When stretching my spine in a 105°F room recently, it was a little unnerving to discover the only person who kept coming to mind was Bill Clinton circa 1998. My yoga teacher had just revealed the secret to happiness as “Being OK with what IS,” and as much as I wanted to be the person in the room with green tea pumping through her veins, all I could muster in that moment of sweat and silence was Slick Willie’s famous last(ish) words: “It depends on what the meaning of the word is is.”
Even as a child, I had trouble being present and content with my coordinates, as evidenced by the portraits hanging in my parents’ dining room. Although my mom and dad had wanted to capture me and my brothers in a single professionally-taken photograph, I felt my blue velvet dress was born to run and thus forced the man behind the lens to opt for three individual shots instead. The boys were preserved as their most angelic and gentlemanly selves, while I was caught with a “Here’s Johnny” smile and Jack Nicholson hair, straddling a stool and not even partially looking at the camera.
As an adult I’ve learned how to pose better for pictures, but still I walk fast, hold tight, feel claustrophobic during long car rides, and think of what will be for breakfast during dinner. I’m often trying to change what has happened or control what will be, but I find it very difficult to be OK with what IS.
In AA, the serenity prayer begins with the request for God to “grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Zen Buddhists recite, “No praise. No blame. Just so.” Therefore, it seems this desire to be OK with what IS is hardly an original thought, blessing, or burden.
After my first exposure to bikram yoga this summer, I remember one particular class in which the instructor reminded us to be gracious with ourselves and not become frustrated when we weren’t able to stretch as far as we wanted or had been able to before. Even though the 26 postures associated with the practice never change, he said “Today, each one will be exactly what you need for it to be and will take you where you need to go.”
What I’ve come to recognize about each of these statements is not the advocation of complacency but presence. It’s not about giving up or giving in, but choosing to take hold of exactly where you are and what you have to learn and love and work with in the moment. Of course it’s easier said than done, but as Rilke writes, “Those tasks that have been entrusted to us are difficult; almost everything serious is difficult; and everything is serious.” I want to be OK with what IS, no matter the meaning of the word.