This December, my daughter and I decided to take on a 30-day home yoga practice (Yoga with Adriene). On the second day, Adriene invites participants to listen to their bodies for an intention for the 30 days. “Joy! Let it be Joy!” After all, there’s a lot of darkness, who couldn’t benefit from a little extra joy for the next 28-29 days? Nope. My body ignores that and comes back with Content. Content? Really? I’m being instructed to spend the next 30 days dedicated to being content with myself exactly as I am (stiff, flabby, with a few sore joints…wah, wah, wah), with my relationships exactly as they stand, with the world as it is? Yup. Sigh.
With one backwards longing glance at sparkly Joy, I move on to investigating Contentment. I’m a professor. It’s neither in my personality nor my socialization to be content. Universities are institutions that promote striving. According to Merriam-Webster, strive is a derivation of the Anglo-French term for strife, and the second definition of strive is to contend: “to struggle in opposition.” Although there are external pressures that promote striving, as a professor of psychology, I have to ask if I transfer my own strivings, which I am uncomfortable admitting in myself, onto an external object (academia)? Maybe. Probably a little. Okay, yes.
In contrast, to aspire is to seek to attain or accomplish something, to ascend and soar. It’s Latin roots, ad + spirare, mean to breathe upon. Striving comes from a place of deficit, of believing that what currently is, is not enough—of believing that we are not enough. Aspiring comes from a place of abundance, of believing that we are capable of even more. A person can be content and aspire. But a contented person will not be striving.
Many aspects of our society promote striving—and strife—we struggle in opposition with ourselves and each other. The other option is to reject striving and embrace aspiring. We can appreciate what is, and still seek to attain and accomplish even more. I can notice what my body can and can’t do, and aspire through yoga practice to be stronger, more flexible, and better balanced. I can see the love and beauty in my relationships, and aspire to even greater honesty and intimacy. I can acknowledge the deep pain and suffering in this world as well as the indescribable beauty and riches, and aspire to ally with others to decolonize, reforest, and be stewards of our beautiful earth. Together, we can soar!
I spend the remaining 30 days stretching and aspiring to feel contentment with my inability to reach my toes. The body knows best.