I’m 5’11.5″. I tell people that I am six feet tall. Growing up, I always wanted to get to 6′. For whatever reason, it was some benchmark that became a goal–one that I had basically no control over. I never drank coffee when I was young–so I guess I can at least say that I didn’t stunt my growth at all. But there came a point when I had to accept that I wasn’t going to grow anymore. I wasn’t going to get to that 6 foot mark. And I never would.
I’ve been practicing yoga for about a year now. It is a spiritual practice as much if not more than it is a physical one (if such divisions must be made). Among its numerous benefits, yoga helps you to become more flexible. Many people think that yoga is just about stretching, or primarily just an act of stretching. This is not true. But stretching is certainly a significant part of it.
One of the ways that you become more flexible is not just by stretching, but by pushing your stretch beyond the edge. The way you do this is to take your stretch to the edge and breath deeply into it. Then, as you inhale, you come back out of the stretch just a little bit, and as you exhale you push forward just beyond where you were before.
The metaphor of “spiritual growth” gets used a lot in some circles. You have never really fully arrived, and to live a responsible spiritual life you should always be looking for ways to grow. I’ve never really liked this metaphor, even beyond just the cheesiness factor.
The thing about growth: it pretty much just happens. Yes you eat food, give your body vitamins and nutrients that are essential. But beyond that, it’s just kind of the nature of things. At least up to a point. Everyone stops growing at the end of adolescence. The mind and the spirit and the soul may keep developing, but it’s not really growth. Actually, far too many people basically stop significantly progressing around the same time that their bodies are done growing.
Consider rather the metaphor of stretching. We all have our edges, our limits that have come from our experiences and our efforts. Yet we spend much of our lives seeking comfort, seeking how to dwell safely distant from these edges. The longer that we avoid our edges, the more inflexible we become. The narrower our limits shrink. We can take this metaphor into several areas: mental, emotional, spiritual. But really it is holistic. It applies to our entire soul. To all areas of life.
Stretching is an active decision. It does not just happen. And it does not stop. We must choose to take ourselves to those edges, to accept the places that are a little uncomfortable, to breathe deeply in their midst. To accept our limitations but also to push those edges ever so slightly.
It does not happen easily. We cannot take a great leap forward just by desire or the sheer effort of will. In fact, we cannot take a great leap forward at all. It must happen slowly. It requires time. It takes regular, continual practice. Constantly deciding to return to that edge, pushing into it a little bit more each day. How much easier is it to shrink back into ease and comfort? to give up the effort after the realization that this is something that will take a really long time?
I will never be 6 feet tall. Even if I keep stretching and expand the compression of my spine, half an inch is probably too much to hope for. Growth has stopped. But I will continue to be stretched as long as I don’t recede away from the edges and seek to insulate myself in what might feel safe and secure.
Is it really necessary? Are safety and security really that bad of things? Perhaps not. But they do not come from insulation, they do not come from hiding, they do not come from inflexibility. That which is brittle breaks at the slightest blow. And there is no avoiding life’s blows.
To stretch is a choice. Even when we do not feel like we are growing, we can choose to stretch ourselves. We can choose to take ourselves to the edges, take a deep breath, and enter in.