Personal responsibility is a term we in the yoga profession throw around quite a bit.
When I first heard this phrase, it grumbled around in my mind for a while, bringing up all kinds of resentment.
Who are you to tell me that I’m responsible for X or Y happening to me? I was a victim. I was an addict. I was taken advantage of. And so on. You know, that kind of thing.
Okay, fast-forward years and meditative mornings and ass-kicking yoga classes later, and I’m teaching my own classes. I don’t know what kind of mystical shift takes place after a dedicated commitment to yoga, but it does (thank god), and the phrase personal responsibility finally began to make sense. And let me tell you, it was not a happy moment for me. I could so easily see the choices and reactions, like breadcrumbs, leading up to all the unpleasantness in my life.
But, I could also see how I had brought in all the good stuff. Correction—I allowed myself to see how I had brought in all the good stuff.
Does this mean that bad sh*t doesn’t happen? Of course not. We know sh*t happens. It’s on bumper stickers for goodness sake. And I’m not saying that there aren’t victims in the world—victims of violence, illness, cruelty, circumstance. But it’s not what happens to you. It’s how you react to what happens to you, right? What matters most is how well you walk through the fire. I think we can take this as truth; Bukowski was well acquainted with fire, after all.
Victim-hood can become an addiction. We identify with the pity (self or otherwise) and nurse it and feed it and coddle it until we can’t tell where we end and our victim-hood begins. We can’t avoid every tragedy or violent act or untimely death.
Suffering is a part of life, but accepting that suffering and choosing to take the high road (the much harder road, in my experience) makes you a force. An ass-kicking, karma-growing, inspirational human force.
Platitudes? Yeah, sure, maybe. Certainly when you’re in the midst of crisis and see no way out, no way around, it seems that way. But that anger? That outrage? It has a source and it should be expressed through whatever right action is called for.
But after that right action is taken? Nursing that black hole of suffering is only going to suck in more suffering. That’s what black holes do, right? Suck stuff in, swallow it, absorb it and grow larger? (Okay, I don’t know if all of that is true about black holes, but it’s a good metaphor.)
Personal responsibility means that you make the hard choice. You tell yourself that you had a horrible moment/month/year and you congratulate yourself for getting through it, but that it’s over. Looking over your shoulder will only give you a stiff neck and a wonky view of life, not to mention the tendency to fall over stuff (that’s literal and metaphorical stuff, by the way).
So, first step? Remove yourself as much as you can from your triggers.
If you are recovering from addiction, change your environment as much as you can. Be good to yourself; give yourself time to heal and a clean (mental and physical) space in which to do it. If you are recovering from violence, injury, mourning, injustice, take your time. But take steps forward. Find something, anything for which to be grateful—a cup of tea/coffee, a sunrise, your favorite pencil, clouds, a full moon, the fact that life does (really!) go on.
The most frustrating and often unwelcome (but truest) advice I can give you is that this too shall pass. It will. But it’s up to you how you use the passing time. You may not be able to change your immediate situation, but you can change how you react. Your reaction and your next step are always in your power.
The trick? Pausing long enough to realize it. Acting on impulse will just trigger you and probably send you spinning into old patterns. If you can, stop and breathe. Focus on the five senses and let them pull you out of your head (out of your emotions) and back into the sanity of the ground, the earth, the air and sounds around you.
Know your limits and act within them (this is good advice for life as well as the small microcosm of your yoga mat). Stretch yourself a little bit more each day. But if it hurts? Pull back. Try again tomorrow. You have the rest of your life to grow. But start now.
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Ed: Brianna Bemel
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