[mk_blockquote style=”quote-style” font_family=”none” text_size=”16″ align=”left”]When you open yourself to the continually changing, impermanent, dynamic nature of your own being and reality, you increase your capacity to love and care about other people and your capacity to not be afraid. You’re able to keep your eyes open, your heart open, and your mind open. And you notice when you get caught up in prejudice, bias, and aggression. You develop an enthusiasm for no longer watering those negative seeds, from now until the day you die. And you begin to think of your life as offering endless opportunities to start to do things differently.” – Pema Chodron [/mk_blockquote]

the world can be a scary placeThe world is a scary place these days. Between terrorist attacks and this shameful, hate-filled presidential campaign, you can hardly turn on the news without seeing a story that makes you want to turn it off again. And that’s just the big stuff. We all face people who make us feel uncomfortable or intimidated or small or scared every single day.

Even scarier to me than these things is how our fear tempts us to withdraw – to stay home and curl in a little ball. This isolation is no good. Maya Angelou says, “when you do nothing, you feel overwhelmed and powerless. But when you get involved, you feel the sense of hope and accomplishment that comes from knowing you are working to make things better.”

Even worse than staying home, though, is when our fear manifests in an “us/them” mentality. It can be a little sneaky. After all, it’s pretty easy to point fingers at terrorists or politicians spouting racist or misogynist rhetoric. (I know this from personal experience.) It’s also pretty easy to feel sanctimonious when the obnoxious member of the committee you sit on starts ranting — again. But we really, really, really want to avoid this slippery slope. We want to remember that, like us, these are people – with beliefs and passions and opinions. We want to hold onto at least a tiny question mark of curiosity when we consider them. Even a hint of curiosity keeps us engaged and connected. It inspires us to ask questions, to try to understand another perspective. Without this, we end up just as entrenched and just as close-minded as we feel that they are.

We practice maintaining this curious state of mind as we practice yoga. Day after day, as we move through yoga postures, we witness our capacity to change. One day we can’t. One day we can. One day, out of the clear blue, we’re strong enough. One day, out of the clear blue, a posture simply disappears. We see change as we grow and progress. We see change as we back-slide and regress.

The more we notice ourselves changing, the more open-minded we become about ourselves. We set aside assumptions, preconceived notions and limiting beliefs. We find that we’re hunting for changes eagerly, as if every practice is a scavenger hunt. In this state of mind, we can’t help but to learn more about ourselves. We learn “good” things about ourselves: what we’re capable of; what makes our heart thrill; what inspires us to think, “I want that!” We learn “not so good” things about ourselves: what scares us; what we loathe; what inspires us to run the other way. And we learn that it’s all ok because nothing is permanent. It’s always changing. WE’RE always changing.

As we know, what happens on the yoga mat is only the tip of the iceberg. This curious state of mind, like the rest of yoga, becomes a well-engrained habit. Almost without effort, we see the world and the people around it with the same curiosity with which we’ve learned to see ourselves on our mats. In this curious, wondering, open state of mind, it is much less tempting to slip into an “us/them” mentality. (And, when we do, we are much more likely to notice, which is the first step toward changing it.)

Instead, we choose to do things differently. We stay engaged. We stay involved – even if just in tiny ways. We keep hunting for ways to connect, ways to learn and ways to grow. Even those things or people that scare us badly lose a little of their power over us. The understanding that everything and everybody is capable of changing is so deeply rooted in us that, when faced with something or someone that scares us, we are able to replace our fear with hope.

Yes, the world can be a scary place. But we have the capacity to not be afraid and to see life as an endless string of opportunities to change the world for the better. All it takes is keeping a tiny question mark of curiosity alive in your heart.