Just what is it about this Alexander Hamilton? Such was the question of 2016–well, the fun question. There were many other more agonizing questions for another time, of course. But it was surely a question on the minds of many as the musical about him skyrocketed into massive popularity. Fans were converted by the thousands and their bewildered husbands, friends and parents were left to endure endless amateur versions of its hip hop and rap songs.
Naturally I was one of them – fans, not family – and perhaps the loudest and most off key of all. But how could you resist? Hamilton the musical is full of clever turns of phrase, gorgeous choreography, endlessly catchy beats, and characters that leave you cheering and sobbing in the same breath.
Included about them is Hamilton himself, who has notable flaws but still enjoys the spotlight as the main character (and you know he would love that.) There is also Burr, his infamous frenemy, who like so many close to me in that year asks the question: just what is so great about Hamilton? His fervent desire to figure that out is ultimately his undoing.
If I were to hazard a guess, I’d say that Hamilton is full of talent in many ways, but his main amazing trait is the same one that is so very key to yoga: flexibility.
Now I have no idea whether the real Hamilton could pull off the dance moves that Lin Manuel Miranda pulled off so expertly. And I’m not sure it was popular to go into random handstands in 18th century New York (although if he set his mind to it, I’ve no doubt Hamilton would have achieved it.)
But Hamilton could certainly adapt to his situation, and what crazy and awful situations he found himself in. Abandonment, death, a hurricane that destroyed his town, and all that in his childhood years. Later he faced war, political fighting, and personal tragedy, still achieving notable accomplishments that persist today.
His success comes from the fact that not only did he not collapse from the hardship, but he also adapted his goals. With every new situation, he assessed and planned and went with it, and then adapted more. He was “not throwing away his shot,” as the song famously goes, and he continued to adapt his throw and the shot.
Like Hamilton, Burr had a strong work ethic and high ambitions. But the two men have very different philosophies when it comes to achieving their goals. Burr is “willing to wait for it,” to “talk less and smile more.” He has an image in his head of what he wants and expects that if he shows enough self-control, it will come to pass. But that doesn’t ever really work for him. He ultimately decides to more aggressively go after his goals in “The Room Where it Happens,” but after he loses the election of 1800, he is still miserable–even though he is vice president, an enviable position.
What he waited for does not transpire, something else does. But he can’t adapt. He does not change, he merely ossifies and that conflict eats him alive, culminating in the fateful duel.
Constantly changing situations are by no means unique to the 18th century or to the Broadway stage. We all have dreams and goals and it is the sad fact of life that those dreams and goals will be thwarted. The question we face is: will we hang on stubbornly to what would we thought would be? Or will we be flexible?
One wonderful thing about yoga is that you can never forget the need for flexibility. When you get a pose right, your muscles stretch and grow stronger, helping you move in new ways. When you don’t get the pose quite right, you must be mentally flexible, too. You can’t beat yourself up. Take another fun pose and see what that one can do for you.
Like the characters in Hamilton, every yogi is different, with a different goals and ways of achieving them. But we as strive for our maximum flexibility, it would do us all good to remember Hamilton’s rather extraordinary adaptability (and keep the playlist on endless repeat… or that could be just me, maybe.)
Change is the only constant, so you know you probably won’t get just what you are waiting for. But that’s not necessarily cause for Burr’s despair. Cultivate Hamilton’s flexibility and maybe you’ll just endure and thrive too–it’s always a moving target, but don’t throw away your shot.