The Law of Flexibility
Flexibility avails us far more than either passivity or resistance; by actively using whatever arises, embracing even the most painful circumstances, we deal with our difficulties more effectively, as we begin to see them as a form of spiritual training. Always fall in with what you’re asked to accept. Fall in with it and turn it your way - Robert Frost
Flexibility involves a pragmatic acceptance of, rather than rigid resistance toward, the present moment – acceptance of ourselves, others and current circumstances. This does not in any way imply passive toleration for what we don’t like, nor does it mean ignoring injustice or allowing ourselves to be victimised. Flexibility requires an alert and expansive state of awareness; it entails not just “on with the flow” but embracing and making constructive use of it. Mastering this law, we turn stumbling blocks into stepping-stones and problems into opportunities; when high winds blow, we don’t just ‘accept’ or tolerate these winds, we put up windmills.
The Law of Flexibility may appear unrealistic and idealistic at first, bringing up a variety of questions, such as, “What if we’re attacked on the street, or a tragedy happens to a loved one? How do we ‘embrace’ that?” Such questions are fair and important, but the answer comes down to this: Great pleasures and great pain and injustice exist, some of these people mentally resist the experience, in total shock, denial and fear; they suffer the worst, like the tree with rigid branches that break in the wind. Others in the group of people have developed the ability to bend, to accept and experience the situation fully, while keeping in touch with the bigger picture of life – with a sense of perspective abouthow things are. They accept their emotions and express them fully, but like the branch that bends, they do not break but snap back. Without mental rigidity or resistance, they can respond in the most effective, creative way. In flexibility lies great strength. With flexibility, we learn to treat sun and rain, heat and cold, as equals. We experience life as less painful, less of a struggle, by responding rather than resisting; we treat pain as a test and make the best use of it we can, if only to learn.
I once saw a humorous bumper sticker that exemplified the Law of Flexibility. It read, “ If you don’t like the way I drive, get off the sidewalk!” If someone is driving right toward us on the sidewalk of life, instead of thinking, “They shouldn’t be doing this; it isn’t fair; it isn’t right,” while the car careens toward us, we can apply the Law of Flexibility and simply jump out of the way, grateful for the chance to test our reflexes.
The martial arts of aikido and t’ai chi, which reflect and embody the Law of Flexibility, are founded upon non-resistance: When pushed, pull; when pulled, push; and when a force comes toward you, get out of the way. Everything serves our highest good if we make good use of it.
When we view life only from the personal viewpoint of our conventional minds, we certainly won’t always feel “grateful” for some events, such as financial setbacks or catching the flu. This law, however, reminds us to expand our vision beyond ourselves to see the bigger picture so we can better appreciate that every circumstance, whether it appears positive or negative to us at the time, serves as an opportunity to strengthen our spirit. Stress happens whenever the mind resists what arises in life – whether situations, people or emotions. Phrases like “I’d rather be” or “They should (or shouldn’t) be” reflect our resistance to what is. By seeing everything we meet as a potential lesson that may, in the long run, make us stronger, wiser or more whole, we get past expectations or judgements about what is and embrace life.
Life may not always be far from the viewpoint of the limited mind, but from a much larger perspective, spiritual laws still hold true. Flexibility involves developing the attitude “Okay, here’s where I am and who I am. I’ll do the best I can with the situation” Just as opportunities also contain problems, every problem brings an opportunity.
The serenity Prayer used by Alcoholics Anonymous and other twelve step programs reflects the Law of Flexibility:
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Flexibility enables us to enjoy situations that might once have troubled us, such as changes in fortunes or the ending of relationships. Sometimes flexibility means staying aware of both sides of issues or events but focusing on the more positive side of any difficulty. For example, as painful as the breakup of a relationship may be, it opens up the space for new opportunity, new love.
Cats are masters of the Law of Flexibility: When a cat wants to walk out the door but someone is blocking its way, it tries to go one way then another, and then another; it is persistent, but it also knows when to sit back, relax and wait for another opportunity. Like cats, we don’t have to waste energy resisting or fretting over circumstances we can’t avoid.
Flexibility means total and unconditional acceptance of who we are, whom we’re with and what we’re doing in this moment, even as we learn and grow and effectively handle what’s in front of us. This may require a shift in attitude, not necessarily a shift in behaviour. If we catch ourselves criticising others or calling them names, it also means accepting and forgiving ourselves on the spot for our mistakes.
Flexibility means staying adaptable; like water, we take the shape of our “container” – the present moment. We open to life at whatever level we can.
The Law of Flexibility parallels the Law of Perfection, but with slightly different emphasis and purpose. By practicing the Law of Flexibility, we stay open to experiencing rather than avoiding the highs and lows. We live more fully.
We can apply flexibility to our work, our relationships, or any other aspect of everyday life. Free of resistance, we learn the art of unreasonable happiness. Master this law, and we’ve mastered them all.
The following exercises can help you achieve alignment with the Law of Flexibility through direct experience and application.
This partner exercise gives a physical experiences of acceptance as it applies to the highest martial arts, as well as to any situation in daily life.
- Stand naturally, with your feet shoulder width apart, and hold one arm out in front of you. Have your partner take your wrist or forearm and smoothly pull you forward, as if he or she wanted you to go somewhere.
- As your partner pulls, take one step forward to maintain your balance and resist (pull against) the pull of your partner. Experience what this feels like physically and emotionally.
- Now, have your partner pull once again, but this time, just as your partner begins to pull, while maintaining your balance, take two steps forward and gently push your partner in the direction he or she was pulling. In other words, instead of resisting the force, join it: make it yours. Experience what this feels like physically and emotionally. This time, you didn’t accept your partners pull in the sense of resigned submission or passive toleration, and you didn’t actively work against it; rather, you made use of it.
- After allowing your partner to be in the other role, compare your experiences.
- Think of a situation or incident that you tend to fight or resist.
- Consider how you might apply flexibility to embrace and flow with the forces of your life.
- Notice whenever you tend to contract, tense, resist, pull back, freeze up or fight when dealing with this situation or incident. Ask yourself, “What if I actively went with the force and made it mine?”
From The Life You Were Born To Live by Dan Millman ~ Author of Way of the Peaceful Warrior