Yoga and The Art of No End Point


I love this picture I took at the beach out in the Rockaways this month of these birds flying close together, but in different directions, as It reminded me of my own inner chaos this month. I was being pulled in so many different directions that at times I didn’t know where to focus my attention. It also reminded me of the chaos in the world these days – we’re all on the same planet, yet we seem to all be going in different directions. 

At such times, I think about the 6th Century Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, who had such great suggestions on how to live a life filled with both ease and accomplishments. Following are some things he advised:

A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.

This bit of wisdom was particularly helpful to me as I had a few important deadlines on big projects to meet this month. Some mornings I would wake up and experience that fear that comes with needing to get something done but not knowing where to start and feeling afraid I wouldn’t finish the projects by the deadlines. 

Lao Tzu’s words of wisdom resonated with me, as they helped settle my mind enough to springboard me into simply taking action – some action, any action! – even though I wasn’t exactly sure where it would all lead and how I would arrive at the end-point. 

As yoga and meditation practitioners, the end-point we are striving for is a mind that is calm and still. Though we know that is the goal, we also know that it is a difficult one to achieve. However, if we can practice without an intention to arrive anywhere in particular, likely the immediate effect will be that our minds will begin to become stiller and we/it will be heading in the right direction.

Lao Tzu also said:

Let things happen naturally and do not try to force a certain outcome. That which is not natural will not be right. 

Both in yoga practice and in life, it is easy to try to force outcomes, particularly the ones our ego desires. But in forcing, our body and mind can lose its balance, and that will definitely not feel right. 

I love this one:

The Master does nothing, yet he leaves nothing undone. The ordinary man is always doing things, yet many more are left to be done.

As someone who has long to-do lists and is often feeling like I’ve got to get things done by yesterday – know the feeling?! –  this really helped. This reminded me to try to just stay in the present moment, and not think too far ahead. It guided me to monitor how I was feeling as I undertook each task and to take breaks if it felt like I was overworking. Truly, the best outcomes are ones that happen when we are flowing with life, not fighting against it.

And finally, this one feels oh so relevant in light of what is happening in our country today:

Intelligent people know others. 
Enlightened people know themselves.  
You can conquer others with power. 
But it takes true strength to conquer yourself.  

I believe the kind of power that Lao Tzu is referring to is a soft power rather than a hard, aggressive power. Truly, if we are to become the enlightened beings we aspire to be through practicing yoga and meditation, we need to figure out ways to open up our own hearts and minds more. And to do that will require us using our soft powers, like acts of love and kindness and balancing our own minds so that we can engage in reasonable discourse with others, especially those who see things differently than we do.

People may think soft powers may be less effective at bringing about desired outcomes than hard powers, such as physically or verbally beating up on another or forcing others to do our will, but I think that’s not true. I believe people who use hard power do it because that’s all they know to use, and they haven’t worked on themselves enough to be able to wield soft power. In the end, they will suffer more than those who they’ve supposedly conquered.

Sadly, around the world right now we see the rise of hard powers being used to dominate others. We see bullying of those who are physically or socioeconomically weaker by those who have more resources to draw on. And we see a lot of “fear of the other” happening. Truly, these days the world is feeling like it's a scary place to those who are trying to lead with an open heart and mind, given all the domination taking place over those who have little.

But I believe that as more and more people practice yoga and meditation, that one day there will be a tipping point where there will be enough enlightened people to help those who are still living in too much darkness. Love, kindness, and reason may not seem to be winning at the moment, but with enough collective practice eventually it will.

May you conquer your own heart and mind.
May you allow natural outcomes to unfold.
May you get everything you need to do done.
May you be a good traveler.
And may wherever you arrive at somehow benefit all beings everywhere.

Aloha with Metta,
Paul Keoni