Practice, Not Perfection

This morning’s Hatha I & II at A2 Yoga brought several of my own giggles and head shakes in regards to myself. Left and right, right and left. “Bring your left knee, this time, between your hands, for pigeon pose on the other side. I am certain it is the left this time,” I said. It was actually supposed to be the right!

A few minutes before, I had thanked a student for knowing his right from left, as I had just mixed them up when asking him to adjust his footing: “At least someone knows their left from right.” I put it out there. This simple, yet telling, way we think of ourselves impacts our behavior. After that comment, my left and right mix-up only worsened, to the point of laughter, to the point of one student reminding me that I was just practicing…”Practice, not seeking perfection” was the intention I set for the class. Even as, or perhaps especially as, teachers in a field, folks in someway guiding others–parents, friends, counselors, siblings, caregivers–we, too, must be in this adventurous game of life to practice, not to be perfect.

When I returned home from class to a warm bowl of coconut cream steel cut oats and a small cup of lightly roasted coffee (lowering my dosage as I prepare to return to Kripalu, where I tend to leave the coffee in the cafe and choose tea instead), I spotted the sermon from Sunday on the table. I arrived too late to hear it as I was subbing a delightful beginning yoga class, so delightful, I almost always say “yes” to this one. The sermon, you may have guessed, was also about bringing our awareness to this internal desire for perfection, our tendency to judge and forget our own beauty, and let go of the notion that we can will or force ourselves to appear so close to perfect that others might just believe it. “If our inner being is not congruous with our outer acts, no matter how they appear…it is like coming home after a tiring day to a dark house and tasteless bowl of soup,” stated the Rev. (& yoga teacher!) Brooke Pickrell.

Yoga philosophy couldn’t be more aligned with this metaphor. Diving within to rediscover our true selves is what’s encouraged in one of the first of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras: “Then the Seer [self] abides in his own nature” (1.3, as translated by Sri Swami Satchidananda). The true self, our own nature, is perfect. And we are perfect, until we forget that, right? This was one of my first lessons in the Foundations of Ayurveda at Kripalu. ” You are all already perfect,” were the first words spoken to us eager knowledge-seekers seated tall on cushions on the floor, “until you are not.” When we convince or selves, or try to, that we must keep striving, even to no avail, just to prove to ourselves and others we can do something, this is when we most lose sight of our own divine nature, that inner being that makes us who we are, the spirit of God, if you will, within us. This isn’t at all to stay “stop trying,” but then again it is…there is no try, right? only do?

Do, then, what you love, with great joy. If it brings you joy it is likely in line with your true self. Another translation of that sutra is “then the perceiver is situated in his own form.”  In Ayurveda, health, svastha (my very favorite sanskrit word), has a short and a longer definition. Directly translated, it means to be situated in one’s self. If you are aligned with the perfection of creation (which includes you, and for which you are not responsible), it is only then, that “you become as flavorful salt and radiant light (Pickrell),” not before or by trying to fit your square self into a round hole.

Now this may seem to require, as one of my teachers has considered, tattooing the letter “L” on your left foot so as not to be so confusing to your students and distract them from their own practice, not perfection. It even more so invites us to sigh. To find relief in the holding that creation does for us.  Ayurveda ‘s longer definition of svastha, (per my interpretation) says:

When our current state is inline with our true state of being, our (emotional and physical) digestive power is strong, but not too strong, our tissues and organs are stable and functioning, our waste (sweat, urine, feces) are moving appropriately out of our bodies,  when our true self is clear to us, and our mind is seeing reality and accepting it

then, we are healthy.

Namaste.

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