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Difference is What We All Have in Common

Differences are inherent to who we are

Just days into bringing my second child home from the hospital I realized that she and her older brother were very different people. Where he was calm and patient, she was decidedly not. Where he only liked to snuggle at 5:00 am and 5:00 pm, she was happiest tucked in my arms all day long. Where he did whatever he was doing with gusto, she was tentative.

The realization that I would have to learn to mother in an entirely new way stopped me in my tracks. I remember exhaustedly thinking (alright, whining), “But I had this all figured out! That’s why I had another baby!”

From the much less exhausted perspective of being the mother of three young adults who have had the chance to start becoming the people they are meant to be, I find I’m still flabbergasted at how very different they all are. Sure, if you line them up, you can tell they’re related. But when you really get to know them, the differences between them wildly outweigh the physical similarities.

Viewing differences with curiosity and excitement

If three people who share the same genetic material can be more different than alike, what does that teach us about humanity? A poster on the wall of the customs hall in the Toronto airport provides the answer:

“Difference. The one thing we all have in common.”

My experience as a mother of three provides guidance as I navigate the differences between myself and whoever I’m interacting with – one of my students, the sales person at the Verizon store, my mother-in-law, my mom, the person in line behind me at the DMV, and so on.

You see, it’s the differences between my kids that makes loving them so interesting and exciting and life-giving. I love when they surprise me. I love when they stretch themselves in new ways. I guess, I’m saying, I love seeing them change and grow. I can’t wait to keep getting to know them.

What if we could react to one another with joy when we surprise each other? With excited curiosity when we encounter someone different than we are? The world would indeed seem like a more interesting, exciting and life-giving place.

Yoga helps us notice and embrace differences in ourselves

My yoga practice has helped almost as much as raising my three children to encourage me to respond more openly to differences. On a purely physical level, my body is different every time I step onto my mat. Postures that I do every day rarely feel the same to me as I stretch something that is stiff or sore or (the best difference of all!) miraculously healed.

I’ve learned over the years not to react too strongly to the differences in how my practice feels. I know now that just because I’m sore today does not mean I’ll be sore tomorrow. And I know the reverse is true – just because I feel great today does not mean that I will feel as good tomorrow.

Without the attachment that comes with thinking that whatever I’m feeling now will be how I’m feeling forever (or even for a few weeks), I’m able to stay curious and creative. I’m able to figure out ways to make the postures feel better on a sore day. I’m able to explore and learn something new about a posture I thought I totally understood on a day when I feel great.

The way we learn to approach ourselves becomes the way we approach everyone else

In short, yoga has taught me to embrace the differences I see in myself day by day. It has taught me to welcome surprises – “good” and “bad” – within my practice. It has taught me to seek out these surprising differences with curiosity and the certainty that they have something to teach me that will help me continue to grow and become.

Most importantly, yoga has given me the same certainty that the differences I discover between myself and others can be just as life-giving. Each time I’m struggling to find something in common with someone else is a moment that could be filled with growth and mutual learning if I can stay open and curious.

And the same is true for the person I’m talking with. You could say, it is our very differences that also make us the same.

If you’re looking for practices to help you notice and embrace your differences, come try one of our yoga classes or schedule a spiritual direction session. As you get more comfortable with all the ways you are different day by day, you become much more open to the differences you notice in others.