An inspiring glimpse of acceptance in action.
“Roll with it.” – T-shirt worn by man in a wheel chair during his 13th NYC marathon
I saw a story on the news of a man who had just completed his 13th NYC marathon. He has cystic fibrosis and gets about in a wheel chair. He informed reporters that he doesn’t even think about how he’ll place. Finishing the race, he says, makes you a winner.
While I don’t know his story and I don’t know him, to me he embodies acceptance in the way that yoga intends us to practice it.
He is clearly an active, physical guy who got sick. While he could have collapsed under the weight of the limitations of his illness, he appears to have made a choice to accept his situation, but not to let it define him. He trains differently than he once did. But he still trains. His races look different than they once did. But he still races. Just as his shirt says, he is rolling with his life in a way that fulfills him and, by all appearances, seems to make him happy.
A yoga definition of acceptance.
Acceptance, yoga-style, is not passive. It does not involve throwing up your hands and quitting. Not at all. But it does involve embracing the reality of your moment, whatever it is. Railing against or rejecting what life has brought our way only exhausts us. It’s like swimming upstream. We have to work so hard to move a tiny bit, or (when the waters are really high and moving really fast) to just maintain our position, that staying above water is absolutely all we can do.
No matter how much we may wish that what is happening to us was not happening to us, when we align ourselves with the flow of life, the possibilities are endless. What does this mean? What does this look like? It depends on you and your reality, but it could look as improbable and even miraculous as a man with cystic fibrosis crossing the finish line of his 13th NYC marathon. But let’s start a little smaller than that.
Practice acceptance on your yoga mat.
It is often easiest to start to grapple with yoga’s philosophy on a yoga mat and it is no different with acceptance. Imagine that you have arrived at your regular yoga class anticipating a meditative hour deeply engaged with the series of postures through which your teacher usually leads you. You have set up your mat and are quieting yourself down as you wait for class to start. In walks a substitute teacher you know teaches a different style of yoga. You have a choice in this moment. You can roll up your mat and leave, which seems rude. You can grudgingly stay, and let the unfamiliar series annoy you. Or you can accept this surprise from life with openness, hoping to receive a gift or two from the experience.
Or imagine that you have unrolled your yoga mat at home after a crazed day, eager to quiet down with a vigorous, sweaty practice. Before you have even started your third sun salutation it is clear that your physical energy is low and your focus is wildly scattered. Even downward facing dog, your favorite posture, requires herculean effort. You have a choice in this moment. You can fight on, determined to complete the practice you had planned, no matter how draining and exhausting. Or you can accept your unexpected reality and dial back your practice, choosing instead to quiet yourself with a restorative series and a long sit in meditation.
Or imagine that a single misstep has landed you in a full leg brace after extensive surgery to repair a ruptured tendon. (This is a true story.) You can sit at home, moping, with your leg elevated for eight weeks waiting to be able to remove the brace. Or you can take a deep breath and accept that, while this 100% rots, it has happened. You can decide to work with what you’ve got. You call your yoga teacher, explain your reality and ask if there is any way that you can keep practicing while you heal. And, with props and lots and lots of modifications, that is just what you do during your long convalescence.
Lessons from the mat are ALWAYS lessons off the mat too.
“No valid plans for the future can be made by those who have no capacity for living now.” – Alan Watts
Now, imagine that you’ve lost your job. Or woken up sick. Or found out that you have to move. Or been told that your significant other is leaving. Or discovered that your parents need help and will be moving in. It’s only when you accept these or other twists and turns of life that you will be able to navigate them gracefully and creatively. It’s only when you accept these moments as if they contain as much potential as the moments you would have scripted into your life that you will be open enough to receive their gifts.
Acceptance is the willingness to work with what you’ve got.
Acceptance is not quitting. Acceptance is not saying, “I’m doomed.” Acceptance does not make a tough moment “forever” any more than the most wonderful moments of your life have lasted forever.
Acceptance is simply the willingness to work with what you’ve got. To take the next step – and then the next and the next and the next. Acceptance is choosing to roll with whatever life has brought your way with creativity and grace and faith that life holds many more twists and turns in store for you.
If acceptance is sometimes hard for you, you’re not alone. It is a perfect topic to bring into spiritual direction, where simply talking about your reality and resistance to it can help move you closer to acceptance.