Perfection in an asana is achieved when the effort to perform it becomes effortless and the infinite being within is reached. From then on the sadhaka (practitioner) is undisturbed by dualities.
–– Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, II.47-48, translation by B.K.S. Iyengar
Of all of the dualities – hot and cold, pain and pleasure, self and other – the one that has disturbed me most is good and bad.
Give or take a few baby years before I knew the rules, I have lived my whole life between these poles.
Did I get up early? A tick in the Good column.
Did I sleep in? A tick in the Bad column.
And so the day went.
Did I do my practice? Do my work? Cleave to duty?
Or did I daydream and lollygag, do the SuDoku with breakfast, surf the Internet, waste time?
Was I thin? Good!
Had I gained a pound? Bad!
Among the book’s many surprising conclusions, this one stood out: there is no better way to scuttle your plans than to believe that achieving your willpower goal makes you good, and failing makes you bad.
In fact, as soon as an action becomes a test of character, all is lost.
If, for example, doing my asana practice means I’m good, human nature makes the practice less appealing, no matter how much I love the poses, and how many times I experience the well being that follows.
Our dear, rebellious souls do not want to be “good,” perhaps because we believe that being “good” is likely to be dull, boring and no fun, while being “bad” is likely to be exciting and adventurous.
So we make plans for ourselves and then rebel against the plans we’ve made, a continuous process of tripping over our own intentions.
The good news, for me at least, is that my disturbing pair of opposites recently fell apart.
I didn’t have an epiphany in headstand, or feel a jolt of realization run through my triangle pose. But practice makes me happy. The more years I practice, the happier I get. And happiness brings with it clarity and mental space.
In a recent clear and spacious moment, I realized that “good” and “bad” exist only within a frame of mind that judges.
In that frame of mind, they are two sides of the same coin. No matter which side I’m on, I’m equally bound by the internal critic with the clipboard, ticking off good and bad actions, and my self is divided in two.
Now I have a third option: awake.
When I find myself in the land of opposites, I know I’m asleep. When I put good and bad aside, and think “no judgment,” I’m awake.
“No judgment” doesn’t mean no observation, or no discernment. Surprisingly, it seems to mean seeing more clearly.
Experience says that this clarity won’t last forever, and I’ll fall asleep again, only to wake up with a start and realize I’ve been dozing.
So now I’m hatching a new plan for staying awake. If I don’t follow it, I won’t be bad, just asleep. And if I do, I won’t be good, just awake.
Image courtesy of Ionics, via Flickr.
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