Recently I took a yoga class while in New York City. I claimed a space in the packed studio and drank in the peace of the altar, appointed with images of smiling gurus and blue Krishnas. The subway rumbled beneath us. The teacher, a low-keyed young man in a faded tee shirt, walked casually among us. Just minutes later he would rock my world.

He had us stretching, sweating, and breathing deeply immediately. Then at one point he had us doing squats, yes squats, like army boot camp training. I longed to go back to the nice chanting part. Then, just when I secretly gave myself permission to take the low road into listlessness, the teacher said this, “Don’t miss the opportunity to go deeper into this squat, you only have two more breaths, two more chances to get this full stretch.” Yeah, don’t miss the opportunity to rip open a wound or deny yourself water in a desert either, I immediately think, because my cynic is often the first one up to bat. But his tone catches me anyway. He says it with a raspy voice as though he’s talking about beholding moonlight or the face of your lover before your eyes go dim for the last time. I get it that he’s talking about more than just the squats. He’s telling us not to miss the chance to get what we came for in this life, to devote ourselves to ourselves and the moments we have before us.

For the rest of the class, he’s hooked me. He’s helped me believe that I’m on the way to somewhere grand, and that I don’t want to cheat myself of the ride, not even the squats. Suddenly I see that there is an opportunity in pain. It’s the opportunity to choose aliveness instead of habit. It’s the chance to practice stepping into my unknown strength and love, my highest self, instead of resistance and complacency.

Haven’t you had moments in your life that you wish you could have done differently? Maybe there’s a way you’ve sabotaged yourself with money. Or maybe every time a certain scenario arises with your husband, you spit out words you regret or lock yourself into a distant chamber. Perhaps you reach for distraction every time you look at a task or deadline. There’s a place where you become automatic. There’s a place where you choose something that will not expand your heart and mind and soul. It’s not about making yourself wrong for this. It’s about noticing what you do with pain. Pain is our practice to do things differently.

How do you react to discomfort? Do you close down? Do you open up? Do you invite it to tea? Can you become present and choose a response that you’ve never chosen before? This is venturing into the mystery. This is stepping into the gleaming green forest beyond the limits of the familiar village. This is how we dare to experience our true capacities and the evolving wonder of life. In this life, we create our identities by the choices we make. JK Rowling, the internationally best-selling author of the Harry Potter series, attributed her enormous success not to her talent, but to her ability to walk past fear. She said, “It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

The wisdom tradition of A Course in Miracles teaches, “Trials are but lessons that you failed to learn presented once again, so where you made a faulty choice before you now can make a better one, and thus escape all pain that what you chose before has brought to you.” I love that idea. I can choose a new response that ultimately helps me escape all pain that what I chose before has brought to me.

This is what I remind myself now. Pain is my opportunity to expand. There is someone astounding in me. I only get to meet her in the presence of challenge. It’s my opportunity to show myself my true colors, to dare a more loving, patient, or audacious response. My initial instinct is one of smallness. “I don’t want to.” “This scares me.” “I shouldn’t have to.” The posturing and bargaining goes on. My first reaction is the guardian of stagnation. It will keep me making the same choices. It will keep me at the same level. It will have me say things in defensiveness that I would not say in sanity and I’d never even think in love. It will send me into fear when the media announces a certain perspective, even though I know a more abundant reality in my bones. Pain is the opportunity to practice. Pain is the portal to another choice, another self, and another life.

In the body, pain is the sensation of stretching the muscles, growing them, turning them into a fire that will mold a new strength. So please don’t refuse the gift. Don’t miss the opportunity to live large, to choose large, to face discomfort and breathe into it until it yields new grace. In the Bible, Jacob wrestled the angel and said “I will not let you go until you give me a blessing.” I suggest you wrestle with your angels and your demons. Forgive yourself over and over again for choosing habit and limitation. But dare it now. Walk yourself across the cosmic border of everything you know. Choose a new response. Be generous. Trust your crazy desires. Choose to love more than you’re loved. Don’t miss the opportunity. You’re only here for a little while. You only have two more chances to deepen into this stretch, two more opportunities to choose grace over business as usual. Squat deeply. Fly high.

Copyright 2009 Tama J. Kieves, All rights reserved.

Author's Bio: 

Tama J. Kieves, an honors graduate of Harvard Law School, left her law practice to write and to encourage others to live fulfilling, meaningful lives. She is a sought-after speaker, career and transition coach and best-selling author of THIS TIME I DANCE! Creating the Work You Love (Tarcher/Penguin). Learn more about Tama’s workshops, international retreats, coaching, free monthly supportive e-newsletter, or download her Free Report on “Finding Your Calling Now” at