By Elonne Stockton
In my last retreat one woman asked what yoga says about planning for the future. Be present has become cliché these days. But what does that mean? We know nothing exists outside of the present moment — and ultimately time is irrelevant. Even if we plan for the future, or worry about what will be, the planning and worrying take place in the now, and they can distract us from what is right in front of us. They also confine us to this temporal reality and hide the underlying truth of existence, which is beyond time and space, beyond names and forms.
However, knowing that intellectually doesn’t stop us from worrying and stressing about the future. How can we make sense of this in terms of our practice and in terms of our daily lives?
Being present doesn’t mean that it is wrong to plan for the future, or that hopes and dreams are bad. It is the stress and the worry that we need to let go of. We must do whatever our duties are in this life, to the best of our ability. Our duties may include planning and doing things for our own future and possibly for the future of family and loved ones. And there is nothing wrong with doing work towards a certain goal. That is as long as our hopes and dreams don’t distract us from what we need to be doing, and as long as we are not fixated on those dreams coming true.
In the end, whatever happens happens. We will deal with whatever comes. We should not be attached to the results of our actions, and our stress and worry only make things worse. While it is unrealistic to think that we can do away with all stress and worry, it is surely possible to lessen them, through practice and understanding.
Effort and Surrender
The Bhagavad Gita is very clear about this:
Fixed in yoga, perform actions, having abandoned attachment, Arjuna, and having become indifferent to success or failure. It is said that evenness of mind is yoga. (2.48)
The Yoga Sutras concurs:
The complete channelization of all behavior is possible through repeated practice and non-dependence.(1.12)
The complete channelization of all behavior (i.e., nirodhah), which is the definition of yoga, is possible only through repeated practice and non-dependence. In other words, to achieve yoga we need both effort and surrender.
The effort is the work we do. It is our regular practice on and off the asana mat and meditation cushion. We are given many tools to increase our presence of mind, our awareness, and incite change – asana, yamas and niyamas, pranayama, etc. And we must use those tools, so that eventually everything we do is done with awareness. We do these practices, which, as Paul will remind us, have the potential to create a shift in us and transform our entire system. They promote our spiritual growth.
But as important as the work we do – and perhaps more difficult for many, myself included – is the surrender part. We cannot be attached to anything, even our practices. Without the letting go, our effort is always tainted, set-up for failure.
Here are a few more quotes from the Bhagavad Gita:
He who is without attachment on all sides, encountering this or that, pleasant or unpleasant, neither rejoicing nor disliking; his wisdom stands firm. (2.57)
Perform your duty, for action is indeed better than non-action, and even the mere maintenance of your body could not be accomplished without action.(3.08)
Therefore, constantly unattached, perform that action which is your duty. Indeed, by performing action while unattached, man attains the Supreme. (3.19)
If we are caught up in anxiety, stress, worry about what will happen, what the results of our actions will be, then we are unable to let go. We lose our peace of mind, and the work we are doing, therefore, suffers.
If we are always worried about what will come out of what we do, how can we possibly put everything we can into what we are doing? How can we do our best work? Lacking is what the Bhagavad Gita calls skill in action. We become incapable of fulfilling our duties properly and any goal we might have becomes more illusive.
Success and Failure
I saw a very nice quote from Bill Cosby floating around cyberspace the other week:
I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.
Even the sincere and innocent desire to make people happy is set-up for failure. Often we assign too much weight to what people think. If we are trying to please others, or even if we are attempting to please and gratify ourselves with what we do, we are only ensuring our own disappointment and suffering.
Nothing ever turns out exactly as we plan. And we can never make other people happy, no matter how hard we try. We can practice ahimsa, non-harming, and we can actively help people. Ultimately, however, happiness is a choice, which is up to each individual person, and it is independent of any external factor.
So we might as well stay open to whatever comes. Can we be unafraid of success and stay even-minded in failure? Can we see that both success and failure are, in truth, empty?
Content with whatever comes to him, transcending the dualities (i.e., pleasure, pain, etc.), free from envy. Constant in the mind whether in success or in failure, even though he acts, he is not bound.
– Bhagavad Gita 4.22