Sunday, January 5, 2014

Acceptance and Courage

We are continuing our journey through the Mahabharata and at this point in the story the 2 sides have squared off against each other in preparation for war, and the battleground is set.  Vyasa comes to report to Dhritarashtra and paints a grim picture of the tableau that the Pandavas and their cousins find themselves in.  In response to this report King Dhritarashtra says:  “Know me for an ordinary man whose sons will not obey him. We cannot dispose our future; we are but wooden dolls, moved by strings.”

Part of the human experience is feeling as if we are wooden dolls, moved by unseen strings beyond our reach and control from time to time.  I have spent much of the last week with my oldest friend and her mother who is in hospice care at home.  It has been of course a very sad week for me, more so for my friend of course, but I am in complete admiration for how she is handling the situation with absolute grace.   She knows there is nothing left to do but just offer love – her hand to hold, her loving words and presence when her mom wakes up from time to time.  There is a total acceptance of things as they are.  Although this is a time of grief I am grateful for the opportunity to practice acceptance. 

I am reminded of the serenity prayer: “God grant me the serenity 
to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can;
 and wisdom to know the difference.”  This prayer is being lived out in my friend’s house right now and what a beautiful lesson to witness. At the end of a life, the changing of things takes a backseat and the focus is more on acceptance.  While we are healthy and living out our day to day there is more of a balance of also seeking out what can be improved upon.

We live out this prayer each time we practice – when we come to the mat we have to honor the limitations and restrictions that our bodies present us with.  Many of them we don’t have any control over, but that doesn’t mean we can’t “do” anything about it.  Every time we come to our mats and close our eyes and feel our bodies, our breath, and the awareness of our inner selves we hone this instinct and become better and better at feeling out when to stay and accept where we are, and when to dig deep for courage to make a shift.  We become discerning about finding the things we can change so we become active participants in our lives.  It's a subtle but invaluable sense that can be sharpened by mindful practice and inner attunement.  

Here is the serenity prayer in action: this week we are working on Bakasana (crane pose).  It is a challenging arm balance and takes a lot of work to get into.  We will work to access the base of the heart, the subtle specific spot where (in Anusara-speak) the Shoulder and Kidney Loops meet.   Two important actions happen here – the bottom tips of the shoulder blades press forward towards the base of the heart, moving the shoulder blades onto the back and keeping our hearts open and self-accepting AND the solar plexus and floating ribs move towards the back plane of the body, strongly engaging the abdominals giving us access to our inner courage and power to change the things we do have control over.  When we can simultaneously do these actions we find the equanimity this prayer so eloquently speaks of and the pose literally becomes effortless.  We can float into it like the graceful bird it is named for.  (Unfortunately until that moment comes, it requires a LOT of effort!)

I don’t know that I would be as graceful and accepting as my friend has been of her mother’s slow slide out of this world.  But I am grateful to her for giving me a vision of how beautiful that transition can be, and to yoga for giving me the practice and tools to approach such situations with as much graceful acceptance as I can, and for cultivating courage and wisdom to live my best life.

For the Anusara junkies:
Open To Grace: Take a breath accept the things you cannot change

Muscular Energy: Draw in from muscle to bone and feel strong enough to change the things you can
Connect to your inner wisdom to "know the difference"

Inner Spiral: As you widen your sit bones, widen your view to see that there are things you can change

Outer Spiral: Sweep tailbone down and tone your belly with the power to shift what you are able to

Shoulder Loop: Keep your heart open and full of self-acceptance for your body however it is

Kidney Loop: Draw your ribs back and connect with your power to change what you are able to

OE: Shine out with grace in whatever pose you find yourself in