Choosing Challenge

Civil Rights Confrontation
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

My life is ridiculously comfortable and convenient. The extraordinary good fortune that has been heaped upon my head would be enough to up the quality of life of an entire island nation. It’s incredible, really.

And yet, that’s not enough to stop me from behaving badly when iTunes crashes or I spill a quart of coconut water on the kitchen floor or my new password manager is wonky.

Yep, that’s all it took: a wonky password manager.

After a security breach on my husband’s computer, the two of us agreed to put all our passwords into a password manager. An excellent idea since I am more than a little lax in the computer security department and the scrap of paper with all my passwords on it (that I’ve had since 2002) was getting a difficult to read.

Only I’m impatient when learning new computer stuff and when the program wasn’t working the way I thought it would and I got locked out of my Twitter account, I got irritated (irkitated, even). I went on a rant about how dishonest and malicious people require us to invest time, money and energy into these stupid programs and the only person it really keeps out of my accounts is me and then I slammed a couple of doors.

A ridiculously first-world problem, up to my armpits in comfort and convenience, and I’m acting like a four-year-old.

Which brings me to hot yoga.

Wonky computer programs notwithstanding, choosing to spend time in a challenging and uncomfortable environment helps me build resources to draw on when challenge and controversy show up uninvited.

When I started hot yoga in December 2012, I thought it would be a physical challenge and a new way to keep my body healthy. It is that, for sure, but the biggest benefit I’ve gotten from yoga is its effect on my mind. After 467 90-minute classes in a humid, 100+ degree studio, more and more I’m able to stay calm in times of challenge and controversy.

My teachers often talk about breathing calmly and steadily even when the body is under stress or concentrated effort. By focusing on the steady, even flow of breath, my nervous system is less anxious and startled by the discomfort.  I’m able to literally and figuratively stay in the room.

After practicing hot yoga, I have higher tolerance for other uncomfortable situations.

In the past couple of years, I’ve had unpleasant and alarming experiences, I’ve had friends upset with and disappointed in me, and I’ve taught classes under emotional and stressful circumstances. In all those situations, I’ve shown up more relaxed, more present, calmer than I used to.

Obviously, it doesn’t work all the time. Sometimes, I still get twisted up over things and stomp around. But spending time in the hot room or sitting in meditation even when my back hurts or staying low in sumo stance until my legs shake, gives me confidence that translates into my life. My mind learns I can do this. Choosing challenge helps me stay calm or regain my calm quicker when things go awry.

When I think about the challenge and controversy endured by brave people like Martin Luther King, Jr. and those who participated in the civil rights movement (and people today who are fighting diligently for civil and human rights, environmental protection, and social equality), I wonder how they managed to behave so well when under such duress. I wonder how they built their resources to be steady and calm in the face of so much hatred.

Given my track record, I suspect I wouldn’t have had the strength or courage for it. I think I would have slammed a lot of doors in Alabama. But perhaps, in some small way, by choosing to challenge myself, I can rise to some of the challenging occasions in my life … and maybe even be a force for love.

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