I am really glad to say sayonara to 2011. It was a heck of a year.
I don’t have any traditions or rituals in place for the coming of a New Year, but this year I wanted to acknowledge the big changes that have come into my life and to accept, and even appreciate, the challenges of 2011 for what they have become: opportunities for growth and opportunities to be more connected to and clear about who I am.
So what did I do to welcome in the New Year?
I seriously considered drunken-reflection time, and I also considered inducing a yoga-trance through 2,012 sun salutations, but luckily, before either of those thoughts took hold, I made the choice to do some lucid reflection and some writing. Now, before I get personal, can we agree that we all know someone out there who is able to take what comes his or her way without the that-couldn’t-happen-to-me-feeling to work through? They are amazing, maybe annoying, maybe unbelievable, maybe saintly people, but they really do have a spirituality and a peace about them that allows them to accept what comes their way. I am not exactly saintly and I don’t accept things that I don’t like without a few curse words, but I’m not stunned by the ups and downs of my life that often. For a long time, I credited this to my “realistic-side” (some might say negative or even pessimistic) as I have a habit of considering and anticipating the many ways that something great could go really wrong. But life teaches us all sorts of things about ourselves and we are continually offered opportunities to grow and change. For example, in 2011, my husband and I split. I learned that indeed I did have some that-couldn’t-happen-to-me-thinking at work. I know the divorce rate. I know how things go down in this world, I know that people can be better off apart than together, but then it happened to me and it felt like epic failure. WHY couldn’t I make it work and HOW did I let it come to this? The that-couldn’t-happen-to-me-feeling struck, big-time, and it was based in this idea that I have way more control and power over the things that happen in my life than I really do.
I have never said, “Amanda, you have complete control over your life and you couldn’t possibly end up divorced and single-parenting,” but I kind-a believed it. I had this idea, or feeling really, that because I am willing to work hard and I’m reasonably intelligent, because I have often had the experience of getting what I want, then when there is something that I want to do, I can make it happen. That’s a lot of responsibility. I was living my life and trying to control people and things that just aren’t within my control and I found it to be joy-sucking, frustrating and ultimately, in my marriage, devastating.
“How do we come to know and take responsibility for the things that are within our control and accept the things that aren’t?” That is one way of thinking about it, but I don’t think this is the question, really. This question is about control and control doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for the beautiful human-experiences of acceptance, serenity and surrender. Maybe the question should be, “How do we embrace the work of coming to know our own heart and accept that work in others?” Patanjali’s sutras 1.2 and 1.3 describe yoga as the process of directing the mind toward an object without any distractions. Once we have that ability we can come to understand the object fully and correctly. Maybe the work isn’t to understand what we have control over and what we don’t, but to understand our Self and the relationship of our Self to the people, things and world around us. If we can clearly see the things that are our own to manage then we can more easily accept and surrender to the decisions other people make and to the changes that come our way.
In twenty-eleven, I began the work of truly practicing yoga: directing my attention—staying with those really difficult feelings and emotions of failure, fear, anger, and loneliness, in hopes that I will better understand who I am and who I am in relation to the changing circumstances and relationships in my life. I’m so happy that there are all these wonderful yogis of the past and present, therapists, wizened friends and family members in my life that have pondered these questions and offer their support. With the little bit of clarity that I’ve gained from seeing and accepting the difference between my Self and all the other stuff, I’ve experienced moments of acceptance, serenity and surrender and I like it a whole lot more than the lens of control.