May 18, 2012

That’s Not Fair!

“A fair is a place you take a pig and bring home a ribbon.” – my friend, Annie Webb

“That’s not fair!” These are words we’ve all heard, thought and probably whined at some time or another. Though it would be easy (and convenient) to point the finger at the 10 and under crowd for holding a deep-seated belief in the notion of fairness, I suspect most of us grown-ups struggle periodically with the feeling that it’s just not fair when life doesn’t go our way. But, as we’ve all been told in countless ways over the years, life isn’t fair.

In an interesting twist, it is often managing the events in our lives that feel the most unfair that helps us grow into the people we’re meant to be. When I came down with a recurring bone infection in middle school that made me limp and kept me off my beloved tennis courts, I know I cried many, many times “This isn’t fair!” When my mom and dad announced that we were moving from Texas to Connecticut the summer before eighth grade, I suspect my response was “That’s not fair!” I vividly remember my reaction when I was accepted at my first choice college, but only if I agreed to start in January rather than September. I wadded up the acceptance letter and yelled, “This is not fair!”

Yet each of these events were to be formational experiences for me. Chronic illness made me resourceful and resilient at a younger age than many of my peers. Moving (not just once, but twice) during my teenage years helped me to develop a clearer sense of self than I would have otherwise. Spending my first semester of college at a local school gave me the chance to test myself in the world of higher education from the safety of my parents’ home, so that I was more confident and better prepared when I hit the campus where I’d spend the remaining three years.

Even knowing that I’ve received tremendous gifts from struggles I initially bewailed hasn’t always helped prevent me from moaning, “That’s not fair!” as an adult. Loved ones get sick. Dear friends move away. Pets die prematurely. Vacations get cancelled. Things great and small just don’t work out the way you’d hoped or expected. This is the nature of life. While it may not be much fun and it certainly takes more out of you than smooth seas, learning to navigate the choppy waters of life is integral to our growth and development.

Years of yoga classes have taught me a great deal about the notion of fairness strange as that may seem. On more than one occasion, I’ve stared wistfully and enviously (albeit out of the corner of my eye) at exceptionally bendy students only to hear them exclaim after class how stiff and painful the practice had been for them. “Could it be,” I thought, “that they feel just like me?” I’ve also worked with many new students who can barely bend over who experience the heightened focus and spiritual awareness that practicing yoga can create. These folks are easier for me to relate with as, not too long ago, I was in their shoes.

I’ve studied with teachers who make me look like a rubber band and others who make me look like a piece of wood. I’ve learned from them all. While I have learned a great deal from each of my teachers, I’ve learned exponentially more from those who teach from their limitations. It’s by sharing their very personal journeys of challenge, inability, and gradual growth that these men and women manage to share the deeper gifts of the practice.

Working with these teachers has helped me develop a certainty that struggles are not thrown in our paths to derail us, but to foster creativity, persistence, patience and even faith. When we find ourselves limited in our practice, we don’t exclaim, “This isn’t fair!” and turn in our yoga mat for a pilates reformer or aerobics shoes. Instead, we learn to modify the stretch to suit us as we are. We learn to keep coming back to our most difficult asana because that is almost always the one that has the most to teach us. We learn not to force our way deeper into a posture, but rather to be where we can breathe and wait for our body to open. We learn, in the end, to have faith in the practice even when our faith in ourselves and our body may be a little shaky.

In practicing this way, we experience tremendous change on and off our mats. Gradually, we continue our journey back to physical wellness. Gradually, we continue our journey of becoming the person we are created to be.

And that’s the one thing in life that is fair. We are all created with special strengths and gifts. One way or another, life will bring us chances to uncover these talents, to develop these traits and to share them with others. Sometimes (a lot of the time), our first reaction to these chances will be “ That’s not fair!” But if we work to set aside those feelings and focus on navigating through these challenging times, we will emerge wiser, stronger and better people. 

That’s better than any ol’ blue ribbon, isn’t it?
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