A few months ago my mom was in town for a visit. It was the end of the day, and we were in the bathroom together getting ready for bed. I washed my hands, took my contacts out, and then got out the floss. Meanwhile my mom was washing her face and brushing her teeth. I finished flossing and put toothpaste on my toothbrush just as my mom put down her toothbrush and opened up the box of floss.
“Wait, Mom, you floss AFTER you brush?”
“Of course. Is that weird?”
The fact that her dental hygiene routine happens to be the opposite of mine is not a big deal, and yet I found it hard not to react. I paused for a long second.
“No, it’s not weird. It’s just....different.”
For most of my life I have tended towards thinking of things as either right or wrong, with no grey area. I like to know right way to do things because then I can do things the right way. Doing it the right way feels good, secure, fixed, in control. I feel accomplished and righteous, even about something as simple and stupid as which order to brush and floss. Opening to the possibility that there might be a different way is a little scary because it’s inherently mutable and moving, the opposite of stable and secure.
There is often not one right way to do things. Most of the time, there are many approaches to a single task. One of the most profound things practicing yoga has taught me is to look at things as different but not necessarily wrong. And to let go of thinking that the way I approach something as being somehow more right than the way someone else does.
My yoga teacher, when asked about the right way to put your hands in a given pose, for instance, will answer,
“Let go of that question. Ask instead: What happens when? What happens when I place my hands one way? What happens when I put them the other way?”
This other way of questioning opens space. Thinking of things as right or wrong is a hard stop, period, end of sentence. But asking “What happens when.....?” opens us up to possibility, allows for curiosity, leaves room for exploration. In your practice and in life, notice when you default to right/wrong thinking. and when you do, explore instead “What happens when.....?”
The poet Rumi says,
“Out beyond ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”
I’ll meet you there!