Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Successing at life

A question which has been on my mind lately as I carefully consider how to go forward in my life at the conclusion of these blissful months of practie and study, is what it means to acheive success, how I will define this and what steps I'm willing to take in order to get there. In many ways, my time spent practicing yoga has really shifted some of the beliefs I didn't even realize I held around living a successful life.

By looking at this question through a different lense, I am discovering more and more the contradictions which tend guide action under the pretense of acheiving something which will generate happiness in our lives. Here are a few thoughts on the topic.

First things first, the moment I start thinking of success as something that happens outside of this moment, I'm automatically toast! Watch how quickly this can happen in two very distinct ways.

#1 Defeat before I've even tried: " If I'm not acheiving my very narrow and specific vision of being successful now, I never will and it's not even worth it to try. Best to react and get out of this uncomfortable situation in any way I can..."

#2Suffer now, feel great latter: " I recognize that I'm not happy, not living in alignment with my values, not experiencing life in a fulfilling or affirming way, perhaps I'm contributing to an unhealthy body, an unhealthy planet and I'm not spending any time nurturing my space, my relationships, my creativity or myself. It'll all be worth it when I acheive (insert a likely skewed vision of success here) latter though and at that point my life will be perfect and flaweless or at the very least much better than it is now."

Now, when expressed so blatantly like that with just a dash of exaggeration, these statements seem ridiculous in their complete lack of logic and reason. I would be lying, however, if something along these lines didn't pass through my being in one way shape or form on a pretty regular basis.

So, what is the practice of working with and transforming these ways of thinking? First, I need to deeply undertand the relationship between my desires and the circumstances of my life. As long as I'm fighting the reality of what is going on around me and the factors over which I have no control, life will be very challenging indeed! Second, I need to cultivate whatever it is that I want to acheive. If I practice with anger and frustration, I will become very good at being angry and frustrated. To endure the present moment with the blind hope that through suffering and self-harm now, I will achieve happiness and ease latter is akin to planting an apple tree with the hope of harvesting mangos. By practicing the way I want to be in the world, I become better at it and it becomes easier and easier to practice.

The second quality that I think becomes a huge factor in the way we define our effectiveness in the world is the quality of our action. From the moment we take our first breath to our last exhale on this planet, we are in action. This means that each and every moment is of great importance and not one single moment is more or less important than another.

I think that a common trap for folks like me, those who want to affect big change, who see all sorts of problems in the world that need fixing is that small changes and small moments don't seem important enough... Now, it has been a huge challenge for me to fully comprehend the fact that bigger is not necessarily better, especially if the quality of the action gets lost along the way.

As things stand now, consumerism has a devastating impact on our fragile and finite planet. As rich western people, we have much to learn about the ways in which we chose to act. In many ways, we have the greatest responsibility to change our actions if we want the planet to survive.
In response to this I must act in a way that is not harmful, not hurting and not adding to the problems that I see "out there". I begin by seeing myself as part of the ecosystem and part of the planet, which means that any problem that exists outside of myself is also alive within me... I do my best to care for the most direct part of the planet that I have access to, my body. I find ways to quiet my mind so that my action, in every moment that I'm practicing is not taking from anyone or anything else what is not rightfully mine. Once I am able to do this, I can move through the world in a way where I'm less reactive, which leads me to consume still less of what I don't need and which will not lead me to any lasting sense of happiness. By clearing and digesting the pollution in my mind, I become a person who is able to move through the world without creating as much damage or destruction.

Now, I don't think it is a bad thing to have a desire to accomplish, to be creative, to enjoy ourselves and to live a fulfilling life. When we first start to question the place from which we have been operating and making decisions in life, it's astounding and sometimes disconcerting to realize that our goals have been greatly shaped by family, cultural and societal beliefs. The danger comes when we don't stop to ask some very key questions around our own beliefs, when we don't give ourselves space to be wrong, to change, to shift or to try out a different way of being in the world. It is a very special gift and important responsability that we have in times like these to spend time contemplating these really fundamental questions around the direction we want our life to take and how we want to be in the world:

How do I define success? Where did I learn this? Does my success include the success of my family, my community, the ecology which is my home, the planet? Does my vision of future "success" depend on an unhealthy compromise in my current life? What are my goals grounded in? What is at the bottom of what I aspire to? Am I spending time engaging with my family and community to work with and further define a vision of what we want to create together? Is my success defined by recognition, approval, money, material gain, a sense of being right? How often do I allow for the possibility that I've been wrong? How often do I re-examine and come to a new definition of success to fit the changing circumstances of my life? Am I nurturing and practicing the ability to become more flexible, more open, less reactive, stronger, compassionate, loving and whatever else fits into the vision of the person I want to be?

The final piece that is both challenging and crucial is faith. I don't mean faith in some magical force that will come down and make all the worlds problems go away but simply faith in others. Faith that people next door, down the street and across the globe are working towards creating a more harmonious place to live. Perhaps this doesn't look the same for others as it does for me but this does nothing but add to the potency of what change will occur. In fact, we are much stronger together than separate. Without this piece, I surely would have to solve all the worlds problems by myself, but despite the overwhelmingness of life at times, I am responsible for placing my faith in the fact that I'm not alone and that there are allies out there that I may never even see or touch. They are there none the less and they sit, breathe, act, smile and love in every moment that I am here doing the same.