Cultivating the Ability to Respond | iHanuman


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Cultivating the Ability to Respond

For many of us, summer is a time that brings back pleasant memories of the carefree days of our youth.  These were the times before we had to take responsibility for attending to the details, such as paying the bills on time, that keep the utilities turned on and life flowing smoothly.
Stepping into adulthood has asked each of us to assume both the freedoms and the burdens of becoming accountable for our own actions.  For many of us, there are times when obligations to family, friends, career, or spiritual practice can seem as though they are compromising our freedoms.  We may feel accountable to a number of different people or projects in our lives, and responsible for ensuring that things turn out well on all fronts.  In times where our responsibilities feel heavy, it can be helpful to recall the root of the word "responsibility".
"Responsibility" is actually a combination of two distinct words: "respond" and "ability".  The verb "respond" is defined as "to make an answer to"; it is the adjustments that we make in answer to events or stimuli in the world around us.  When we lift our arms in Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I), our body responds by slightly increasing the heart rate so that blood can still reach our fingertips.  When we curl up to relax with a favorite book, our heart rate decelerates in response to the calming effects on our nervous system.
The word "ability" comes from the Latin word "habilitas," meaning "apt or skillful".  It is defined as "the quality or state of being able through natural aptitude or acquired proficiency".  Our ability to execute a forward fold with straight legs may be either a natural aptitude, if our hamstrings are relatively flexible, or an acquired ability, if we had to spend time lengthening the muscles at the backs of our legs before the pose became available to us.
The combination of the words "respond" and "ability," then, indicates an ability to respond to what is taking place in our environment.  We may not be able to control the outcome of a particular situation, but we can certainly become more skillful in how we answer to it.  Our yoga practice encourages us to maintain our awareness of exactly what is going on within and around us, so that we can cultivate the art of taking full responsibility for ourselves.
As we peel back the layers of our physical, mental, and emotional selves, the fruit that emerges is a deeper understanding of our unconditioned nature.  Yoga suggests that in order to learn how to respond effectively, we must begin to see what is truly happening in order to act from a skillful place.  For example, if we are used to placing more weight on our left foot than our right foot, when we are standing in Tadasana (Mountain Pose) we may feel as though the weight is even on both feet, when in fact we are leaning more heavily on our left.  As we move our awareness more deeply within, we begin to notice that in fact we are standing unevenly.  Through this realization, we are then able to begin consciously take more weight on to the right foot in order to even out the distribution of weight between the two feet.  With our weigh evenly balanced, we are able feel the pose we are in from a calm and centered place.   We are then ready to execute to the best of our ability whatever pose may be coming next.
Taking responsibility, then, indicates not assuming the burden of producing a particular outcome, but rather making a commitment to cultivating our ability to respond effectively in the moment.  If we are asked to execute a complicated balancing posture, for example, yoga suggests we meet this challenge unconcerned with whether or not we may fall over in the pose.  Rather than focusing on the results of our actions, we are simply putting one hundred percent of our focus and attention into doing what is asked of us to the best of our ability.
So when the many responsibilities in your life begin to feel heavy, ask yourself whether you are trying to force a particular outcome--such as getting all tasks completed "to perfection"--or whether you are merely asking yourself to stand in the center and cultivate your ability to respond in the moment to whatever life brings your way.


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