“Baby” Steps

On the Way to Self-mastery

The sages tell us to start small, with baby steps, slowly, gently coaxing us into a presence of mind from which station we might accomplish absolutely anything at all.

I remember when I arrived in that idyllic vale in the Himalaya to begin my yogic training in earnest; the day always began with tea. At 4am I would meet my teacher by the fireplace and watch him feed wood into the hungry flames which would answer him with various crackles and sparks of delight. The blue-black winter still glowed by starlight outside beyond the portcullis; the first birds hadn’t yet arrived. Inside was becoming toasty and the water slowly coming to a boil. I wasn’t even allowed to prepare the tea yet much less offer it to the fire. I don’t know, maybe I would’ve been if I’d taken the initiative; I didn’t have that kind of initiative yet. In these moments, these first stirrings of both the Himalayan morning, as well as my own personal path work, I’d be content to just learn how to make myself warm while enjoying the rhythmic melodies of the devotional tunes (I didn’t know any Sanskrit yet either!) and the penetrating discourse of my guru.

It would be a couple of years before I would become comfortable enough to tend that fire on my own, nurture it with real love and affection, create a relationship with it and receive it as a part of me. It would be more years still before I’d work up that initiative to make the tea, or become silent enough within myself to be able to hear those melodies play in my heart. Ironic that the master would have his hermitage bulldozed and move us into a bustling neighboring town in order to acquaint me with that silence.

Baby steps. Always baby steps. Slowly, gently onward towards the goal.

On the way to self-mastery this slow and gentle approach to path work has served me well, and continues to serve me today. I don’t live in the idyllic surroundings most conducive to a life of simplicity and personal focus anymore. I’m a big city boy (by the beach), with family and career responsibilities and it has become rather easy to lose my moments in the greater day to day. It’s also become easy to develop lazy habits of body and mind. How did that happen? I thought I had those things ripped out already. No, they creep back in when the vigil has weakened and the fire gone cold.

52 years old – it took not being able to carry my sleeping 7-yr-old up two flights of stairs and lay her gently on her futon without me getting winded like I’d just run a marathon to rekindle the needed inner flame. My God, when did I gain all this weight and lose all my strength?

Baby steps, back to center. Remember. It’s not too late.

And so it begins. Get the head straight. Clarify my motivation and intention. Set upon a path of action. Okay. Baby steps. First things first. Put limits on my food intake. Intermittent fasting begins. Ground myself in the intention and the process.

Next, exercise. Baby Steps. Start walking. Now let’s see if my knees can handle the mountain bike. The beach is only a couple of kilometers away. I got this. Hey, only a few weeks in and this is starting to feel good. I’m remembering something. Youth! Vigor! Vitality! Freedom!

It’s summer. Let’s add swimming to the mix once I get to the beach. Yeah! My God this is starting to feel good. So good, I think I’m going to do this twice a day now, morning and night. Now let’s add a gentle hatha yoga routine. Now weights. Now the public swimming pool. Now butterflies! Go Rocky – you gotta use muscles you never knew you had! And two months later I’m down fifteen pounds, light and strong and keepin’ on.

Baby steps, on the way to self-mastery. Real life, and Real Yoga.