Balanced Mind: The Art of Letting Go of the Fruits of Action

Sand formation on the beach at Arverne in the Rockaways, May 28, 2018

Sand formation on the beach at Arverne in the Rockaways, May 28, 2018

Over the Memorial Day weekend holiday, my partner and I were out on the beach in the Rockaways, and I came across this sand structure. I was attracted to it for several reasons, one of which is for the little rock balancing atop the center mound of sand. It reminded me of how when we sit in meditation, we try to sit in such a way that our head is balanced over our body in the most effortless way.

This also reminds me of the sand Mandalas that Buddhist monks build and destroy to represent the ephemeral and passing nature of all material phenomenon.  Surely, the creators of this structure knew going in that nature -- or perhaps even man -- would eventually destroy it. Yet build it they did anyway. And in a certain way, they practiced the way of yoga -- they practiced the Art of Letting Go of the Fruits of Action.

Isn't it blissful when we can feel our minds experiencing balance? One way that we can experience this is to try simply to take the best actions we know we can execute, and then to try not to worry about how it's all going to turn out.

For example, when I started this post, I had a general idea of what the main points I wanted to make were, but I had no idea how they would be expressed in an engaging way for the reader. Here is where the yoga philosophy from the Bhagavad Gita really helped me out:

You have control over your actions alone, never over its fruits. 
Live not for the fruits of action, nor attach yourself to inaction.  Established in Yoga, O Arjuna, perform actions having abandoned attachment and having become balanced in success and failure, for balance of mind is called Yoga.

Krishna speaking Arjuna in Bhagavad-Gita (Chapter 2)

Similarly Buddhist Teachings say that:

Equanimity [a balanced mind] is letting go of the fruits our actions.

It's important to remember that the goal of practicing yoga is to bring more peace and stillness to the mind, and to help the mind to experience balance. Being able to stand on one's head or touching one's toes in yoga asana practice are merely the means toward this end. Being able to do either is part of yoga, but it is not the goal of yoga. It's important for those who primarily practice the physical aspects of yoga to remember this. 

For me, these yoga and Buddhist philosophies help me in two distinct ways: 1) they make my experiences of failing more palatable, and 2) they give me the boost to take some action, especially during those times when I don't really know what the best actions are to take.

As the Founder and President of a nonprofit, Keoni Movement Arts, I experience much uncertainty at times, often not knowing what actions to take, and whether my actions are going to amount to anything. It's been a lot of trial and error, and a lot of acting on faith and from caring to those callings emanating from deep within my heart. I am heartened by the words of other leaders of much larger organizations than mine, such as these two:

It is impossible to generate a few good ideas without a lot of bad ideas.  Failure should be forgiven and forgotten quickly.
Azim Premji, chairman of the Indian outsourcing giant Wipro Technologies

In order to double your success rate, you must double your failure rate.
Thomas Watson, founder of IBM

Does anyone really like to fail, especially in a public way? Probably not. but both these leaders are suggesting that we can't perfect and make anything we are trying to create better, by not having failed a lot. And Azim's statement that "failure should be forgiven and forgotten quickly" has such a yogic ring to it. That is the a true goal of yoga, the so called "3 F's" -- to fall, forgive, and forget, and thus maintain a balanced mind. 

For sure, this is all easier said than done. But one thing I have learned from these last ten years of nurturing my nonprofit is not only that failure was and is necessary, but also that it becomes more palatable the longer one stays in the game. I face a lot of uncertainty in my creative work, and yet if anything has changed it is that I relate to this uncertainty better than when I first started. For one, I know and accept better that there is always going to be uncertainty in my chosen life's work, but I don't get flustered or thrown off-balance by it as much as I used to when I started out. Similarly, I recall hearing the Buddhist Meditation Teacher Pema Chödrön say that even after many years of practicing meditation, her mind still goes off like an untethered child. But the one thing that has changed is that it doesn't bother her much anymore as it did when she first started out practicing. Like-wise, I can say that the day-to-day not-knowings of my work don't bother me as much as they used to. I am better able to handle my failings, better able to handle those times when things didn't quite work out as I thought I wanted them to, and better able to handle not knowing how things are going to turn out, but acting in good faith anyway.

One thing I can say that I am increasingly aware of is that when I listen to what moves my heart, my creative juices start to churn, and things usually work out quite well. This past month, my organization held its annual performance. When I began planning it several months ago, I had a bare inkling of what I wanted to present. Particularly, I knew I wanted to do a movement piece for our special needs students to You Will Be Found, from Dear Evan Hansen, my favorite show from the last Broadway season. And I knew it had to be simple enough for them to grasp and for my teachers to help execute. Through trial and error, it came together, and the audience's reaction was stupendous. Several shared it moved them to tears. Goal accomplished yes, but even more importantly my mind was able to remain balanced through the successes and failures, knowing that ultimately things were going to work out if I operated from the place of Joy.

So whether you're trying to create and grow a nonprofit organization, or are trying to help out the world in other ways that are dearest to your heart, just try to take the best actions you know how to take and try not to worry too much about how it’s all going to turn out. In some ways what the world needs most from you is a balanced mind, a mind that can remain calm both during times when you are succeeding and during times when you are failing. And try to remember this thought that came to me many years ago:

Don’t be afraid to fail.  NOBLE FAILURE can be one of your best tools for learning.

May you try and fail, and try again, ...
May you fail nobly, ...
May your mind remain balanced through it all, ...
May your life's work benefit all beings everywhere.

Aloha with Metta
Paul Keoni