One day when I was rock climbing, I found my way to a large ledge just a few yards from the top.
I tried to get over it or around it for several minutes. Finally, exhausted, I yelled down to my belay partner “Coming down!”
He said, “Nah, you’re almost there!”
“Yes,” I said, “but I can’t get past it, and I’m exhausted and just done.” I said this in complete satisfaction of the height I’d reached, it being the highest I’d reached yet. As a yogi, I lack a competitive nature. Well, actually, I was born that way—there’s not a competitive bone in my body, not even with myself.
“Okay, Okay, how about this,” he called up. “Try three times more to get over that ledge and to the top, and if you still can’t make it…try again.”
My laughter at his absurdity was laced with a little fear as my hands weakened and my palms got sweaty. Having looked straight down to call to him, I felt even more ready to descend as the sudden realization set in that my life was hanging on a piece of string over 200 feet in the air. I whimpered a little. I could have argued with him and gotten my way, but the question before me was: do I want to put effort into arguing my case for quitting or take the friendly nudge he’d given me and put my effort instead into going for the peak?
I felt around again to each of the various handholds, all of which I had tried and previously rejected. Settling on any random one, I let go of the idea that strategy would help me here, and recruited pure brute strength. With a grunt, a little bit of a cry, and a powerful exertion I hoisted myself over that damn ledge and continued to clamor through fearful tremors to the last few grabs to the top.
Forget about sweat, those last few moments squeezed out a whole new layer of a toxic internal barrier. It was an exercise in pushing further and moving outside my comfort zone to realize a higher goal. Even if it was something I was wholeheartedly unattached to, it was still a cool win. The push, the haul, the victory was cathartic, and I felt grateful and ecstatic.
“So this is what it feels like to be competitive,” I thought to myself. “It’s kinda fun.”
With yoga we have to always remember balancing a swing. The release of attachment to results is medicine to those held in the clutches of misery when they don’t get what they want. But we can’t hover at the front crest of the swing, any more then we can hover at the back end—complacency is as much an obstacle to a free and happy life as anything.
Complacency is an attachment to being unattached!
So, what if we set our sights on something and run and sweat our way toward it? So what if we shout and rage if we miss the mark, if for only just a minute, till the minute passes, and we return to our buddha nature? There’s fun and fever of life we should be careful we don’t miss out on in our quest to rise above it. Raising consciousness shouldn’t pull us out of the first few chakras that are concerned with ego and drive. Rather, they should allow us to live simultaneously in all chakras—fuelling the flame inside us of a fiercely lived life, but remaining clear that none of it should cause us suffering. Our souls exist in perfect peace—with or without wins or losses—but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun to play the games in front of us.
I’ve been working toward specific goals for many years now—but I also let them go every day as I know that reaching them won’t be the source of my happiness. I am the source of my happiness, with or without any achievement. But there came a point where letting go too much caused me to slowly slip down the mountainside.
In that moment, I had turned to my closest friends and said, “That’s it, I’m coming down the mountain.” They, unlike my belay partner, didn’t argue. They respected my wish and offered support. But when I looked down, I couldn’t bring myself to descend to the bottom to start over, either.
I keep moving forward every day, reminding myself that the only way out is up—through non-climactic months where progress slowed as to be unnoticeable, the work so tedious as to be mind-numbing.
But I didn’t let go. I keep climbing just to climb, finding peace in the moments of movement.
“Practice becomes firmly grounded when well-attended to for a long time, without break, and in all earnestness.”
Today, I’ve reached a crest. A beautiful vista where I can enjoy some of the gains of my work. Even with the awareness that it means nothing at all, I am able to take pleasure, find playful laughter, in this grassy ledge: a milestone somewhere between past and future.
This is the difference between the monk and the tantrica. Austerity is not our mission. To deprive our humanity of goals, joy, purpose, in the name of cleanliness of spirit, is not what we’re after. Now I realize that relinquishing the results should not diminish the passion behind our play. And often the most tedious of times, the times we want to turn back and give up to protect a peaceful mind, can be the threshold of something new and beautiful.
These vistas are worth sweating for—why not just heave ho? The only way out is up.
We can’t let the practice of detachment drain the color from our actions. Instead, may it be the ground underneath us, supporting our running, dancing feet. May our deepest inner peace and happiness remain unaffected by wins, losses and accomplishments, and may we stay dedicated and persistent to the missions that feel right, unafraid to enjoy the view from the peaks we ascend.
Author: Ella Luckett
Photo: Adam Kubalica / Flickr
Editor: Renée Picard