We talk a lot about “right action” in yoga, but it took me a long time to really get what it means.
I mean, is it making the moral choice? The sacrificial choice? The dogmatic choice? And moral for whom? And by what code? Do we abide by the tenant of being kind and doing what we like as long as we aren’t hurting anyone? And by whose authority?
And how is this related to being in the moment? We also talk about that in the yoga community. A lot.
Now, anyone who’s tried mindfulness knows how hard it is to maintain. Well, maybe not for everyone, but I’ll speak for myself when I say that I am a relentless addict of patterns, routine and, though I like adventure, I find drastic change to be as difficult as it can be exciting.
But here’s the thing I’ve just realized. I’m speaking in these huge generalities here—even when I talk about my own life and my own habits. That, right there, is what gets in the way of mindfulness and of knowing what we mean by ‘right action.’
To explain: When overcoming an addiction (for example), the only way to handle it (arguably) is to understand how to take the right action for right now. Anyone who’s dealt with irresistible urges—whether it’s for alcohol, sex, food, drugs, an unwise phone call/relationship, procrastination, unfair judgment, whatever—knows that these cravings are impulses. And impulses can only affect us in the moment.
So, ironically, it’s easiest to be in the moment when we least want to be. (Of course, there’s the broader and deeper topic of what we’re masking or avoiding with these impulses but, meh, one thing at a time).
Anyway, to the point. There is action we can take in these moments. We get so obsessed with the impulse, the craving, that we can’t see a moment beyond it. That’s not mindfulness, that’s imprisonment. And though it seems impossible, we really can make another choice.
What makes that other choice difficult is looking forward and wondering how we’ll ever make the “right” choice again and again and again. Well, that’s where being in moment actually works for us. Because you don’t have to make the right choice again and again. It’s overwhelming. Until, of course, you realize that you only have to make that right choice right now.
And that’s a huge relief, right? I don’t have to figure out my whole life in this second. After all, there is only this second. And if I spend this second not drinking or not over-indulging or not smoking or not giving up/in or whatever, then the next second happens all on its own. They add up and, eventually, the not-choosing becomes the default choice.
Okay—so what the hell does this have to do with yoga? Well, everything, I think. This is where the practice of yoga meets us in the real world. We have to deal with potential unpleasantness every moment of our lives. It’s a choice we make, whether we let ourselves down or lift ourselves up, no matter what our circumstances.
Yoga teaches us how to make the right choice for right now. Think of it as life training. Take that pose that challenges you, for example. Do you stay in it longer than you want to? Every second you make the choice to stay, you’re teaching yourself that you do have the strength, the focus, and the will to be in the moment, to take your individual right action.
And let me tell you, when you witness yourself, day in and day out, making the hard choice, the “right” choice, that in itself becomes a reason to keep going. Surprising yourself again and again, replacing that familiar feeling of constantly disappointing yourself, becomes a (healthy) addiction all on its own.
Learning to honor our own “right” impulses (and, when you’re honest with yourself, you know what these are; they feel very different from the self-destructive ones) makes you stop caring so much about everyone else’s. That in itself is freeing. It allows us to live by example rather than by self-righteousness (which is as exhausting as it is disturbingly prevalent).
Trust me, you’ll influence more people through your own ease and confidence than you ever will through the tension of constant trying (and failing) to change yourself.
No excuses. Be you. Honestly you.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise