Bending the arc of history

“Love wins, love wins,” went the chant in front of the U.S. Supreme Court this morning after the historic decision in support of gay marriage. I felt tremendously lucky to be there at that moment, with my sister, friends, and hundreds of other people whose lives and loves depended on the outcome. Even now, several hours later, I find it difficult not to tear up when I think about that emotional moment when the decision was announced.Supreme Court_28

Honore de Balzac wrote that, “The more one judges, the less one loves,” but today we took a huge stride toward acceptance of all people, toward judging a little less, and loving a lot more. This is truly a decision that will create acceptance and support for so many people in our communities, and will hurt no one. We all benefit by the extension of marriage to everyone.

Gratitude goes to the plaintiffs in the case whose personal stories spoke for so many others. They exemplified Maya Angelou’s words:

In the flush of love’s light, we dare to be brave. And suddenly we see that love costs all we are, and will ever be. Yet it is only love which sets us free.

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Expanding my circle of comfort

“Change is gonna do me good,” goes the lyric of Elton John’s song “Honky Cat”. I’m one of those people who has to say things like that to myself, to force myself to stretch a little. No matter how much there is to gain outside what’s familiar and comfortable, most of us have to be convinced and cajoled, or forced by circumstance, out of our comfort zones.

 Because I’m traveling this week, I tried a yoga class at an out-of-town yoga studio yesterday. It was a good class, and I’m glad I went, but there was still the point in class when the teacher told me to do something in a way completely opposite to what I’ve been taught.Was her way right or wrong? Is there a right way? Does it matter? Those were the questions I asked myself as I mentally resisted what she was telling me. My comfort zone was definitely being challenged.
Six months ago, my two favorite yoga teachers shut down their studio and stopped teaching. The studio, my yoga “home”, was gone, forcing me to change whether I wanted to or not. It hasn’t been easy. Sometimes I can take a class  with one of the teachers I liked from the old place, but mostly I was forced to try new teachers. Some I’ve enjoyed and some I haven’t. But I have learned to appreciate at least a few things about each of them. I realize now that in leaving, my former teachers gave me a great gift —a lesson in practicing yoga off the mat. Staying focused. Breathing through change and uncertainty. Accepting what I cannot change. Expanding my circle of comfort.
Often when I see friends from the old yoga studio, we talk about which teachers we are practicing with now, but we always finish by saying, “It’s not the same as…” And it’s not, it can never be, the “same”. Nothing stays the same, everything changes.  And luckily, we humans have an amazing ability to adapt to new conditions; the question is do you adapt with resistance, or adapt with acceptance? How much energy do you expend denying and complaining before you acknowledge the new reality?
Like the mice in the fable, Who Moved my Cheese?, we can either respond to unwelcome change by spending our time looking for someone to blame, hoping that everything is going to go back to “normal,” or we can go look for new opportunities. Relatively small changes, like finding new yoga teachers, train us for the bigger life events. If you learn to keep your balance in the shifting sands of everyday life, it’s easier to embrace the idea that  “change is gonna do you good.”

Open the door for change

New Year’s resolutions are known more for their grand ambition than their rate of success. Most of the time, we make resolutions to change ourselves: lose weight, get fit, quit smoking, make a career change, learn a language, and so on. But research shows that many people scale back their goals almost immediately, fewer than 50% are still working toward them after 6 months, and fewer than 10% after a year.  I’m not much of a believer in those kinds of odds.

But I’ve been thinking that this year, I might resolve, not to change, but to accept change more gracefully, especially those changes that are thrust upon me. What kinds of changes am I talking about?

  • Changes in the best-laid plans
  • Changes in my neighborhood such as new roads, traffic lights and buildings
  • Changes in my body that come with age
  • Changes in my work life
  • Changes in the people I know and love
  • Changes when a loved moves away, or … moves back

I can choose how I react to the events, big and small, that upset the balance of everyday life. Do I kick and scream, or do I invite them in? Most of the time, these events are out of my control, so why waste valuable energy fighting them?

Soren Gordhamer says this concept of inviting can be applied to challenging situations. He writes, “…we can think, Why are they doing this? …. Or we can look inward, pay attention to our mind and body, and inquire, What creative response wants to arise in this situation?” Inviting “makes more room for clarity and ease of mind”, even in the presence of “strong emotions”.

One of those strong emotions is often fear, because the unknown can be powerfully scary. Dostoyevski said that change is “What people fear most.”  But instead of asking, “Why is this happening [to me],” ask “How can I benefit from this change, or at least make the best of it?” Calling upon past experience, learning everything possible about a new situation,  and having faith in your ability to handle it can ease the transition.

Much like the practice of mindful meditation, this way of approaching change is an ongoing process. When we meditate, we are encouraged not to judge thoughts that arise, but to notice them, and then turn our attention back to the breath. Even if other thoughts come up hundreds of times, we always go back to the breath. In the same way, most of us will never reach the point of accepting change with grace 100% of the time – but that doesn’t mean we stop trying.

So I resolve in 2012, to continue to:

welcome the opportunities that come with change,

look for the silver lining in adversity,

meet challenges with courage and creativity,

allow other people the space to change,

appreciate my ability to learn and adapt,

and be happy just as I am.

Happy new year!