Well-Being//

The Unexpected Gift of Contentment

A series of columns exploring wisdom and where we find it.

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As much as anything I’ve done as an adult, yoga has saved my life. The salvation is subtle in the moment and profound over time. It was an instantaneous relief to focus by necessity on the placement of my palms, the arches of my feet. I was a beginner at something in mid-life, and for the first time in my life I enjoyed the fact that being great at it was not the point. In yoga, the transitions between postures are a measure of grace as much as the postures themselves. I find myself applying this physical experience in minute ways in the more cerebral course of my working days.

There’s lots of bad yoga in the world, to be sure, just as there is lots of bad religion in the world. When twenty-something teachers instruct me to “set an intention” for my practice and so, in some mysterious way, send it as a blessing out into the world, I’m not sure I’m a believer. I don’t know what I think, honestly. I do know that taking the care to bring body and breath and intention together shifts my capacity to pay attention in moments, and it changes the way I move through the world.

To inhabit my body in all its grace and its flaws appears as a gift for the new/mundane bodily territory I’m on in mid-life. Aging is the ultimate slow motion loss, inevitable for us all, and yet somehow for me and everyone I know, it’s come as a surprise. You hit a point where it’s no longer so incremental, and no longer amenable to cover up. The original dance between order and chaos takes over our bodies inside and out – even with lots of yoga. As I watched my children move through the primal metamorphosis of adolescence, I made a decision to be fascinated rather than terrified. I’m trying to impose the same discipline on my reaction to my self on this end of aging’s metamorphosis.

There is grief to be had, to be sure, and fear, and lots of simple dismay. But settling into this as best I am able, I experience a wholly unexpected gift of contentment. Contentment is not something I’ve known much in my life and not something I ever really knew I wanted. This, too, is the body’s grace – a gift of physiology, right there alongside my fading hair and skin. At younger ages, our brains are tuned to learn by novelty. At this stage in life, they incline to greater satisfaction in what is routine. Slowing down is accompanied by space for noticing. I am embodied with an awareness that eluded me when my skin was so much more glowy. I become attentive to beauty in ordinary, everyday aspects of my life. There is nothing more delicious than my first cup of tea in the morning; no experience more pleasurable than when my son, now much taller than me, wraps me in a hug; no view I find more breathtaking, over and over again, than the white pine that stands day in and day out behind my backyard. 

Excerpted from BECOMING WISE by Krista Tippett. Reprinted by arrangement with Penguin Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright (c) Krista Tippett, 2016.

To hear my weekly conversations with scientists, philosophers, artists and others, visit OnBeing.org, or listen to On Being on your local public radio station, or wherever you get your podcasts. My book Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living is available now in paperback. And you might also enjoy – and join in – On Being’s Civil Conversations Project.

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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