The thing I love most about yoga also drives me totally crazy. There is this perpetual irony throughout the teachings that seems to undermine our most concerted and committed efforts: Do the opposite to get the results you want.
Don’t worry about losing weight, and you will lose weight; don’t try to do the splits and your body will relax enough to do them; let go of the things you desperately want in your life, and they will come to you.
While this counter-intuitive advice may not work for every aspect of life, (drink more to get over your alcoholism!?) it seems to work brilliantly, albeit with much paradox-ridden frustration, in the realm of professional artistic goals.
Take my recent move to the bustling mega-city of Toronto. Armed with an unfailing ambition to find employment as a writer, my sword of purpose, (however delusional and idealistic to many, including myself) was held high. Knowing it wouldn’t be easy, but trusting that it could be done, I grasped this dream with an iron fist, leaning forward into this vision of my immediate future so deeply, that I could no longer feel where my feet were.
This familiar parable is not about the shattered dreams of a naive country girl in a big city – the story is far from being over. It’s about loosening your grip on what you want out of life, in order for life to give it to you: it’s about the contradictory wisdom of yoga.
So I was caught up in grasping, in reaching, in achieving my goals. This was making me pretty unhappy, and very stressed out. “Let go”, said my mom’s best friend over the phone one day, “just soften your grip, relax and trust” she said. But how could I? There was so much to do! How was I going to get what I wanted unless I coveted the hell out of it?!
What she was talking about was the yogic practice called Aparigraha, or non-attachment. The idea is to release our wants and expectations, and embrace what we have. It’s not about not trying, but being grounded in what is, what we do have, and letting things flow to us naturally, as opposed to living with the illusion that we can force them. It’s about being soft, and facing success and failure even-handedly.
Being one to respect the wisdom of my elders, I eased up. And, sigh, the detestable yet irrefutable irony commenced. I let go of these images of my future ideal life that played through my mind daily; I stopped dreaming and started being present in the moment. The quality of my work improved, and so did the quality of my sleep: the slight pain in my abdomen which I was convinced was an immanent appendicitis attack was also miraculously cured.
Better yet, one morning, when I wasn’t fantasizing about writing a feature for the next issue of Yoga Journal, reality gave me something better: a well-paid, ongoing contract to write high-quality yoga articles for a local eco-friendly yoga supplies company. So there you have it, letting go, actually got me going. Call it co-incidence, call it sheer logic, but to me, it is the wisdom of yoga, (and a very wise god-mother).