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By now, I’ve attended dozens of information sessions for college applicants. The messages are all so similar (study abroad, concrete plans to have your child employed upon graduation, housing options, financial aid, and so on) that the copious notes I took during the first several sessions have shrunk to a cryptic shorthand that might as well say, “See notes from previous institution.” So I was surprised at our second to last stop in our long college search to find myself captivated by the message being delivered by yet another dean of yet another university theater program.
When asked how many students had applied for how many spots, the dean paused before stating baldly that close to 1000 kids had applied for 20 spots. This wasn’t what caught my attention, however. These audacious statistics are mirrored at many of the schools my son has applied to. It was what the dean said next that set his message apart from any other I’d heard.
“It doesn’t matter what school you go to,” he said. (How’s that for a sales pitch?) “What matters is what you do at the school you go to. What matters is your drive, your passion, the initiative you take, how completely you throw yourself into everything you do during the next four years. But I want to talk about what matters right this second. You must trust this process. Trust that you will end up at a school that is right for you. Trust this so completely that when you walk back into the audition room, you can just be exactly who you are. Because that’s really all we want to see – you. So take a deep breath, clear your head of statistics and chances and competition and any preconceived notions that you must get into X, Y or Z school in order to be lead a successful life. Just give your all to whatever you have prepared for us. Let us see you doing what you love. Have fun and good luck.”
This remarkably reasonable and pragmatic message was refreshing to hear in the midst of a remarkably nutty process with staggeringly unreasonable odds. And, as I watched my son stride confidently into the audition room when his name was called, I realized that the dean’s message for the applicants to his theater program was good life advice for me and you.
The point he ended with is a good place to begin. The best thing any of us can do at any given moment is to be ourselves – talents and quirks, strengths and weaknesses, interests and disinterests. It all combines to make us who we are. It is our unique take on things that sets our contributions apart from anything anyone else could do. We need to do the hard work of getting prepared, sure. But mostly, if we give our all to whatever it is that we’re doing and enjoy doing it as much as possible, our experiences in life will be fulfilling.
It takes focus and energy to give our all to our experiences. To do so, we need to trust life – “the process” in the dean’s words. We need to trust that we will end up where we need to be – in fact, that we are already where we need to be right this second. Life has a way of plunking us down in exactly the right spot. Life has a way of always giving us the chance to do good stuff, to shine, to stretch and grow, to give back. If we trust this, we can let go of our need to control our futures – or even our present. This control is an illusion anyway – a frustrating and exhausting one, at that. Releasing our need for control by trusting the process of life allows us to focus on pouring our all into whatever life has put on our plate in any given moment.
Each time we step on our yoga mats, we have the chance to practice both being ourselves and relinquishing control. Whether we practice in a group class, with a friend or on our own, the best practices we will ever have are when we honor our own bodies – when we respond to our body’s need for challenge or for respite, when we celebrate our strengths and respect our weaknesses, when we are focused fully on our own experience breath by breath, rather than being distracted by what someone else is doing or by some preconceived idea of what our own experience should be.
While we move and breathe on our yoga mats, we also have the chance to practice letting go of control. This is clearly easy to do in a group class when we are expected to set aside our own agenda and follow our teacher’s cues. But we can relinquish control even when practicing on our own. Again, it’s staying in tune with our bodies, and honoring them while we practice that is the key. (See how critical it is to be ourselves?) We may have hoped for a vigorous practice, only to find we’re fatigued before we really get going. Letting go of control allows us to sink into a slower paced, more restorative practice that will nurture and energize us for the rest of our day. We may arrive on our mat worried about a nagging pain or injury only to find that we don’t feel pain. Letting go of control allows us to bravely seize the moment and challenge ourselves a little bit.
Our yoga mats, then, are like little laboratories where we can safely practice being ourselves and relinquishing control. Regular practice gives us a sense of comfort and courage when we do the same off our mats and in our lives. Then, even when we are in a high anxiety situation like an audition or a job interview or when we’re simply trying something new, we are able to “default” into this mode. We are better able to follow the dean’s advice. When we’re not worried about what will happen next, we can give our all to whatever we’re doing with faith that this is exactly where we’re meant to be right now. We can simply be who we are, do what we need to do and have some fun while we do it.
This is the best gift we can give – to ourselves and to the world.