It was interesting to hear a group of yogis have a rather intense discussion on the word striving recently, often taking issue with the word. I remember a workshop almost a year ago when two of my favorite yoga teachers had the same pointed discussion on the same word. I remember it as being one of the most insightful discussions I had heard at the time; two master teachers, each expressing their unique and sometimes differing perspectives. To me, that is the essence of learning to live a full and joyous life: seeing and paying attention to multiple perspectives, then synthesizing them in a way that gives enhanced personal understanding and a greater sense of inner knowingness.
To me, this process of synthesizing multiple perspectives, engaging in deep personal reflection and learning, then adapting with time to continue to survive happily in the present moment, is the essence of my yoga practice. No judgment, just learning and adapting. Isn’t this what svadhyaya (the second Niyama) is all about? When we look inside with a sense of discovery and wonder, we begin to understand the difference between knowledge and knowingness, information and wisdom. When our sense of awareness is lively, joy arises from within rather than being dependent on outer influences or accomplishments.
I know that when a word or a concept causes a sense of uneasiness, it is worth looking at why and delving deep into the question. Why did the word striving cause such an intense reaction? Hmmm.
For me at least, it might show how deeply we hold on to doing things the way we think they are supposed to be done based on outside influences (job advancement, approval, norms of behavior), rather than letting go of those outside expectations and acting in a manner authentic to our true selves and our own sense of inner wisdom.
Striving can mean our steady work to fulfill our true purposes in life and our acting in a manner according to our deepest intentions and wisdom. It can mean having faith in ourselves and our own unique abilities and acting accordingly. For instance, my striving to build my body and mind, and to be spiritually connected as a result of my honest emotional expressions of love and connection to others, is my way of finding joy in my life. It is me, the wise me, learning through personal discovery and self-study with a sense of awe and wonder, adapting each day to the circumstances of the present situation and experience. It is constantly balanced with a keen awareness of acceptance, respecting my own vulnerabilities, humbly seeing the interdependence of all things around me and the way things are.
But striving can also mean the constant desire to do what other’s think you need to do, to act in a competitive manner to succeed in comparison to others, to become attached to a career identity or a certain status, or to just feel like you are never good enough the way you already are. It can also mean striving to do a yoga posture that isn’t right for your body just because some other guru, living in a different body, said that this is the way this posture should be done.
Personally, I am motivated to learn and to adapt, to strive to live a full expression of my life while accepting honestly and humbly who I already am. I am motivated to strive to see and respect the best in others, showing compassion and sharing honest caring emotions, while accepting that they walk their own path. I strive to be responsible for myself: my health, my happiness, and my actions. I accept that because we are all interconnected and interdependent (and that I am human), my fate is not just up to me.
I look for learning in all interactions and experiences. I strive to respect the perspective of every person, young and old, weak and strong, quiet and loud. I honor other yoga teachers and the long lineage of yoga teachers. But it is up to me to find my own peace and joy in my life, both striving to be me, making effort to practice and learn as my best self, while accepting all that is me and that will always be me… and being aware of the difference.
I enroll in yoga teacher-trainings to be challenged to learn multiple perspectives in order to learn more about myself and my place on this planet; I do not enroll in yoga teacher-trainings in order to strive for outside recognition or to learn to do things in a certain accepted way. It does not impress me when someone tells me that I need to do things a certain way, just because that person has been taught by many big personalities or influential teachers. It is always up to me to synthesize a teacher’s perspectives with respect and an attitude of whole-hearted learning, but then act in an authentic and honest manner according my deep sense of personal inquiry and wisdom. I believe that this is the essence of the Sutras as well as many other spiritually-guided texts.
As a teacher, it is my job to guide and empower others to find their own sense of personal knowingness and wisdom, learn more about their own bodies and minds, their own sense of importance and vulnerability and connectedness, not to encourage them to strive in a certain manner just because it is my own personal perspective or the normal way to do things.
To me, this is how we all learn to live together for the greater good of us all and this planet. It is indeed my perspective that we are innately wired to live this way… but it also my perspective that as a teacher, I’m only striving to help others discover this in their own manner, if indeed it is the way we are intended to be.
To me, this is the essence of being a yogi and a yoga teacher. To me, this is why I absolutely love having engaging and interactive non-judgmental discussion on deep subjects, like on the concept of striving.
And, to me, this is why I absolutely love to sit down, reflect, and write afterwards.