No goal yoga

कर्मण्येवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन |
मा कर्मफलहेतुर्भूर्मा ते सङ्गोऽस्त्वकर्मणि || 47 ||

karmaṇy-evādhikāras te mā phaleṣhu kadāchana
mā karma-phala-hetur bhūr mā te saṅgo ’stvakarmaṇi

This is from the Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 2, Verse 47. This is one of those texts that I return to endlessly. It is such a beautiful book. The scene of this is unique: the battlefield on the plains of Kurukshetra. Two armies aligned against each other. And Arjuna, a warrior faces the opposing army and although he is strong and powerful, he has a moment of self doubt. He turns to his charioteer Krishna, and in deep despondancy asks for guidance. What the hell should a man do when confronted with a battle? Of course this question is much deeper than just the battle in hand. How are we to live ? What is the purpose of life? How can we find meaning in a world that can be thought of as essentially meaningless?

Without a doubt it’s a masterly text and offers many pointers for a meaningful, authentic life. But the section that always springs to mind for me around the beginning of the year is chapter 2, verse 47. It is a theme in my yoga classes and tuition, and of course, my own personal practice.

So lets get to it :

Krishna suggests to Arjuna (amongst other observations), that “You have a right to perform your prescribed duties, but you are not entitled to the fruits of your actions. Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, (nor be attached to inaction)”.

This is amazing isn’t it ? Krishna is suggesting that you can never quite have ownership of the outcome of your efforts or actions, and you certainly cannot think that your efforts have resulted in the outcome.

Is this a call to just give up on everything ? I don’t think so. It’s more a reality check that, sure you can set yourself goals or resolutions for sure but in reality once you start with your efforting – drop your focus on the goals and enjoy the experience or the moments. Oliver Burkeman the psychologist who has written a wonderful book called ‘The Antidote: Happiness for People who cant stand positive thinking’ has a good take on this for modern day life. It turns out that setting and then chasing after goals can backfire for us in lots of ways. I guess the obvious one is that when we set hard goals, we can create performance anxiety. Another might be that we set ourselves such rigid goals that we have the experience but miss the meaning to paraphrase TS Eliot.

Years ago, I had a running coach who used to say to me, ‘forget the timing and the other competitors and just enjoy the run’. It was kind of reverse psychology because when I did forget the target time and stopped thinking about anyone else I settled into a deep sense of enjoyment and flow. I guess these days you might label this as a mindful state. Interesting thing was that the more I enjoyed the moment, the more I relaxed. The result was that I often ran my best times and left the other runners flailing. Of course I ended the runs with a sense of fun, enjoyment and happiness.

Krishna suggests that we put our outcomes and the results of our efforts in the hands of God. I guess God is fate, chance, coincidence, destiny and dharma. This feels right to me. If you are doing stuff that is the unfolding of your truth and your destiny or fate then all will unfold as it should do. A gardener friend told me that daffodils come up on their own accord. You can’t pull them up into place. It’s a great analogy and I think relates to this.

What has this got to do with yoga? Well yoga is life isnt it? It’s not just a bundle of postures on a mat. Its a philosophy and a way of being in body, breath and mind. So, let your dharma unfold, and dont pull up them daffodils. Everything is unfolding in its own way, at its own pace.

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