Can it be okay?
Last Saturday we went out on a family dinner date to one of our favorite neighborhood restaurants. We were seated next to a middle aged couple who seemed to be thoroughly enjoying each other’s company. We ordered, we waited, we ate, and Sabina proceeded to act like a typical six year old. In case you don’t remember, it’s hard to sit still for an hour at age six. But she did pretty well … no running around, no screaming. Just telling stories, asking questions, and playing with the toys the restaurant provided – which, in full disclosure, did include a “Chinese Yo-Yo” and one of those paddles with a bouncy ball connected to it by a string.
Given the many displeased looks we received from the adjacent table, we assumed they didn’t have kids and couldn’t remember what it was like to be a kid. Or perhaps they thought it was an adults only establishment. For the record, if you’re trying to determine if you’re in an adults only establishment and they offer you crayons, it’s not an adults only establishment.
As the meal went on and our neighbors continued to glare at us whenever Sabina raised her voice, it occurred to me that it’s everyone’s prerogative to experience life however they choose, but, sadly, we often choose to experience it with a sense of disapproval for all the ways in which it isn’t acting in accordance with our preferences.
It made me ponder how I want to relate to my world, and where I might be scolding the parts that I think should be different. Kids are born with superior flexibility of body and mind. Thank goodness – because they have very little control over the details of their surroundings. Sure, there are tantrums, and these horrible moments (I’m pretty sure I have a little PTSD) may stand out in our memory, but for the most part, they adapt to their circumstances with admirable grace.
As we grow older we have more and more control over our circumstances. We get to choose where we live, what we eat, and who we surround ourselves with. It’s a tremendous freedom, and I thoroughly enjoy it.
One might think the new freedom that comes with being on our own would promote even greater flexibility. And often, for a time, it does. But with age, there is a risk of becoming rigid – of losing that childhood flexibility. We can get rigid in our bodies, rigid in our preferences, and even rigid about how other people should conduct themselves.
Rigidity leads to grumpiness, because we don’t get to control every aspect of the world.
I’ve already had glimpses of this in myself. There are things that I want to be “just so” in my world, and when they aren’t, I can have an unpleasant visceral reaction. For instance, I really don’t like when the cupboard doors are left open in the kitchen and, coincidentally, I married someone who seems to be profoundly impaired in the art of cupboard closing. Sometimes I’ll come downstairs to find all of the cupboards open and him sitting at his computer happy as a clam!
Now I ask myself: can I allow for that? Am I flexible enough to bend around the contours created by those around me? The answer is, of course. Isn’t this the real yoga? And then calmly, without emotion and with even a little bit of humor, I close the cupboards and move on with my day.
There’s nothing wrong with being particular, but if you can’t allow for the whole breadth of existence, you’ll struggle against reality. – Tweet it
Real freedom happens within: The freedom to feel happy regardless of whether your towels are hanging perfectly or your neighbor’s dog is trying to get into the Guinness Book of World Records for most barks in a 24 hour period.
I’m not saying we should blindly accept injustices in the world. In fact if we could be more flexible about the little things, we’d have more energy to impact our world in a positive way. We could improve many people’s circumstances … and, inevitably, challenge others to work on their flexibility.
Flexibility keeps us young. Not just in our bodies, but in our minds. Being able to go with the flow and accept things as they come, rather than resisting, opens us up to an ever greater experience of peace and happiness.
The next time you find yourself getting tight in response to your circumstances, ask yourself, where am I locked up? How can I stretch my beliefs? What is the mental equivalent of being able to put my foot behind my head?