Today I am scooping up my youngest son after his first semester of college and traveling en famille to spend a couple days with our oldest parent, my mother-in-law. It seems inevitable that my two boys compare themselves to each other, to themselves at various times, and to accomplishments they know of in the lives of others. This measuring and comparing can be used as a motivation or as derision, creating an illusion that they are somehow a fixed point in their lives.
Certainly we can feel ourselves shifting over time, we do not react, nor perhaps have the same desires, the way we did when children, or teens, or just barely adults. We can see that grandparents, neighbors or co-workers have different life experiences, may have different priorities that seem linked to the roles they now play - the responsibilities they now carry, or the features of their external lives. Yet it is not necessary to pin ourselves to the velvet and become specimens for comparison, a process that cannot help but devalue ourselves and others in the entirety of our being.
I start each yoga practice with bringing awareness to the moment, to fully experiencing the breath. In a room full of students, each one will find their way into their body, gradually following the inhale and discovering themselves as living awareness. For some, the experience remains elusive, and I can feel them clinging to my words, directing their attention and enabling the inquiry. For others, I sense them literally inhabiting their breath fully. It makes no difference who has been a dancer, who works in an office, who is in their twenties or sixties. It is clear that the distinctions we make based on external attributes or accomplishments, age or gender or any other qualifying criteria do not make for a vital life. Each of these people has chosen to focus their attention, cultivate their ability to focus their attention, and to take the most radical step towards developing their own awareness.
In yoga we revere beginners mind as a practice. This is a way of being that in its essence keeps all the channels open to possibilities, rather than using "what we know" to adhere to a structure or predetermine an outcome. Even in the classical asana practices, the journey is an open inquiry in which everything is there it be discovered. The experience of finding Sukhasana (easy seated pose) or Tadasana (mountain pose) is a lifelong journey for which there can be no judge, no expert, no right or wrong way.
Using yoga as a process of exploration on and off the mat, I have begun to deepen my understanding that there really is no measuring stick for a life. One moment of full awareness changes the way I see myself and others so dramatically that there is no way to make judgmental comparisons.