Lessons from my Lawn Mower
Breathing informs my practice. I invite clients to breath upwards of 100 times per day. Wearing my Pilates instructor hat, I often listen to the quality of my client's breath as they engage in different exercises. I'm listening for a deep, clear, inhale and a freeing, complete exhale. It's quite extraordinary just how connected the quality of breath is to the quality of movement. Quick, shallow breathing is mirrored in body movements that are often disconnected from the core. An exhale that feels hampered or forced often shows up in the rest of the body as a movement that is being driven by the larger muscle groups, lacking a certain integrity. Above all, most of us just need the reminder to breathe. We often hurry through our days, muscling our way past the hard stuff, never pausing to be in the moment, to acknowledge our experience, to take it in. We just want to "get it done".
Above all, most of us just need the reminder to breathe. We often hurry through our days, muscling our way past the hard stuff, never pausing to be in the moment, to acknowledge our experience, to take it in. We just want to "get it done".
You might find yourself wondering, "What has this got to do with a lawn mower?" Bear with me, as I lead you there. I have been mowing lawns since I was 11 years old. First our own lawn, then the elderly neighbor's lawn, then another family's lawn in the neighborhood. There was something deeply satisfying about the orderliness of the straight lines, the physicality of the activity and the cash payment I received at the conclusion. While I no longer mow other people's lawns, I look forward to mowing ours. In the complicated world of parenthood where my job is never "done", I love that mowing the lawn has a clear-cut beginning and ending. Pull the mower out from its storage spot, uncover it, check for gasoline, then give the pull cord a whirl and push. Up and down, back and forth. Sometimes pushing in front of me, other times pulling behind me. I'm a fan of the old fashioned push mower--no power assist for me. I use my own strength, go at my own pace. I feel rugged, capable, strong. Sometimes I play with different designs in the lawn--diagonal, horizontal, vertical patterns. Then when that last strip is mowed, I'm finished, the task is complete. Check. I've spent an hour outside moving my body, the lawn looks neat and tidy, and the ocean awaits me afterwards--I've "earned" a refreshing swim.
In direct contrast is parenthood, where the results are seldom neat and tidy--or when they are, only for a fleeting moment, sometimes two. Toys and books and laundry and dishes. These tasks operate in continuous cycles. There's never a week or two in-between--like there is with the grass. So, my weekly/bi-weekly lawn mowing task is something that I look forward to. Honestly, I'm a bit possessive of it. It's a source of pride, of accomplishment.
These past few times that I've mowed the lawn; however, it's not been easy or straightforward. The mower starts--albeit reluctantly--but if I shut it off for any reason (to pick up a stray toy or stick or because it's run out of gas), it has been sputtering, and not starting up or taking it's time in doing so. In my world, this is not how it's supposed to work. Lawn mowing is supposed to be easy, smooth--a physical workout, but not a mental or emotional one. It's a mindless physical task. My lawn mower had a different agenda. So earlier this week, I began mowing, then paused. And the mower refused to restart. No matter how much I yanked on the cord--my brute strength was no match for it. (Neither was my profanity). So, I took a break. Gave it a rest. And then. . .the most difficult of all. . .I asked for help. From my husband Stefan.
Stefan will testify that I don't often ask for his help. I pride myself on being self-sufficient--and can border on the "know-it-all" range. It's o.k. if he asks me for help, but somehow I have created a pattern in our relationship in which I feel "less than", incapable, and weak if I am not the expert in the situation--at least when it comes with anything to do with the house, the kids, or tasks around the house (including mowing the lawn). But, I was desperate. I know nothing about engines--other than they need gas and oil--and the oil level seemed ok, if a bit dirty. So, I asked for help. And it didn't kill me. I didn't actually feel less than, either. Stefan postulated that if the gas was full and the oil was o.k., the only other thing that an engine needs to run is air. He opened & removed the filter. Sure enough, it was clogged with debris. It was amazing that the mower had continued to run for as long as it did being so clogged. He tamped out all of the dust and grass particles, screwed the filter back on and PRESTO. She started right up. No grudges about how I hadn’t cared for her. Simply satisfied and ready to work now that her need for oxygen was met.
If my lawn mower experience felt amazing, the forgiveness my body affords me each day is nothing short of miraculous. How often do I run around like a chicken with my head cut off, darting from one task to the next, never pausing to consider the consequences of my self-induced oxygen deprivation. The antidote is simple:
PAUSE. . . TAKE A DEEP BREATH. . . OBSERVE WHAT I KNOW. . . Then . . . ACT.