Tuesday, November 07, 2006


agency. plural agencies /-siz/

1. The faculty of acting or of exerting power; the state of being in action; action; instrumentality.
I recently took an online personality test and was particularly interested in one of the results: Agency. At first I didn't even know what "agency" meant. The site describes it as "How much you believe you determine your own outcomes. High means you believe that you have control over your life. Low means you believe that other factors--such as chance, fate, and powerful others--influence your life." I am not fatalistic. I have always believed that I have control over the choices I make, and that these choices determine my outcomes. Until recently, I've been very sure of these beliefs.

In June of this year I completed a 9-month yoga teacher training. A big part of yoga is acceptance: Acceptance of the body, mind, and spirit in the present moment. One of my teachers stated it best when she told us that "yoga is non-judgmental self-awareness." Increasing my awareness (and acceptance) has made me start to realize that choice isn't always part of the equation. For example, in my yoga practice, one day I might be able to go into the full expression of trikonasana, while the next, I might only be able to bring my supporting hand down to my shin or even my thigh. In that moment, I can't make a choice that will change the outcome. In practicing yoga I am asked to let go of my desire to control my body in the posture. I am asked to accept the posture as my body is capable, in this moment. Here's where it gets tricky: The idea isn't really to try to accept, because trying implies effort. Instead, I allow myself to surrender to the moment.

It's easier said than done.

Last night I discussed the choice vs. chance conundrum with my therapist. "What I don't understand," I asked him, "is how much of life is choice, and how much is chance?"

"Well," he said. "What if it's 60-40?"

I laughed. What difference does it make?

Last week, a Yoga Journal article about change serendipitously appeared in my inbox. (As an aside, sometimes these articles are so scarily applicable to whatever is going on in my life that I'm sure the editors are spying on me.) The article talks about "accepting [one's] utter lack of control," and as I read that, and learn more about Buddhism, I struggle with the concept of "utter lack of control." The article continues: "If you stop grasping for control of the uncontrollable, you can learn to breathe through it all." But what's uncontrollable? Where do my choices come into play?

I suddenly realize that I've been confusing choice with control. Choices are important. Even more important is recognizing what choices to make, and when to make them. Again, this is easier said than done, and I come back to that non-judgmental self-awareness as a means to identify and act on the right choices. Meditation can lead to acceptance and surrender, and in turn to clarity in making choices. It's not about passivity or inaction, but about recognizing that sometimes (often!) our plans, choices, and actions aren't going to yield exactly the results we'd envisioned, and rolling with it anyway. (That same wonderful yoga teacher also told us that, "planning is priceless; plans are useless.") As I write this entry, I am reminded of the Serenity Prayer:
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.
As for the personality test, I scored 50/100 for Agency, which, at this point in my life, seems about right.

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