Stop Chasing Your Tail!: A Lesson in Contentment

05/11/2010 02:08 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011
  • Erica Rodefer Writer, editor, and yoga teacher based in Charleston, SC.

When she's not sleeping or curled up in a lap, my sweet dog Penny spends a great deal of her time chasing things. She chases balls, sticks, toys, dogs at the dog park, squirrels, birds, and our poor cat. When she's feeling particularly hyper—which is often because she's 9 months old—she chases her tail. She goes around and around in circles at full speed. Trust me, it is a sight to behold. Here's the interesting part: When she catches her tail she keeps spinning around, holding the tip of her tail in her mouth. At this point, I think she has completely forgotten the objective. She's just playing and enjoying the moment (which is really the only part of this scenario that makes her different from humans).

People spend a lot of time chasing things, too. We run in circles trying hard to obtain something all the time. And, like Penny, we don't know exactly what it is that we see out of the corner of our eyes, but we know it looks shiny and so we must have it. Fortune, fame, success, relationships, new shoes, whatever—often we don't fully understand the objects of our desire because we haven't fully experienced them. So when we finally reach our goals, we can't even recognize that we now have everything we always wanted. So we keep going! We turn our attention to some speck we see off in the distance even though we already have the thing that we set out to obtain in the first place.

There are really only a few possible outcomes to this scenario, which I've learned by watching Penny. We become so exhausted that we can't possibly run any more, so we give up. We lie down and settle for what we have, but always long for something else. (Usually we just try again after we're rested a bit.) Or we get so dizzy that we spin out of control and crash into a table leg (or, you know, whatever). When this happens we think we've been hit by an outside force, which has kept us from realizing our dreams (maybe a financial hardship, for example) when we might have really caused the fiasco ourselves by behaving like a nine-month-old puppy... Or we can find a more productive way to channel our energy. I choose yoga. Penny, well, I should probably take her to the dog park more often.

I've been chasing my tail for a long time, and contentment seems like a much better choice. So I make a conscious effort to slow down and acknowledge how blessed I am every time I step onto my yoga mat. And I try to bring the awareness I cultivate during my yoga practice into the rest of my life. When my mind starts spinning with "I wants," I try to take notice and consciously switch into "look-at-all-I-have" mode. I have a long way to go, but I'm slowly beginning to see myself form healthier, more productive thought and life patterns. Thank goodness, because spinning in circles can make you crazy (and dizzy)!

What do you do to slow down and channel your energy in a positive way?