One morning in my Pilates class, our teacher prevailed upon us to work mindfully against gravity as best we could. Prone on our backs, pumping our arms by our sides while suspending our legs at a 45° in front of us (100′s for you Pilates fans), we were to resist. Gravity wants to tug our legs towards the earth, especially as time lapses, but come on ladies, show the smile lines under your bums as you keep those legs engaged, your cheeks hugging up into your thighs.
She also maintained that while engaging in swan extensions we should think about our front body pushing our spine up and then, conversely, our back body nudging our sternums back to our mats. I found such imagery helpful in keeping proper alignment and maximizing the number of muscles being worked. And simultaneously, I found myself considering the power and peace possible in such mindful interaction with ourselves and the world.
To thoughtfully oppose something -be it an ideology, a rumor, an opinion, war, gravity- takes self-awareness and control. You must respond rather than react. While my reaction to tired legs or a whimpering core might be to cheat via rest or bent legs, my response could be a recognition that the exercise was quickly coming to an end or an increased focus on proper breathwork. Hanging in and on takes me further, fosters muscular growth, mental endurance and confidence.
In another vein, a wife’s reaction to a husbandly infraction (or one friend’s reaction to another; a parent’s reaction to a child’s demands) could be a terse accusation, but a response might come in the form of a calm query: “hmm, this is how I perceived what just happened; is that accurate, or am I misinterpreting?” Even if she is (probably) right (wink wink, folks), thoughtful opposition leaves open a number of dialogical avenues that tend to snap shut in the face of thoughtless reaction. Respect for the other is preserved, lines of communication show what can happen when you really want to and do listen to one another. You learn more about the other, but also about yourself.
I’m reminded of a course I took during my last stint in grad school: Adult Development. In all my years of psychological study and at all the universities at which I’d studied and worked, never had I heard of a development class focused on anyone beyond adolescents. Yet in thinking for one second about that, you realize it’s rather absurd, or at least sad. We do not grow steadily -physically, emotionally, professionally, and so forth- until reaching the abrupt stop sign of adulthood. No. I might argue that adulthood is when real growth, of a different sort (not physical maturation, cognitive gains seen in young children, etc) of course, begins. Such was the premise of this course, and it was marvelous. I was engaged, about to be married, and found it so apropos of the myriad life changes I was experiencing.
The underpinning theory of psychological development in the lifespan was that of Subject-Object awareness. Ultimately (optimally), one reaches a state in which (s)he is not enmeshed with those whom she shares relationships but is aware of herself as a distinct being, the other in question as another distinct being. Her identity does not rest on the other’s approval or acceptance and vice versa. As a dyad, we can disagree but still be connected. In the spaces of disagreement -in responses versus reactions, particularly- comes growth and connection.
This is not just about verbal communication but also about action, behavior, the ways we treat and teach others, the ways we open ourselves to learn from and be humbled by them. Thoughtful opposition is why I am so particular about the meat I eat, why I engage in the political sphere, why I read and learn about things that are difficult, repugnant, heartbreaking. I feel that to be able to respond thoughtfully and responsibly, I must know why I am doing so. Note: road rage and cursing terrible drivers does not fall into this purview; road idiots deserve to be lambasted (another wink, folks).
So as I worked my legs, defying gravity to the best of my ability but not, necessarily, succeeding completely, I felt more empowered, not only in my musculature but also in the excitement about how thoughtfulness can contribute so enormously to our lives. Food for thought, and happy Friday.
-originally published on 9 March 2012