Being close to enlightenment is like being almost pregnant. If you’re still trying to get there, that means you aren’t there yet.
A young man in his early 20s walked into my sunrise yoga class this morning. He looked vaguely familiar; I think he’s been to my class about three times before. He walked in the door and said:
“Yogi, teach me how to find enlightenment.”
I thought it was a joke, but he was serious!
“What makes you think I know anything about enlightenment?” I asked.
“Well haven’t you found it yet? Aren’t you close?” he asked.
I replied, “I don’t know if I’m close or far. I just come here every morning to practice. So, if you want to practice get a mat and let’s start.”
This is a handsome young man. And he’s tall, and he appeared to be fit and strong. But this poor lad struggled. His body was stiff and awkward, and he was greatly challenged in the most basic poses. I gave him props and modifications for Adho Mukha Svanasana and Padangusthasana. But he was cramping, shaking, huffing and puffing. He couldn’t straighten his legs.
He said “I can’t straighten my leg all the way ’cause I worked it out the other day.”
I said to him, “We’re gonna have to have you stop working out then!”
The other students in the class—a few in their 60s and one in his 70s—chuckled. I felt for the young man as I had been in even worse condition 16 years ago.
As we continued to practice I asked him, “So why do you want to reach Enlightenment?”
“Why not?” he asked.
I said, “Well, from my understanding when you reach Enlightenment all craving and desire has ceased. And, personally, I still like french fries a lot!”
He was quiet for a while after that statement. I imagine he starting thinking about the things that he desires and craves—like wanting to reach Enlightenment.
We kept practicing.
I thought about his question the entire class: “Well haven’t you found it yet? Aren’t you close?”
The truth is that I probably wouldn’t know Enlightenment if it hit me between the eyes. How do you “get close” to enlightenment? Isn’t that like “almost pregnant?” I would think you either are enlightened or not. Underneath all those thoughts was the thought, “What is enlightenment anyway?” I went into a Marichyasana twist.
“So do you think it’s possible?” he asked.
“Do I think what’s possible; for you to keep your leg straight in Trikonasana?” I asked.
“No,” he said, “for me to reach enlightenment?”
I looked at the position of his foot and asked him to turn it out. Then I said, “Come back tomorrow and we’ll work on your poses and we’ll find out. Until then, lift your kneecap please.”
Jim Coughlin was first introduced to yoga in 1968 at the age of 10. He teaches yoga every day at Downtown Yoga in Pleasanton, California.
Editor: Alexandra Grace