In a yoga class more than 2 years ago, while in a deep variation of parsvottanasana, a forward bending pose that takes trunk to forward leg, a student felt the tell-tale tweak of a hamstring injury.Yikes!
Immediately I found myself both responding to the pain and likely weeks of rehab as well as the question: ‘Whose fault is it?’ or perhaps more objectively, ‘What part of this is my responsibility?’
Turns out that how we craft a response to this big question will also determine how we negotiate, make change, move through crises and work co-creatively.
What if we thought of accident or conflict as having several contributing factors among which was ours? That way one takes into account contributing something to the event and learns to avoid that action in future.
In the last 60 years, since WWII, a movement toward radical responsibility has emerged. The paradigm has it that you take primary responsibility for everything in your life—even that which might normally be thought independent of your choosing. Supposedly once you take responsibility for it all, you stop blaming the other for the misfortunes of your life. We created it. Therefore you are not a victim since you always had a choice.
Disclaimer here: I don’t subscribe to that view. I know that someone can be in the wrong place at the wrong time, or the mechanic can reverse the fuel switch and cause the plane to crash or a bad guy can shoot randomly and kill a young woman. And we disabuse ourselves of the truth if we claim that we caused our cancer or Hurricane Katrina. Just as victimhood strips one of power; over claiming responsibility is exaggerated hubris. There is a middle way.
In the 21st century we are finally emerging from a medieval dualism that insisted on right/wrong; guilty/innocent, which held sway for centuries.
Let’s go back to the yoga accident which caused a hamstring injury. Who was to blame? Was the student, in an egoic showy moment and not being present in her body, stretching beyond capacity? Had she been exercising the hamstrings earlier that day without stretching them afterwards? Was there a history of hamstring tears? Genetic factors?
Was the instructor holding the pose too long? Had she been distracted and not mentioned that students were responsible to come out of the pose when their bodies signaled a need to do that? Did she take appropriate and timely follow up actions?
Was the sequence a contributing factor? The room temperature? The use or avoidance of props?
Once we take our share of the responsibility the door opens to working with mistakes as a source of learning. Yogis, creative people in general, have a gift for taking their mistakes and the hurts others have inflicted and making something transcendent from them. Essentially we are tuning into our inner state of being and working with it skillfully with whatever life throws at us. In that wonderful phrase of the Bhagavad Gita; ‘Yoga is skill in action’. On and off the mat—I would add.
Try this; dissect an accident you were part of. What percentage did you contribute? What behavior would you change as a consequence of owning your part? What lay beneath the behavior you will change?
Ultimately it is about our responsibility and our contribution to actions and outcomes. If we play the innocent victim we give over our power to learn and make change. If we overstate our contribution, we lose perspective on our real potency. We have to be as clear, skillful, positive and aware as possible.