Yoga (as a physical and a spiritual practice) teaches us that right effort without attachment to goals leads to mastery. This means we must learn to put in the appropriate amount of effort – not too much and not too little – and yet give up our expectation of a particular outcome. We should avoid falling into the extremes of either laziness/hopelessness or extreme ambition/over-achievement.
There have been three major points in my life where I put in a huge amount of effort toward a certain goal and then found myself crushed by defeat. The first was in 7th grade. I decided to try-out for the 8th grade cheerleading squad. I worked my tail off during the group practice sessions and at home; I even helped some of the other girls who looked up to me for guidance. We knew only eight girls would be chosen. On the day of try-outs, I did my very best and felt confident afterwards. The “winners” were announced the next day at school. I can still remember sitting at my desk counting the names as they were announced. One, two, three… eight. I wasn’t chosen. I sat in shock. I couldn’t move or eat or speak to anyone.
The second time was right after I earned my BA degree in Anthropology. I’d already decided to go on for my Master’s, and since I had perfect grades and would graduate with highest honors, I applied to the best school in the United States for Physical Anthropology. There seemed no need to apply to any others, only the best. I put my whole application packet together, complete with my excellent GRE scores and my letters of recommendation. A few weeks later, I received a letter from this prestigious school: They regretted to inform me that, since they were restructuring their graduate program, they would not be accepting any new applicants for the next year or two. I stared at the letter in disbelief.
The most recent event was in 2007-2008 when I lived in a religious community. I’d spent nearly four years and thousands of dollars researching, contacting and visiting various communities. Finally, I’d found one that would give me (old, divorced and imperfect as I am) a chance. But the place turned out to be a nightmare. The superior and the chaplain were anything but holy. I went there to be devoted completely to God and to advance on my spiritual journey. My hopes and dreams were blocked and stifled. My heart was broken. (To find out more about this, read my posts, “Curiosity Disappoints the Cat” and “My Hermitage Experience.”)
So now my challenge is to work toward my goals without clinging to any particular outcomes. Right effort helps the mind stay undisturbed by feelings of dejection (caused by the “wrong” outcome) and feelings of pride (caused by an “ideal” outcome).
Our life, our spiritual journey, continues even when we think we aren’t doing what we would like to be doing. We learn to trust that there is some point to our experiences because they teach us lessons we didn’t even know we needed to learn. We can choose to be content where we are even if part of us feels exiled from the type of life we would like to be living. We have faith that we are where we are for a reason.