samtosad anuttamah sukhalabhah -Yoga Sutras 2:42
“From contentment, unsurpassed happiness is obtained.”
Did you know that time travel is real? That at any given moment you can project yourself to the past or future? Well it’s true. We time travel all the time. Any time you start ruminating on a mistake you made three years ago, you time travel. Your mind goes back to that space, and as a result, your body follows you there. Maybe you start to feel feelings of shame, or regret. Maybe you become so engrossed in this memory that you start to get physically upset, crying, or become so distracted you can’t carry on with the task at hand. Similarly, when we begin to worry and imagine about things that could go wrong in the future, our body follows us there as well. Maybe you are thinking about a big presentation at work, and gradually start to get butterflies in your stomach, and your body becomes flushed with adrenaline. You start to worry about how your presentation will be received, what exactly you will say, what you will wear. . .Suddenly, you are in the future. . .
With the practice of yoga and meditation, we work to train our minds to stay in the present. How? Well, it’s very difficult to focus on anything other than the present moment when you’re standing on one leg! In fact, the practice of yoga requires concentration. Everything else disappears. Suddenly, I’m confronted with whether or not I’ve eaten enough. Does my foot hurt? How is my balance today? Am I balanced? Am I better on one leg than another? What do I do with my hands? I’m focused. In the present moment. I’m not thinking about dinner. . . although that may happen in svasana. . . I’m not thinking about what someone did to hurt me. I’m thinking about my pose. I’m laser focused on not falling down.
See, most of the time when we talk about acceptance, the focus is outward. We hear a lot about the concept of tolerance, or allowing other people to be themselves. Accepting our mates for who they are, Accepting our children for who they are, accepting racist white people for who they are. . . you know. . . accepting those who are different from you.
But what about accepting ourselves? What about turning that compassionate lens inward, and accepting every part of ourselves? The good, the bad, and the ugly. . . and how does the practice of yoga help us on our journey of self acceptance?
By taking that lesson of staying in the present moment and allowing it to permeate other areas of your life. You see, when I do tree pose and realize that my foot is cramping, I use that to inform me about what is happening to me. In that moment. Am I dehydrated? Am I distracted? What is going on? Sometimes I’m tired. Sometimes I’m wired. Sometimes I’m mad, or sad, or frustrated. But the good thing about yoga is that it’s not competitive. So, I get on the mat, as I am, and I practice accepting myself. . . As I am.
For a long time I held the view that I was NOT a yogi who practiced headstand. It scared me, and in the spirit of self-acceptance, I accepted that fear. But one morning, after my meditation, I suddenly had the feeling that I MUST go upside down. Like Right now. And so, I pulled myself up into my very first headstand. Right there in my living room floor. . . And promptly flipped onto my back. But suddenly, I wasn’t a yogi who didn’t do handstand anymore. Suddenly I was a yogi who was working on her handstand. Rather than holding on to my old fear, I accepted that I’d grown, and now it’s a regular part of practice (although I still love a wall. You ever flipped over onto your back trying to do a headstand? It. could. feel. better.)
Real talk, that fear was probably a very healthy thing. I injured myself several times in the first year of my yoga practice, jumping into things my body wasn’t ready for. When my body was ready to do headstand, it did a headstand. If I had spent my energy lamenting my body, or worried about the fact that I wasn’t proficient in the posture, I likely would have gotten seriously injured, discouraged, and maybe even quit. Instead, I accepted myself for who I was as a yogi, rolled up my sleeves, and I kept practicing.
See, acceptance isn’t about necessarily just saying, This is who I am, and it’s who I will forever be. Acceptance is about saying, without judgment, This is who and where I am right now; and then taking a compassionate look at myself and when I see a weakness or shadow, accepting it, and being at peace with that. It doesn’t mean I don’t work toward improving it. It means I accept myself and trust myself enough to be myself. Compassionately, and without judgment.
Often we can’t immediately change our circumstances. If you are in college, you aren’t going to be a doctor next week. If you are single, with no prospects, you aren’t NECESSARILY going to get married next week. But what we can do is accept where we are, and who we are, in the mean time. What we can do is embrace this stage in our journey, embrace this phase of our lives, because quite frankly, you can’t jump out of your body into someone else’s. So we either accept ourselves for who we are, now, and make peace with that, OR, we (and now it’s all coming full circle) TIME TRAVEL.
How silly for a fish to wish to be a rabbit. How silly for a rabbit to feel bad because it’s not a tiger. We are all beautiful in our own ways, and we all carry the spark of the divine. We are all perfect, in this moment, just as we are. Flaws and all.
Contentment is the willingness to accept the failure and success of this very minute. In order to do this we must become a wider container so that we can hold all of this moment. Contentment is letting go of greed, letting go of the desire to change anything, including one’s self. In order to be content one must embrace perfection and imperfection equally as part of the great panoramic of life. – Judith Lasater
We imagine a future that is not ours, and judge ourselves for it. We think back to mistakes made in the past, and judge ourselves for it. Meanwhile, none of that shit is happening right now. Right now, you need to get your son or daughter ready for school, or right now, there is work to do, or right now, someone needs you. And the more time we spend traveling to the past, and future, the less time we are spending in the present, learning to love and accept ourselves for who we are, now.
I am at peace as I am. In this moment.
I’ll be leading a practice of acceptance at the Soul Flow in Beckley, WV on May 12. Come practice being in the moment with me.