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Practice A Hopeful Approach

“God saw all that God had made, and indeed it was very good.” – Genesis 1:31

It is possible, even in times like ours, to live with hope. In fact, I would hazard that living with hope is necessary in times like ours, when you are more likely to hear people referring to plagues of the Old Testament (fire, storms, pestilence, anyone?) than to the foundational statement of hope and optimism found in the first chapter of Genesis above.

Spirituality can lead to hope

I teach a great deal of Ignatian spirituality, which, at its core, is hopeful. Ignatius of Loyola’s own life inspires hope and optimism. In the early 16th century, he was a physical, vibrant young soldier who spent his downtime engrossed in fluffy romance novels. I imagine he saw himself as the quintessential knight in shining armor. Until, that is, he was hit by a cannonball and dreadfully wounded.

It was in his convalescence that Ignatius began to formulate his famous Spiritual Exercises which remain meaningful and profoundly nurturing 400 years later. Central to his teachings is the idea that creation is perpetually in process – continually being created, continually growing, continually becoming.

In other words, each and every one of us are works in progress. This belief carries me through every “oops” and “whoops” and blooper of my life with the certainty that I will do better next time, because I am (and will be until my last moment) always growing and becoming.

Yoga philosophy is hopeful

Yoga offers a similarly hopeful outlook on this gift of life that we’ve all received. First written down more than two thousand years ago, yoga philosophy makes Ignatian spirituality look downright modern. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali describe a method of transformation – essentially from a life lived in a state of discontentment (which, one can posit, results quite naturally in pessimism) to a contented life.

Fairly early in the first chapter of the sutras (verse 14, to be precise), we learn that this practice of transformation “becomes firmly rooted when it is cultivated skillfully and continuously for a long time.” In other words, change (which is just another word for growth or “becoming”) takes time.

Though we have a ways to go, we’re already doing just fine

Patanjali’s Sutras echo the book of Genesis in making a critical point. Even though there is growth to do, we, like creation in its original form, are already “good” – even “very good.” And we have all the time we need to keep getting better.

Self-acceptance is the secret ingredient to lasting change

Such affirming and encouraging acceptance is the secret ingredient to healthy, lasting change. Though it is possible to white-knuckle our way to changed habits, behaviors, thought patterns, and so on, without self-acceptance, we will fall (relatively quickly) back into our old ways. Practice, it turns out, must be grounded in loving acceptance of the way things already are. Only then are we able to stretch toward our full potential.

Your yoga mat is a great place to start to practice a hopeful approach

Arriving at a “loving acceptance of the way things are” is deceptively difficult. What does it mean practically speaking? Keeping in mind that yoga postures are always metaphors for life, let’s consider a colossally unimportant forward fold. (I mean, who cares if you can touch your toes or not when faced with the chaos and upheaval in today’s world, right?)

Patanjali is saying that to fold forward better, we must accept our painfully tight hamstrings as they are. Most of us have to stop bending way before our chest reaches our thighs, even though our teacher (who, mind you, has been forward folding 80 times a day, 6 days a week for 2 decades) makes it look beautiful and easy.

Not only do we have to stop our own forward fold partway down, but we are invited to discover the beauty of this halfway fold; to experience the joy of being able to fold at all; to open our hearts and minds to recognize the gifts of our partial posture; to open our eyes to celebrate each incremental step forward. We are also invited to trust that each back-slide in our forward fold (remember it is a metaphor for life!) is still, in some mysterious way, part of our growth process.

This “moment” in history is a hopeful reminder that we are part of a work in progress

This lesson translates well to a broader level. Life (“all that God has made”) is good. We can choose to approach a moment that feels challenging or uncomfortable like a forward fold or our shared point in history, as a step toward eventual growth and more goodness. Like our forward fold, we, and all of creation, are a work in progress.

“The future, however, is finer than any past.” – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Both Patanjali and Ignatius encourage us to hang in there and to keep practicing with the certainty that not only are we A-OK just as and right where we are, but that right where and how we are is definitely a step along the way to a wonderful future.

If that’s not hope and optimism that will sustain and support you, I don’t know what is.

Interested in exploring more connections between yoga and the way you are experiencing your life? Let’s schedule a call!