Do you converse with the people you pass on the street? Yeah, me either. But occasionally when I do, either I or they offer some sort of tepid greeting such as, “Good morning,” or, “how are you?” to which, the standard (and expected) reply is, “good, you?”
If I pass you on the best day of your life and ask you how you are, you say, “good!” And if I passed you on the worst, bleakest, most hopeless day of your life and asked you how you were, you’d say, “good!”
One day I will lie on my death bed, and someone will ask me about my life. My greatest fear is to say, “good,” because I’ve no tools to say otherwise; because I belied the truth of each day, and obscured it as a bland adjective for fear of revealing that my life is full of both wonder and struggle, of both triumph and of pain.
Enter the, “word of the day.” For those who have taken my yoga class, you know that at the beginning of every class, I ask you about your word of the day. A word (and I’ll permit a phrase if you insist) that describes how your day has been, how you feel, what’s going on. It is an endeavor to honestly answer the question, “how are you,” rather than potentially lying to say, “good,” when “good,” even when we’re in a pleasant space, is not really how we are.
I am rarely simply good. Barring the fact that it is poor English, it’s also vague… perhaps intentionally vague. Vague with the intention that we not actually have to face or our own reality, and therefore take responsibility for it, or because at very least we’re not digging the burdensome notion of self-reflecting. Evidently it’s hard work.
OK, Patrick. I’ll quit being vague and mysterious. Where do I start? Start simple. Find a word that qualitatively at least scratches the surface of the many things you are at this moment, and perhaps vocalize the one that dominates your consciousness most. Some of my students’ recent words of the day include:
-Stressed -Anticipation -Smile -Lonely -Broke -Rushed -Exhausted -Nostalgic
As you can see, my students don’t always feel, “good.” In fact, I’d say more often than not, their word of the day tends to be inspired by the more nagging influences in their life. Is this to say that my students are fatalists, complainers, or whiny? Quite the contrary.
Whether it’s society, Hallmark, or mom, we’ve been indoctrinated that in absence of anything nice to say, we’re not to say anything at all. Don’t we just want to let it go, though? And if I never say it, do I have to keep swallowing it, to keep choking it down? We all just need to be heard. We all just need to let it out, to get to reality. Somewhere under is self-awareness. The endeavor of honest self-awareness without pretense is an exercise in compassion. The endeavor to just grit the teeth and smile through trial is an exercise in self-neglect. This is un-yogic.
Life’s kindof like opening a new bag of chips. If you never let out all the air that fills the bag, making it appear full and robust, you never get all the fake out of the way to get down to the good stuff. Sure, the bag on the outside gets crinkly. That’s because life is a little crinkly.
The word of the day doesn’t have to be cheeky, nor does it have to be profound. I have heard a few that didn’t exactly resonate with me, such as, “mercurial,” or, “transmutation.” Far be it from me to tell someone their word of the day is pretentious. If it’s the best way to describe your current state, own it. But don’t forget that half of the, “how are you,” interchange is to impact the person who asked the question originally. My best advice would be to avoid a choice of words that further alienates them from how you are than if they’d never asked in the first place.
Let’s make a pact to strike, “good” from our vocabulary in response to, “how are you?” The kind people in your life genuinely want to know, and the ones who don’t want to know shouldn’t ask. So raise an eyebrow and answer with something honest.
So… how are you?