In large part, our ability to be at peace requires our resolve and our discipline. I am not suggesting that’s all that’s required. There are things that happen in life that would bring anyone to his or her knees. I’m not a yogi who’s going to tell you that you can choose to be happy in every moment, because I believe that’s unrealistic and alienating for people who are suffering great loss. Grief is a healthy response to heartbreak, but short of tragedies that befall us in life, much of our suffering does, indeed, come from our thoughts.
A lot of the time, happiness is a choice. Of course we all want to be happy, we even addressed it as a given right in our Declaration of Independence, but often, in our pursuit, we get snagged on our attachment to a particular outcome, and we suffer if anything else should come to pass. Sometimes we spend a lot of energy worrying about things that never happen, and that’s time we won’t get back. Sometimes we boil ourselves replaying old situations as if we could rewrite them or turn back time. The trick is to catch yourself as fast as you can, and to be vigilant. The days are precious. The moments are precious. We really don’t want to lose too many of them traveling into our past and future, because life isn’t happening in either of those places.
Awareness is clearly part of the equation. If you know you have a tendency to “future-trip” and make yourself sick over all the things that “could” happen, or you recognize your predilection toward revisionist history, you want to be on the alert. That way if you’re driving somewhere, or folding your laundry, or washing the dishes, you can catch yourself if you start to spin, and bring yourself back to the present moment. In order to choose the thoughts and habits that strengthen you, you have to understand you have a choice. This is a huge gift of a consistent yoga and seated meditation practice. We train the mind to focus on what is happening right here, right now. We use the breath as an anchor point because it’s always happening in the present moment. If we pull out our meditation cushions, and sit up and become aware of our inhales and exhales, and somewhere along the way we notice the mind is drifting, we pick it up, and begin again. There’s always the potential to do that, on a cushion, or at your kitchen sink, or behind the wheel of your car.
There’s a Pali word, “Addithana”, and it means “resolve”, or, with “strong determination”. If you practice Vipassana (Insight) meditation, as I do, then you already know this word, because we use it to refer to those meditation sessions where we’ve decided we are not going to move. Maybe the back aches or the knees hurt after we’ve been sitting for a time, but we don’t move, we just observe sensation, and notice that it’s always changing. It might not be comfortable, but it’s interesting, and that practice truly mirrors life. Even if we do nothing, things are always in motion, things are always evolving and changing and shifting. Not all of those changes are wanted, but we don’t have control over that. We just have the opportunity to work on the way we respond. If we aren’t paying attention, we miss the shifts, and we lose the power to make a choice. We’re carried along, being pulled this way and that, up and down, victims of circumstance; that’s how the mind is wired, but you can rewire it.
The thing is, we can make all the plans in the world, and it’s fine to do that if it gives you a sense of direction. In fact, I would encourage anyone to live with intention. It’s a relief to uncover your particular gifts and set about the business of sharing them. That, in itself, is fulfilling, but I wouldn’t get too caught up in making longterm plans, because your plans are likely to change. This is true in big ways, and in small ways. When I go to teach a class, for example, I always have a plan. I think about what we’ve been working on, what we did in the prior class, what themes feel right, what parts of the body I’m targeting, potential peak poses, all of it. Then I walk into the room and look around and see who’s there, and whether or not my plan makes sense. Sometimes I know immediately I have to scrap it. Sometimes I modify as we go, based on the energy in the room, and a ton of other factors. Maybe there are three pregnant mamas in the room, and I’d planned a deep twisting class. I’m not going to follow that plan. Again, that’s just a tiny example, but it’s really true of everything in life. We set our course, we have our intentions, but we always have to factor in the unknown. The unexpected. The curve ball. The moment of inspiration. The shifting circumstances around us. The way everything can change in a split second. We always have to deal with what’s in front of us, and leave room to be surprised and amazed and grateful. Life is not obligated to bend to our will, and it probably won’t. Our best bet is to stay present, to develop a practice that keeps us in tune with our intuition, that leaves room for curiosity and non-attachment, and that teaches us not to waste time.
In order to have a great year, for example, I’d really focus on having great days. What can you do to nurture and strengthen yourself today? What can you do to support the people in your life today? What would bring you joy, right now? Is there a chance you could make someone else’s day by picking up the phone to catch up? Is there anything you could do, even for twenty minutes, that would make your life easier? Anything you’re allowing to pile up, that’s going to be much harder to deal with than it would if you just marked a small amount of time each day to tackle it? Maybe you could start the day by thinking of one thing or one person or one quality you possess that brings a smile to your face, and maybe you could end the day like that, too. I’m just saying, there’s so much potential to cultivate some beauty and some love, and if we do that every day, if we string together a bunch of days in which we feel alive and engaged and present, then we don’t waste time, we celebrate it, and those days turn into weeks and months, and really, I believe that’s how we have a happy week, month, year, decade, and so on; that’s how we live our lives in a way that feels good. That’s how I try to do it, anyway.
Sending you love,