September 16, 2011

You Know What They Say, “When You Assume, You Make An …”

My son has played soccer since he was in kindergarten. He’s certainly not the best player out on the field, but he absolutely loves the game. I suppose it’s not unusual that he assumed that the sport he’s played for three-quarters of his life would be one of his high school sports. While we hadn’t given it any real thought, his dad and I certainly assumed we’d continue sitting on the bleachers with the soccer parents we’ve cheered alongside for the last nine years.

As assumptions are wont to do, this one reared up and bit us squarely on the fanny.

When you look up the word “assumption” you find several definitions. Here are two that I found on Dictionary.com:

  1. The act of taking for granted or supposing. Synonyms: presumption, presupposition.
  2. Arrogance, presumption. Synonyms: presumptuousness, forwardness, gall.

I don’t know about you, but the definition of the word “assumption” that has served me best over the years is Oscar Wilde’s maxim, “ When you assume, you make an ass out of u and me.”

Yoga teaches us about assumptions as well. Perhaps not with the wit or pithiness of Wilde’s words of wisdom, but regular time spent on a yoga mat guarantees an intimate appreciation of the foolhardiness of making assumptions. You can walk onto your mat five times in a week and feel like you are in five different bodies. To assume that the loose hamstrings you showed up with on Monday are going to be there on Tuesday is nuts. One extra long walk with your friend can send you hurtling back to bent-knee forward bends. (However, don’t assume those newly tight hamstrings are yours for good. That would also be nuts! They’ll loosen up.)

To assume that your current favorite asana will always be the one that feels best to you is also nuts. I can’t tell you the number of favorites I’ve had over the years. They’re usually the ones my body is opening to at the time, so they change as often as my body changes – which is to say, daily. To assume that you’ll never master free-standing inversions is … well, you’re just selling yourself short. With persistence and practice, you’ll get there!

You see? Assumptions keep our minds closed. They can blind us to our potential. It can be downright frightening when they don’t pan out.

Recall that I mentioned that our son is not the best player out on the soccer field. He has always happily played on the “C” team. It’s never mattered one whit to him or to us which team he played on. He was having a ball playing and we were having a ball on the sidelines. As try-outs for the high school team loomed in his immediate future, however, all three of us suddenly saw his position on the “C” team in a whole new light. He’d be competing with two entire squads of more capable soccer players for a spot on the freshman team. You might have guessed that the dawning of this realization was precisely when our family assumption sank its teeth into our backsides.

I’m not going to kid you. The bite of that assumption stung. When we stepped back and faced reality, we could see the presumptuousness (maybe arrogance?) of our assumption that he’d play on the high school team. It was upsetting to us as his parents to imagine how it would feel to him to face the reality that his love for soccer could be insufficient to earn him a place on the team. I’m sure at some level it was scary for him to think about not playing a game he knows and loves, but instead having to try something new.

But reality demanded that we set aside our assumptions. And this is exactly what he (and we) did. Fortunately, we all bounced back pretty well. (Extra-fortunately, we managed to do so without any of us making asses of ourselves.) My son opened his mind to other fall sports and decided to try Ultimate Frisbee in case he didn’t earn a spot of the soccer team. It turns out that he can employ many of the concepts and strategies that he learned from years of soccer on the Ultimate field. He fell in love with the sport right away. In fact, he loves it so much that he decided not even to try out for soccer. How’s that for one sport blinding him (and us) to others?

It’s important to note that my years on my yoga mat clearly didn’t help me avoid making an assumption. As is almost always the case with assumptions, I wasn’t even aware that I was making one until faced with a contradictory reality. Yoga did help me see my assumption for what it was. Recognizing my assumption allowed me to work on setting it aside. As I did so, I could begin to imagine myself sitting on another set of bleachers, next to another group of parents, cheering my son as he played another sport. This wasn’t easy or without emotion, but it is real.

I’m excited to learn the rules of a whole new game. I think it’s safe to assume that I’ll love the game as much as my favorite player says he does.

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