In westernized society, particularly the US, we’re conditioned to strive for improvement — “what is” simply is not satisfactory. We’re taught to be competitive — most often with ourselves. “Go for the gold.” “Don’t settle for less,” etc. Life is a bloodsport, take no prisoners. But focusing on the progress or outcome, that which hasn’t even happened yet, takes the enjoyment out of the doing; out of the process.
Think about an activity you love, even if it seems trivial. Are you a runner? Do you knit? Is writing what drives you? Does painting bring you joy? Now think about the most rewarding aspects of those activities — the activity itself. Sure, if you win the race you have a ribbon to put in your drawer, and your latest masterpiece looks beautiful on the wall. But it’s somewhat bittersweet isn’t it? When you really stop to ponder, those tangible items are simply reminders of the pleasure you got out of the actual doing. The best part of the rollercoaster isn’t the achievement of getting out of the car at the end. Surfers will tell you, the last moments on the surf board as you coast to shore isn’t the sweetness, it’s the ride itself.
Now, let’s take that to the yoga mat. Certain poses have a way of humbling even the strongest ego. Take Vrkasana (tree pose) for example. Looks simple enough, right? How blissful the yogis in magazines look balanced on one leg with their arms extending toward the sky. Okay, your turn. Do you wobble and roll to the outside of your foot? Is your face srunched up in fierce determination? Oh whoops — you toppled out of the pose anyway. But, guess what, you’ve executed the pose perfectly, for the act of trying to achieve balance, is balancing in and of itself. Balance poses are great for teaching you t relinquish control, remain in the present moment, and above all to laugh at yourself.
Even more beautiful than the poses themselves is the transition from one pose to the next. For me, the transition from upward facing dog to downward facing dog has become more enjoyable than the end pose itself. When you bring your awareness more to the “tween” poses, you understand where the word “flow” comes from in yoga. The poses are no longer separate, they are part of one giant fluid movement.
The same thing happens when you focus on the now in everything you do. If you try to find enjoyment in the act of performing, the idea of a goal becomes immaterial. Guilt pokes you from the past, fear creeps in form the future — neither of which you can effect. The only thing in the present is you. There’s a great quote by A. B. Zu Tavern that I turned into an exercise a while ago to become more aware of how I was living my life.
“If, before going to bed every night, you will tear a page from the calendar, and remark, ‘there goes another day of my life, never to return,’ you will become time conscious.”
How will you live tomorrow’s page?
– Your Charmed Yogi