Imagine yourself looking into a mirror, and sensing something is wrong: for some reason, you can only see one half of your face, one half of your body. You know that there is more to you than what the mirror shows – but somehow, you aren’t getting the full picture. Now imagine going through life with half of the world around you faded, featureless. You can make out only half of the details in your surroundings; you can only feel a fraction of what you’re wading through. When we succumb to our preferences, this is more or less what we are settling for – only participating in half of what life has to offer, only experiencing part of a much larger, and much greater, whole.
It has been said that that which is like poison in the beginning is like nectar in the end– and the opposite holds true as well. Despite that age-old wisdom, we tend to prefer immediate gratification anyway. The easiest way to think about this is with junk food – inhaling all the candy we can put into our mouths at once is an amazing, instant feeling of delicious ecstasy. Yet the sensation quickly turns to something much sicker, much more like poison to us. Even though we understand intellectually that everything worth pursuing takes hard work, and effort, and intention – even recognizing that, we tend towards the easier, effortless path.
When we align too strongly with our preferences – create a dichotomy of what we like and what we don’t, what we will and will not suffer through – it informs the way we experience our lives. In doing this, preferences can exclude us from fully participating in the world around us, or guide us towards unhealthy and indulgent behaviors. Staying within our comfort zone means we may miss out on something truly astounding, intentionally or not.
Yoga offers an entire spectrum of sensations – and just like in our lives off the mat, if we dislike something, we can refuse to experience it. We dislike discomfort, and so we don’t go fully into that backbend. If we decide against bunny hops, we sit them out. To avoid the pain, the frustration, the confusion those poses can induce, we simply refuse to participate in them. By sitting them out, day after day, we are also shutting ourselves out from possibly growing, learning, changing, and evolving. We dismiss the opportunity for something truly great. We need to remember that our practice is our safe place. It’s the opportunity to intentionally work through known discomfort in order to practice stillness, and our ability to be less reactive to the things we dislike.
In many ways, our yoga practice represents a microcosm: the way we respond to our physical and emotional practice can mirror and inform the way we respond to challenges and opportunities in the world beyond our mat. If we limit our practice based on our perceived or existing preferences, then we are no longer moving forward. We are stuck, half in the dark, wondering what could be beyond the pale without the ability to simply reach out and see it for ourselves.
Our goal as human beings is to become objective. The world will offer us challenges and change – but by embracing only the things we like, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment. We base our happiness off of surrounding ourselves with our preferences, which makes our experiences internally and externally extremely fragile. Humans are not built to control the world, but we can monitor our reactions. In gaining control over our own reactions, we then empower ourselves for happiness no matter what the preference.