying dance and having a relationship with their body in that way for years. After one draft they want to call it a book, because they worked hard on it, whether it truly communicates what they intended or not. “I’m not a writer,” I hear them say! “Of course you are,” I say. “You are just a baby writer at the beginning phases.” And no matter how many writing projects we have completed, each new project requires us to access that beginner’s mind again. Each new book is a new experience.
Being a Beginner in Life
What is that thing called “good enough”? It is a measure that stops us from exploring this thing called life. Life expands as we put down the measuring stick and begin where we are today. Each day, beginner’s mind, present, noticing, smiling at being a beginner, like the baby who is in joy at all the new things it discovers his or her body can do! We should always be a beginner at something. It teaches us to love ourselves in process whether we do something well or not.
What are you a beginner at right now?
Are you cool with being a beginner? Or do you need to remind yourself to be present with the process? I always treasure your comments.
Photo credits: Pilates floor: My Make OU at 123RF.com; Pilates reformer: langstrup at 123RF.com; Baby with colored pencils: Serhiy Kobyakov at 123RF.com.