Sometimes it’s hard not to be Angelina Jolie.
Last week’s cover of Vanity Fair depicts one of our cultural heros in full throttled pout: a decadent and ripe movie star oozing sex appeal and inhuman beauty. Carousing in the upper echelons of the Hollywood elite, she travels the world, is partnered with an equally godlike mate, and – oh yes – is brilliantly talented and is an ambassador for global issues. It’s the last part that sticks in the craw; it would be easy to cattily dismiss her were it not for her ability to combine her rebel sex goddess image with a life of servitude and good works.
When I caught a glimpse of our Angelina last week, I was immediately disheartened. And not just because I lack the fullness of such lips. I’d had a bad morning, you see. I woke up feeling uninspired by the contribution of my own life. I was oppressed by all the things I should be doing and should have accomplished. The mysterious other universe in which I made more of a difference and zoomed around making things better (to the thunderous applause of vast public approval) had somehow not materialized. My life felt small, insignificant. Catching a glance of the mega super star of our era (and immediately turning her facedown on the counter) reminded me how far my life was away from a reality that I’d imagined for myself. I should be better. Should be doing more. Should, should, should.
Then, a pause. As I looked up from my whimpering, fetal position on the floor, I realized I was being literally oppressed by shoulds. By ideas. By the difference between here (where I really am) and there (my idea of where I should be). And all this mental flailing and self-flagellation was preventing me from actually engaging – and even making that difference – in the world. We all have moments when we are caught between where we actually are and where we want to be. And that difference can actually drive us to a positive end, but not at the expense of the present moment. The present moment is the only vehicle to action, and it holds within it vast potential. Potential that we miss if we are too busy lamenting our lack of the Angelina factor.
In this moment, I was reminded of one our the Yoga Sutra’s niyamas: santosha, or contentment. Contentment is not the rejection of effort, but rather the acceptance of the outcome of our efforts. It is self-acceptance for where we are in our process. It is letting go of the “right result” and instead being with what actually is. In our yoga practice, we practice santosha when we honor our bodies’ limitations, accept what is not yet possible to change, and work with where we can grow. In a culture that encourages the stress of keeping up with the Joneses, santosha is an antidote to unthinking consumerism and competition. It connects to several other philosophical golden threads, such as the Dalai Lama’s edict to practice gratitude and Don Miguel Ruiz’s Agreement to Do Your Best…and Be Satisfied.
So sure, sometimes it’s hard to not be Angelina Jolie. The real challenge – and greater potential – is in being exactly who we really are.