Opening the yoga class I attended today, our teacher Elizabeth Cooke asked if any of us had New Year’s resolutions. A silent class of yogis stared back at Elizabeth; not a single hand was raised. She seemed pleasantly surprised. I smiled as I listened to her describe our tendency to “lean into the future” at the beginning of every new year, promising to lose weight, save more money, or find one more way to improve ourselves or our lives. Lately I have been thinking a lot about acceptance and presence and where those words are pointing me. I agree with Elizabeth that those wonderful intentions we have to make new things happen this time of year can pull us away from what is. As she put it, we are here now and we are fully embodied. We have everything we need to be in the present moment.
What if the present moment is unpleasant? Does that mean we need to change it? How do we react to unpleasant circumstances and sensations? Elizabeth said, “This moment might be really crappy for you. And you may just have to be OK with feeling crappy for a while. How hard is that?” It is hard. But it is part of this experience we are having as spiritual beings in human bodies. Many of us fervently strive to avoid pain and to eliminate all suffering from our lives. How does it feel to strive that way? Does it work? Are we getting everything that we want? Is it harder to accept suffering when it comes, or to strive away from suffering?
Each moment brings a new experience, a new sensation. Naturally we love the sweeter and easier sensations. When it is time to enjoy a delicious meal, a beautiful day, making love, watching the sun set or listening to a symphony, we readily accept the experience. And we are thankful that these pleasures grace our lives. When we are in the midst of an illness, an ice storm, the loss of a loved one or a time of financial constraint, what do we do? What “should” we do? Personally, I used to pull away. Often I still do. When I am starting to get sick, I swallow Chinese herbs and vitamins, I drink a lot of tea and I try to “fight it off.” Usually I get sick anyway. Recently I have experimented with accepting sickness as its own unique experience. Sometimes it is an enforced break from business. Sometimes it brings vivid dreams due to more time spent in bed. Sometimes feeling crappy is wonderful because…it is still feeling! I am still in a body, alive and aware in the present moment.
When we accept what is, we cultivate patience. When we accept what is, we are not pulling away from the present moment, or suggesting that it needs to change. One of my sons is two years old. He is uninhibited. When he covers me with kisses and yells, “Mommy, I really love you!” in public, I happily accept his authentic behavior. When he throws a tantrum, screaming, kicking and writhing on the floor, I begrudgingly accept it. If he is in danger, I pick him up and move him. Otherwise, I let him cry it out. I find my two year old son to be a great spiritual teacher.
A great place to begin practicing unconditional acceptance is within our precious human body. Ironically, the sooner we accept something, the sooner it can change, if it needs to. If we truly need to lose weight, first we must accept the condition of being overweight. If we are sick and need to get better, first we must accept that our body is ill. Approaching the body with unconditional acceptance, we are better able to care for it enough to make it stronger and healthier. I have learned this through experience. In 2006 I contracted Lyme disease when I was pregnant. As a result, I developed permanent nerve damage in my seventh cranial nerve. Over the past four years I have gradually approached my body with more love. My recovery has been slow, but I can truthfully say that I love my body more than ever before. My smile looks a little different. One eye is a little smaller. I still believe that I am beautiful. My energy levels have been lower, but I have more physical strength than at any time in my life. Through yoga, I have learned to nurture my body. Through this nurturance, I have gained strength. Through illness, I have learned to feel well.
Through approaching all experience with acceptance, we live life more fully. Instead of leaning toward the future or leaning away from the past, we fully inhabit the now. I have nothing to say about 2011, other than: here it is, and let it be.