I've been noticing, lately, that many of my friends and students are giving themselves the summer off. Not necessarily literally, but mentally, as though we all need to take our minds to the beach, plant them in a chair, and let them stare at the ocean and read a good mystery while eating an ice cream bar.
Between bouts of my own at-the-beach from home (knitting constantly, reading books and magazines about knitting, knitting while I listen to recorded books or watch reality TV), I've been thinking about effort. Or, more specifically, the balance between effort and results. And the relationship of effort to detachment.
In Sutra I.12, Patanjali notes that both practice -- abhyasa -- and vairagyam -- detachment -- are elements equally influential in moving us toward a state of yoga. Think of that state not as the execution of a perfect pose -- but the larger, more valuable yoga state in which we feel connection to the self or something greater, we are able to observe life and all of its ridiculous twists and upending without flying into a rage or despair, we are linked deeply to that quiet and that perfection that lies somewhere within each of us. My teacher speaks of this inner self, the purusa, as like a diamond shining, but which gets cloaked and muddied by all what Thornton Wilder in Our Town calls the layers and layers of ridiculousness that is humanity.
Detachment is a huge subject. And effort? Almost as big. When is it enough? When is it too much? How do we continue to push forward with a goal or idea when the finish line looks so far away? Or we wonder if there will even be a race, or if we've trained and dressed and shown up for an event that may not happen?
In Sutra I.13, Patanjali reminds us that the showing up is the part that counts. In order to have that -- tatra -- meaning the type of mind that is in a calm, neutral, focused state of yoga, you need to make an effort and you need to practice. If we want to maintain a state of mind that can ride out the waves of this especially insane summer of banks failing, wars expanding, jobs disappearing, then we need to start simply by showing up, on a regular basis, and trying. So it is the action of making an effort - and not the result -- that is significant. Just show up, Patanjlali is saying, and whatever happens next will happen. But if you don't at least go to the party, how will you enjoy the band?
With effort - yatno - and practice - abhyasa - that lovely sense of being a little at peace, a little confident, a little clearer about relationships, a little better at communication - choose your own sense of being comfortable in your own skin and insert that thought here - the citta nirodah - the refined mind - will be felt. I love this word stithau, which means to stay, or to be firmly in place. When all around us is in flux, effort and practice will help us to link to that unchanging, stable inner part of us that can be reassuring, and much wiser, than the parts of ourselves that we usually tend to rely upon.
Effort and practice build something like a platform that is firmly anchored to the floor of the ocean. Waves, wind, rain come - but we stay firmly in place. Or, to shift the metaphor, because we stuck with the emergency training, made the effort to learn what to do, and practiced it so many times that it became second nature, we manage to get everyone off the platform and to the life rafts. Without yatno and abhyasa, not so likely.
So this summer, I'm trying to convince myself to just keep showing up, whether that is for my own practice, for a class, for a meeting with someone who I hope to introduce to yoga therapy. It's not easy. I wish that I could guarantee an outcome; I'm passionate about the number of ways that yoga can work to improve health. But I'm trying to wrap my mind around yatno and abhyasa, if for no other reason than that it is July in a difficult economy and a good time for doing my own yoga practice, trying to learn to be a better teacher, and in between, watching back seasons of 30Rock on Netflix, knitting, and enjoying the classes and students that I have the opportunity to teach.