The phrase kept coming up, over and over again, in yoga class this morning: be completely open.
It was mostly a reminder on form. Most poses ask you to open your chest, reach your fingertips and root feet (or foot as the case may be) into the ground. And with that I found myself guided into some pretty challenging poses today. I’m not sure that I ever fully advanced in bound side angle pose before. I mean look at the photo from practice page at YogaJournal.com. The looks like a human pretzel. And yet, there I was, reaching into and opening up into bounded side angle pose. This after lifting myself into half moon, which makes me believe my core and leg strength, along with balance, as increased tremendously over the past month.
As we moved between poses, our instructor MaryAnn reminded us constantly to remain open. I took not just as a physical challenge, as a way to align my body correctly to get the most out of poses and avoid injury, but also as a challenge of the heart, to remain open at all times.
I was thinking about this after reading a beautiful post from my friend Mary about giving money to strangers on the street. She always had wondered if it was a good idea, if the people asking for money for a sandwich were really going to buy a sandwich or if they were hoodwinking her into giving them money for nefarious purchases and activities. She came to the conclusion that her business was to love and give what she could unconditionally. It was up to the person who received the gift to decide how if they were going to use it with integrity or not. She quotes Thomas Merton: “Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy.”
It got me thinking about that old axiom of giving without expecting anything in return. And that’s harder than we realize. Because we all want to be loved and appreciated. We want our affections and friendships reciprocated. And there is nothing wrong with that. But what if that love, appreciation, affection and friendship came back to you freely, without you trying to direct it? What if all you need to do is give and be open? Surely I will get hurt, but is it worth living in a constant state of defense, working to protect myself from all emotional pain? What if I detached from the outcome, released my expectations and simply decided to be?
I know what happens in my yoga poses when I do that. Some days, I get into an amazing space where I move freely from pose to pose and find myself stronger and more flexible than ever before. Some days, I have nothing to do but laugh at myself as I struggle to find my balance in even the simplest of poses. What yoga teaches me is that each is valuable. That life is not linear and progress isn’t always from Point A to Point B.
Entering the holiday season where giving and receiving are on heavy on the mind, I’m putting that quote from Thomas Merton on my wall to remind myself that my job is to love others (and myself) without any concern for worthiness, or for what I might get in return. My suspicion is that if I truly live from this place, I won’t have to worry about what I get in return. Because what will come back to me will likely be better than I could have imagined.