One of the virtues we often ascribe to mountains is strength. It is also one of the attributes we want in leaders. But it is important to remember that there are many kinds of strength. Our current campus situation is a great example. In March, campus leaders needed the strength to make difficult decisions quickly. They needed the strength to make decisions without all the information in a rapidly changing environment. It took a specific set of skills to do this work, but while the circumstances were unusual, these are skills most experienced university administrators have.
Now, a different type of strength is needed. The strength for the long term. Tadasana, Mountain Pose, has much to teach us in this situation. It is an example of the reality that the simplest poses often have the most to teach us. If you were watching a yoga class practice Mountain Pose, all you would see is a group of people standing quietly. But Mountain Pose, like every other yoga pose, is active even in stillness and brings a variety of benefits through practice. Like all standing poses, it teaches us “to stand on our own two feet.” Standing poses “invigorate, heat, and strengthen the entire body, increasing our circulation and stamina.”
Tadasana, in particular, teaches us “the experience of stillness, strength, relaxed power and immovable stability associated with mountains.” Mountain Pose teaches us that true strength is grounded, calm, and ever-present. Practicing Tadasana reminds us that we too can have the strength of the mountain.
(Quotes from Farhi, D. (2000). Yoga Mind, Body, & Spirit, New York: Henry Holt & Co. and Schiffmann, E. (1996). Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Stillness, New York: Pocket Books)
The Mountains We Face
A little over four weeks ago on the morning of Friday the 13th, I was in Austin preparing to meet with a group of staff from UT Austin for the last half-day of a leadership development workshop. I was looking forward to the day since the previous day and opening reception had been fun. This group of staff was engaged, asking questions, and participating in thoughtful discussions. And then I read on Twitter that UT Austin was closing that day effective immediately. And that was the end of the workshop. It feels like work unfinished.
I can only imagine the number of programs, projects, and ideas that you have had to drop over the past four weeks as you picked up other things to do. Work unfinished. Events like commencement and awards banquets and honors programs are the most visible but they are not the only important ones. I missed a chance to wrap up this workshop and bring it to its conclusion and while everyone is working to bring this semester to its conclusion, we all know it’s not the same thing.
In these past four weeks, some of you have ‘hit a wall’ and then found a way to get past it (through it, over it, around it) often with the help of family, colleagues or friends. Some of you have let yourself cry the tears of tiredness, or sadness, or anger, then dried your tears and kept on going. All of you are doing amazing work for your colleagues, your students, and your campuses.
Today’s metaphor is the mountain. I imagine your work at this time feels a great deal like climbing a mountain that only seems to get taller each day. But perhaps we can change the metaphor from climbing the mountain to being the mountain. Yoga teaches us Mountain Pose, Tadasana in Sanskrit. And in Mountain Pose we work to keep our feet grounded, solid upon the earth, but lift our hearts and our heads toward the sky. We work to be both still and active, peaceful and strong. A bulwark rather than an obstacle.
I hope each of you can find the peace of the mountain at some point each day. On the blog page of my website, there’s a meditation on Mountain Pose. I hope it can bring a moment of peace into your life.