The key to home practice: Desire before Duty

A little pink never hurt anyone

Image by Darwin Bell via Flickr

Committing to home practice is such a transformational step that it’s very easily turned into a goal, an item on the to-do list, a get-through-to-get-done: in short, a duty.

And setting aside the time on your calendar or to-do list can be an effective method for keeping this promise to yourself. But how to maintain the practice mind and not slip into goal seeking?

Here’s what I mean: One morning you set your alarm a little early – 20 or 30 minutes to start – and feel triumphant because you kept this promise to yourself. And the practice, short though it was, transformed your day and was filled with moments of sunlight and inspiration. Three weeks later, the alarm rings again, you find yourself on the same mat with the sunlight streaming in, but can’t keep from pushing yourself through the poses you’re working, measuring your progress from yesterday, and none too flatteringly. What a way to start the day!

What happened to that first morning’s lightness and joy in the practice? What happened to that blinding insight from the Bhagavad Gita, something about releasing the fruits of action, putting your heart in but non-attachment to outcomes?

If the “goal” is to meet yourself on your mat every morning, you’ve satisfied “duty” by arriving. Before you do anything, ask yourself one question: “What do I really want?” Maybe it’s more sleep. Fine, take legs up the wall, or yoga nidra. Maybe you’re feeling a backbend. Cool, warm up with some gentle heart openers like sphinx and cobra. Or maybe you need a good laugh or cry. Nice, that’s pranayam.

You might even find that when you follow it, your desire changes, transforms into something that supercedes goal, need and thought.

You are what your deep, driving desire is.
As your desire is, so is your will.
As your will is, so is your deed.
As your deed is, so is your DESTINY. ~Upanishads

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Grace

Landing with grace

Image via Wikipedia

Grace lives somewhere between denial and dissolution.

In the land of denial, the truth tickles our imagination, possibly irritating like a feather, or a fly. But instead of becoming curious and investigating, we wriggle away from the tickle and  white-knuckle through whatever we’re doing, resisting the actual experience of the truth – usually to “get-things-done.”

We usually get to the land of denial through fear of dissolution, but years of denial can indeed lead to a large dissolving event. In dissolution, we are so incredibly overwhelmed by the truth that we melt like sugar into a puddle of goo, in the very spot upon which we were struck by the full force of the truth. In the land of dissolution, there is no “getting-things-done” and not only the list, but the very structure of our lives can lose meaning. This is scary in ways that can keep us in list-making and slaying mode.

Yoga, years of yoga, have helped me wend my way between these modern manifestations of Scylla and Charybdis.  As an athletic, all-out life-loving, really geeky and slightly loner kid, I learned early that “grace” was not a quality likely to be admired in me. I was clumsy. I was the kid with bruises on her shins from climbing trees and jumping fences. Born with an appetite for everything, and not one to shy away from challenge (think bull, red flag, and yes, china shop comes next), I did a lot of white-knuckling and brushing away of tickles for the first several decades of my life. No regrets, either. I have a lot of experiences that are hard to come by and full of the nectar of life.

That life, too, led me to many moments of dissolution, some transitory, others full-on halting stops to the hustle and activity of life. And through the churning in the passage between the extremes I’d created, I became quiet with life and easy with the quiet. And in this quiet arose a voice like that of a child asked to say grace for the family before dinner: thin and reedy at first, finding it’s channel and finally flowing quietly back into the silence.

That voice was the tickle of the truth I’d swatted away so persistently before. I learned to laugh at the insouciance of tickle, and that lightness allowed space to open around the experience.  By actually having the experience, I never had to dissolve. Rather, the experience itself dissolved into another, and often into realization, and into natural action.

Grace is the moment of presence, pure opening, creating space in the now for simply “what is.” Grace can be cultivated in meditation and on the mat by watching, feeling, diving in. Once cultivated, it has a tendency to pop up in the strangest ways. Sometimes the dawning realization of how the body is feeling, and the space to adjust “the plan” ever so slightly to accommodate. Or perhaps it’s the presence of intuition about when to stop or start, or when to speak up or just listen. Grace comes in silence and doing that is not-doing, but actively reveals the truth more eloquently than wrestling and bending to our will.

I’ve always wanted “it all” and never accepted that this was impossible, or even that hard. I just had a different notion of what was included in “all.” Grace is merely opening to the all in the moment. Grace is the union of the opposites into which we try to split our experience. It’s taken a lot of swimming in the churning pool between “balls-to-the-wall” and “puddle-on-the-floor” to find my way to flow: to finding that “all” is not something I do, not merely a gathering of juicy experiences, because all the experiences in the world are meaningless but for the space to drink them in. And that everything I ever sought is here, now, for the price of a breath and a grateful and perhaps-momentarily silent mind.