Let your mind start a journey through a strange new world.
Leave all thoughts of the world you knew before.
Let your soul take you where you long to be …
Close your eyes, let your spirit start to soar, and you’ll live as you’ve never lived before.
– Erich Fromm
Embarking on new year can feel like leaving on a journey and one of the most important steps before leaving on any trip is packing. We need to be sure we have the right clothes for the climate and for our planned activities. We absolutely need to make sure we bring the right shoes. We need to remember a lot of stuff – various chargers (phone, computer, i-pod), memory cards for the camera, a few good books, perhaps a journal. To pack well, we need to have a pretty good idea of what we’ll be doing while we’re gone. We need to know where we’re going.
As we set out on a new year, however, we don’t have any idea where we’re going to end up. Yet, nonetheless, we feel the need to pack. “Packing” for a new year often takes the form of setting resolutions. We resolve to create new habits. We resolve to break old ones. We resolve to slim down, shape up, get more organized, yell less, love more, slow down, speed up. While we don’t know where the road of life will lead us in the new year, we know one thing for certain. We’re going to live it differently than we lived this year. We’re going to live it better than ever before. In other words, we’re resolving to change.
Yoga, however, teaches us to accept and love ourselves as we are right now. Is it possible to do both? Can we embark on the journey of a new year with self-acceptance in the same suitcase as our aspirations to be somehow “better?” Perhaps. You see, yoga offers us “intentions” in place of resolutions. Where resolutions can be specific, finite and carry the possibility of failure (and attendant guilt), intentions are more open. Intentions are on-going. While intentions require our best efforts, they are not “broken” if we fall short. Intentions are guiding lights to shine on our actions, choices and decisions. Their light is warm — they are meant to help us in discernment, not judgment. Intentions draw us forward, nurture us as we develop, ground us as we stretch.
As we prepare to begin a new year by reflecting on ourselves and our lives, it can be easier to focus on our shortcomings rather than on our attributes. However, we can’t hope to grow into our “best-possible-selves” until we truly embrace who we already are. Loving and accepting ourselves as we are can be one of yoga’s toughest lessons. It’s one we typically confront first on our mats. “If I only had looser hamstrings …,” we think. “If only my shoulders didn’t curl forward …,” or “If only my knees didn’t hurt ….” As we practice, however, we begin to see that tight hamstrings, rounded shoulders or sore knees cannot prevent us from receiving the gifts of each posture any more than being less than perfect can prevent us from living rich, full lives. We simply modify the posture to suit us as we are right now. And that’s perfect!
We don’t have to have better bodies to practice yoga, but as we journey on our mats, our bodies will gradually open, straighten, strengthen and balance. They will do so because of our yoga. And also because of our patient, loving acceptance of ourselves as we are. The same is true in our life journeys. We’re not going to get to see cooler stuff or go to better places or reach our destination any faster if we’re better people. But, by practicing patience and loving acceptance of ourselves, we will certainly enjoy the trip more!
Our practice teaches us to accept everything about ourselves – the things that make us proud, obviously, but also the things we’re not so proud of. We need to believe deep down in our hearts that we are as we’re intended to be right now. We need to believe that we’re meant to always be growing into ourselves. We need to know in our heart of hearts that it is by growing that we develop certain parts of ourselves and shed others. We need to know that, no matter how we long to arrive at our destination, we are created to journey.
This is a lifelong journey and it’s not a non-stop flight. There will be layovers, flight delays and even detours. We may lose our suitcase. We may discover that we’ve packed the wrong stuff. We may need to pick up some clothes or gear along the way. In the end, however, if we stay open and aware we’ll get to see great beauty, have exhilirating adventures, climb breathtaking summits and thoroughly enjoy our traveling companion – ourselves!
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