My beloved yoga teacher, Jared Hirsch, begins most classes by spending a few minutes welcoming and connecting with each student who is new, and asking them about their yoga practice. Last week he called upon a woman who responded that she had practiced in the past, but not for a while since having had a baby. She was now hoping to get back to doing yoga. Jared encouraged her to tune into where she is now, rather than trying to recapture her past practice. What may have been appropriate then, may no longer be useful now.
Their exchange prompted a regular student, Marcia, to offer that she had recently attended a seminar about working with patients with Alzheimer’s Disease. She was reminded of something she had learned in the workshop about the difference between habilitate vs. rehabilitate. To habilitate is to help an individual thrive in their present circumstances and condition, rather than having a goal of rehabilitating them, so that they may return to their previous state.
This distinction struck me as having wide applicability. There is no rewinding the hands of time. You cannot go back. It is so much more adaptive and realistic to work on accepting the changes and losses that life brings, rather than pining for the “good old days”. Some ordinary losses are children growing up and separating, the death of beloved family members, friends and pets, relationship disappointments, illness, the aging of the body and our own mortality. And yet mourning is also an integral stage on the path to acceptance. You can’t skip it. That does not work either. But it is a tragedy to get stuck there and make your life a monument to your losses. Eventually it is important to let go and embrace where you are now.
This process is facilitated by attending to and savoring all of the blessings. I call it blessing consciousness. In the Jewish tradition there are traditional blessings to be recited for every occasion. The following is a very incomplete list: there are blessings for waking up and going to sleep, for washing your hands, for normal excretory function. There are distinct blessings for vegetables, fruits, bread and baked goods. There are blessings to be said when witnessing celestial phenomena such as a shooting star or comet, or when witnessing natural disasters such as earthquakes, tornadoes and hurricanes. There are blessings for hearing thunder and seeing lightening. There are blessings to be recited when beholding the vastness of the ocean, the majesty of the mountains or the miracle of a rainbow. There are specific blessings to be recited when eating a new fruit for the first time, for seeing a person with a physical deformity, or when enjoying a beautiful fragrance.
A Jewish parable which I have always loved goes like this: A woman dies and goes up to heaven. She stands before God in to have her life reviewed and to receive judgment. God does not interrogate her about all of her failures, shortcomings and wrong doings, but instead asks her, “Why did you not more regularly partake of all of the permissible pleasures that life offers?” Good question!
Want to habilitate? Cultivate blessing consciousness and partake of the permissible pleasures.