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We show up,
burn brightly in the moment,
hold nothing back,
and when the moment is over,
when our work is done,
we step back,
and we let go.
-Rolfe Gates, Meditations from the Mat
Beneath those flames
the charred remains
of four years of work.
Therein the ash and smoke
lie thousands of hours of
The fire ate them all
with no regard
for the size or shape of the ideas.
I stood and fed the greedy tongues
as they hissed and sputtered,
devouring it all indiscriminately–
the fire and I whispering
all of your names
on the wind.
To be free to be happy and fruitful can only be attained through sacrifice of many common, but overestimated things.
It is morning lecture, and I have momentarily tuned out Yogi Hari. The dawning sun has reminded me of our sunrise meditation earlier in the week and I have drifted back to the memory…
A pink-orange haze spreads across the horizon as the sun struggles to break the night’s hold. The black ocean gleams with quicksilver waves that roil and churn before erupting in sporadic grey crests. Warm air pushed by the sea breeze sends tendrils of wind-damp hair to lift and tangle in my face. Cool, wet sand crunches underfoot. A large creature – more shadow than seabird – glides by overhead…
“Do not be attached to results.”
Yogi Hari’s words penetrate my beachy reverie and snap me back to the present. He has my full attention now.
In my “real” life of non-ashram, non-coastal living I inhabit a world dominated by results. The importance of quantifying results has been drilled into my head through all levels of my training – student, researcher, professor, and clinician. In fact, I was recently told by a professional mentor, “It doesn’t matter how hard you try. It matters what results you produce.”
Best efforts don’t count; results do. Introduction, Methods, Results, Conclusions – that is the natural order of things. Across the grid — standardized tests, student evaluations, experiments, treatments, diagnostic evaluations, the department’s reviews — results matter. Results of the GRE determine whether you get into graduate school. School funding is based on student test results. Careers rise or fall depending on these outcomes. Clients pay for results, not your intentions.
Yogi Hari talks on, “….the great Masters inspire us to focus all our attention on performing our duty selflessly without constantly being obsessed with the results.”
I am confounded. How can duty be detached from results? If results are so important, how can I possibly avoid obsessing over them? And besides all that, what’s wrong with obsessing? I’m really good at it.
Letting go, renunciation, nonattachment- the practice goes by the term vairagya in the Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali. Sacrifice. There is a negative connotation about that word, especially in a culture that suggests you need more, not less. And nonattachment? Isn’t attachment a healthy thing? Aren’t we supposed to be doing all sorts of connecting?
Oh, so much to learn, Little Grasshopper!
The last year of my life has been a study in letting go. Some sacrifices were made silently. Other sacrifices, like releasing my inner carnivore, were made publically and deliberately. Giving up meat was a change that alternately annoyed and mystified me as well as some of the people around me. I’ve blogged a lot about the experience as a way to stay committed to the decision and as a way to try to explain a lot of it to myself. I recognize now the dietary change was largely a symbolic gesture. I gave up something I could see, taste, touch, smell, and hear — a life that my body literally consumed – as a daily physical reminder of the numerous intangible sacrifices that remained ahead on a more personal level.
There is always something to grasp at – money, love, youth, relationships, knowledge, control, anger, happiness, social status, safety, beliefs, results. None of these things define one’s essence. Still, there can be a feeling of loss when your hold on them is released. And even the feeling of loss can be something to hang on to in the choppy seas of uncertainty. But loss is just another feeling. Feelings come; they go. The tide rolls in and out. You can flail and reach for the flotsam and jetsam or take a deep breath, relax and roll on a bit lighter to the destination.