One of the gifts that yoga gives us is the ability to see clearly. On our mats, we learn to see ourselves as we really are. To be certain, we learn about our anatomy. Are our arms longer or shorter relative to our torso? Are our hips naturally loose or tight? But we also learn about aspects of ourselves that are harder to see. We begin to be aware of our mindset as we practice. Do we feel hopeful or fearful? And how does that affect our practice? We start to notice our reactions. Do we tend to shrink away from or rise to meet challenges? Do we take success in stride? Does failure make us want to quit or to keep trying? It’s not long before we find ourselves at work or at the doctor or running errands and calling upon the self-knowledge we gained on our mats.
Quite naturally, we begin to see others more clearly as well. We may become aware of one friend’s creativity in the face of problems or start to turn to another for help with logistics. Instead of assuming a tersely worded email is a personal attack, we seek the meaning behind the note because we have observed that its sender is a man of few words. Instead of getting our knickers in a twist when a fellow committee member starts yet another argument, we can gently step back because we’ve learned she thrives on conflict. As we observe the people who fill our days, they will probably surprise us fairly regularly. After all, if we can surprise ourselves by rising to meet a challenge we would typically shy away from, doesn’t it make sense that an associate could just as easily surprise us? As this happens again and again, we begin to shed assumptions.
For many reasons, our assumptions about our family members are often the last to go. First off, I think these assumptions are the hardest for us to see no matter how aware and “evolved” we are. They are squarely in our blind spot. Secondly, we’re with our family a whole lot more than we’re with anyone else. Assumptions, in this case, are almost a practicality. They serve as a type of relationship short-hand that speeds things along. Thirdly, these assumptions can be a bit circular in nature. Because we know our children, our spouses, our siblings and our parents so intimately, our assumptions about them are often right. Our high rate of accuracy can actually validate our inclination to make more assumptions. And so it goes.
Sometimes it takes something mind-blowing like my son’s dramatic turn on stage this weekend to shake up our assumptions. These moments are gifts of clarity. But, even without a big, public production, if we keep our eyes open and continue to observe people as closely as we observe ourselves on our yoga mats, we can shed the blinders of our assumptions. When we do, quite often the people we love will astonish us.
—Amy Nobles Dolan, from this essay on Elephant Journal