January, perennial month of reflection and re-commitment. Also, perennial month of guilt and disappointment. Swami Satchidananda often told his students that if you want to avoid disappointment, “make no appointments.” In other words, have no expectations.
But how are we supposed to have no expectations and yet pursue our goals?
As we dive deeper into the philosophy of the Yoga Sutras and especially, the Bhagavad Gita, we find many messages about selfless service. Selfless service does not mean pushing yourself to the point of burn-out or never making mistakes. Selfless service means “do your best and leave the rest” (another thing Swamiji liked to say.) Selfless service is perfection in action.
What is a perfect act? One that harms no one, benefits someone - by the way, you count as someone - and is done without expectations for the results. Surrendering to the natural flow of life. Sometimes losing, sometimes gaining, but always enjoying the process.
It is so easy to blame ourselves when our intentions (or New Year's resolutions) go awry, but an arrow released from the bow does not always go where expected. By practicing hitting the target again and again, we will eventually become more accurate. Why would we expect ourselves to hit a bullseye with our resolutions right away?
The other side of this: even if "fail" we need to continue to try to hit the bullseye every time, even if it we don't hit it right away (or ever). We can get closer over time and practice our resolutions until they become second nature. We can enjoy becoming, rather than being.
When we blame ourselves for failing once and deciding to never try again, we miss the opportunity to enjoy learning and refining ourselves. A resolution doesn’t have to be a straightjacket, but can be a trellis for our personal development, inching little by little to the light. We have to learn to celebrate life with all its ups and downs.
Released by the archer, the arrow is surrendered to universe. We can choose to regard our actions with this kind of total surrender, or Ishvara Pranidhana. Ishvara Pranidhana is the fifth niyama (observance) in Raja Yoga. Swamiji says if a person can master this niyama, they will not need to practice any of the others.
Clearly, mastering “surrender to life” is a lofty pursuit. We should even regard that goal without expectations. Sometimes we will feel totally surrendered and at other times we will feel attached to people, things, or outcomes.
Perfection in action is to notice when our mind drifts into desires or aversions. Then, pull another arrow out of the quiver and steady our hand to the bow. Once we let go of the arrow, we can let go of the results. We've already done our part.
I wish you a year with many arrows loosed, wherever they may land.
Just some thoughts about yoga as I go...