This weekend I had a revelation.
Or maybe more like a remembrance. Or maybe a bit of both.
Saturday night was a sleepless night. I’d been working hard for a few weeks—clearly a little too hard—on a work project. So often when I become fully engaged with something, I start to obsess a little—and become entirely too focused on the results. Which in turn creates worry.
This is exactly what had been happening. I’d been working hard, but the results I’d been hoping for weren’t appearing, which then generated stress.
So there I was wide awake most of the night, unable to get the rest I so desperately needed, filled with worry and doubt.
I finally did fall asleep, though, and then slept long and hard. But not until I realized that what I needed was a serious day off. No work. No lists. No schedule. No ‘accomplishments.’
Just rest. Freedom. Release.
That’s when the realization came.
Not when I was trying to force it, asking myself, what am I doing wrong? Why am I stressing? Why can’t I sleep?
But when I let go and just allowed myself some real freedom.
Then I remembered some essential lessons yoga offers us—and has offered me many times over in the past.
The first comes to us in the form of a sutra. Abhyasa vairagyabhyam tannirodhah. (Patanjali yoga sutra 1.12)
“The way to a settled mind is through practice and letting go.”
Or as Alistair Shearer so eloquently puts it: Mental activity is settled “through the practice of yoga and the freedom it bestows.”
Isn’t that simply lovely?
There is a dichotomy here for sure. Yoga philosophy tells us that sustained, regular and repeated practice is necessary. And yet, at the same time, we are to be in a state of release. How is this possible? How does this work?
Here is where another of my very favorite yoga teachings comes in. This one comes to us from the Bhagavad Gita, one of the most beautiful of sacred Indian texts.
The Gita tells advises us to do our work diligently, wholly and completely dedicated to whatever our service to this world might be—whether it is cleaning hotel rooms or leading a multi-national corporation or tending to our children or an elderly parent or serving as a clerk in a quiet office or healing from a major illness—without attachment to the results of our labor.
Now that’s the tricky part, right? In this goal-oriented, ‘success’-seeking culture of ours, that seems downright antithetical.
But I’m here to tell you, that’s where true peace resides.
The Gita puts it this way:
Seek refuge in the attitude of detachment and you will amass the wealth of spiritual awareness. Those who are motivated only by desire for the fruits of action are miserable, for they are constantly anxious about the results of what they do. When consciousness is unified, however, all vain anxiety is left behind. There is no cause of worry, whether things go well or ill. Therefore, devote yourself to the disciplines of yoga, for yoga is skill in action. (Chapter 2, v. 49-50)
The key word here is ‘detachment’. This doesn’t mean we cannot pay any attention to how things are going in order to assess which actions to take or how best to approach our work. It means not clinging to certain results. It means allowing spaciousness that will permit whatever it is that is meant to be to come forth—often in ways we ourselves might not have imagined or been able to create, no matter what effort we might have applied.
After all, if we truly are doing our best, diligently applying ourselves to our work/service with our best attitude and an open heart and mind, what more can we do? Attachment and worry actually tend to deter things from coming forth as we attempt to control things that most of the time are beyond our control anyway!
I know when I can find this balance, when I can put my heart and soul into my work while releasing the results, that’s actually when things start to flow. And I am most definitely happier and more at peace when I do so.
This will be the focus of my classes this week—this beautiful combination of effort and release.
I invite you to join me for this experience of practice (abhyasa) and letting go (vairagya). (For a schedule of this week’s classes, please click here.)
But no matter where you are, may you enjoy the relief of sweet release, the relief of letting go.
May it be so.