Lately, the stress of stretching my comfort zone has made me feel like toppling tree pose, but without roots to support it. I like to believe I can be grounded in groundlessness, meaning I can find balance in my life without a stable, physical ground. But unfortunately that’s not true for me all the time. Even as a yoga teacher and practitioner, I am not always so steady. My practice helps me stay connected to the ground, but life still knocks me down. My response to stress can also keep me grounded. Reaction is a choice. We are accountable for our response to what life brings us. I seriously just learned this, for like the second time this year. But thankfully, nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.
The Power of Choice
My perception of reality is in fact very real, but it is only a small hole in a big ‘ol cloud that lets in the sunshine of a bigger picture. The way others experience me can be a part of my reality if I allow it to be, which expands my view and the richness of my experience. I can learn from my interactions. I can step outside my comfort zone to experience the world around me, other cultures and languages. Otherwise, my reality is limited to what is simply happening inside of me. As Don Miguel Ruiz says in The Four Agreements,
“Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream.”
The reality of stress, fear and anxiety can often influence our actions towards other people just as much as our wisdom, kindness and love. Our knowledge and insight can be a helpful reality for others, but it can also be harmful if it’s not expressed through kindness. Our intentions matter.
Lucky for us, our realities collide with everyone else’s in this beautiful masterpiece called life. Every day we have the opportunity to learn from each others realities. Our lives affect other people. You matter. You can live your life as a student and a teacher in every situation if you want to.
I was recently in a relationship with a man who told me, “I disagree with your perception of me.” I told him that was fine. Although I experienced negative traits, I also experienced that he was kind, loving and generous. We have all of those qualities inside of us. I only experienced some of his. I really like what Malcolm Gladwell says about character in The Tipping Point:
“When we observe a woman who seems hostile and fiercely independent some of the time but passive, dependent and feminine on other occasions, our reducing valve usually makes us choose between the two syndromes. We decide that one pattern is in service of the other, or that both are in the service of a third motive… But perhaps nature is bigger than our concepts and it is possible for the lady to be a hostile, fiercely independent, passive, dependent, feminine, aggressive, warm, castrating person all-in-one… But each of these aspects of her self may be a quite genuine and real aspect of her total being.”
In the changing environments of the workplace and relationships, people have the capacity to be a variety of characters. We all have the capacity to be an asshole, just as much as we could be a genuine sweetheart. I often say I’m flexible, until I am folded into the shape of a pretzel. At that point, I may behave slightly more on the asshole side of the spectrum. To be consistent, we can instead choose to set boundaries. What are you willing to do in relationships? How flexible are you, really?
Riding the Waves
When I learned to surf on Popoyo Beach in Nicaragua, I knew I needed a teacher. I wanted to make sure I had the tools to be successful, i.e. stand up for a few seconds and fall on my face a few times. Learning how to fall was just as important as how to balance on your board. Learning which waves you could handle and when you are ready to take on more challenging ones was important as well. If I see a big wave and just say, “I’m gonna go for it!” even though it’s too far above my level of experience, I probably won’t even get up and I could even get badly pummeled by the water and hurt myself. Understanding limitations helps us set fair boundaries for ourselves, not only taking into account the perceptions of others, but taking into account the harsh reality of what we can and cannot do. We must first be willing to learn, which means often means falling… a lot.
What about Yoga?
How can we use yoga to broaden our perspective? Well, practice. Coming to your mat ready to explore and open yourself to possibilities can help you see where you can strengthen and stretch. You can say, “Well, I’m not flexible… I can’t even touch by toes!” or you can recognize your weaknesses as opportunities to grow. I can complain that I don’t feel grounded and say that balancing poses are just not in the cards for me right now. Or, I can focus on strengthening my balance and creating roots where I need them. Yoga helps us to be open to the teachings of others and the lessons our bodies carry. Taking what we learn on our mats opens us up to a whole new experience of the world… one where we can be flexible once we have honored the boundaries of our mind, body and spirit.
What is happening inside of you is a part of your reality. But it’s not the whole thing. The question is not only Who are you now? but it’s also Who are you when the rug is pulled from underneath you? and Are you open to seeing the world from the eyes of other people? How you react to uncertainty and change is a reflection of who you are. Your response to what life brings is the light that shines through the cracks in your character. We live in a magnificent world that invites us to choose how we think, what we believe and how we live. Your beliefs shape your world. Your thoughts create your world. You can learn how to ride the waves or you can try to avoid them. But the waves will come, and they will crash. The more we can observe our experience of life and others with curiosity, the more we can equip ourselves for the crashing tides. Are you ready for them?