Lately, I wrote a lot about stillness; I talked about maintaining calm state of mind in a shaky world. This time I want to talk about flowing through stagnation, about the necessity of change in order to progress. I also want to talk about the challenges that drive us to make changes, the experiences that force us to adapt, the tragedies of our shaky self in this unbending world.
I found the path of Yoga after many years of practicing martial arts. The two practices are very different and for a while I found them complimentary to each other. Later, I let go of my martial arts practice and devoted my time entirely to Yoga. One thing I found similar in both practices, is the importance of change as a step to moving forward. In fact, this principle comes back to me in so many aspects of my life, not only in my practice.
My martial arts teacher used to say: ‘one must always start the battle with a well-practiced technique, but one can only win with a change.’ A warrior should practice with discipline and devotion, and aspire to master the most complicated fighting technique; it will push him through the battle with dignity. But to win, or move forward, something has to change. Chances are that if you have a suitable opponent, he knows the same technique you are working with. Or by observing you for a while during the battle, he can quickly learn your school of thought and remember which moves you have the most polished in your practice. So, to win you have to do something different, something that haven’t been done before in this battle. There must be an element of surprise. And it is a life-long practice to know how to create change and to adapt to the surprises your opponent, or life for that matter, throws at you.
A similar thing happens in our so-called peaceful practice on the Yoga mat. If we are getting used to practice the same postures and sequences, if we stick to only one preferred approach or style, we may perfect our technique in some aspects of the practice but we might lose the important ability to truly flow. Our practice needs to keep changing, evolving, so the body will keep learning to adapt and the mind will keep learning to accept. Saying that, there is nothing wrong with traditional doctrines, our mind just must remain open to the evolution of the practice. We should aspire to always learn something new, try postures that challenge our body and mind.
We practice Yoga to gain better connection with our body, and connections always strengthen through challenges. We are trying to build a better relationship with our self, and it is through challenges and hard experiences that relationships are built and grow into love. Love can mean: romance, trust, friendship or self-love.
It brings me to the second thing I wanted to discuss in this article: the price of self-love or contentment or happiness or success. Self-love is easier to obtain if it is earned by suffering. The sufferings that earn us a connection to the body can be only as bad as a painful stretch or a dizzy cardio breath; in the worst-case-scenario, we pass through an injury or illness as a step to understanding our body. But the true connection to our own, deeper self, the contentment with our own character, the confidence to be ourselves, is usually gained by much graver challenges, such as: traumas, tragedies and truly overwhelming experiences. It is the real, brutal hardships that push us to change and teach us to move on. Unfortunately, those whom I notice to authentically love themselves the most are those I know to have been through the hardest traumas. (Let’s differentiate here compassionate, authentic self-love from pure arrogance)
It seems to me that we either earn self-love through hardships or live with a constant self-doubt: why is it that I have everything but I am still not happy? These two troubles are completely opposite and none of them is easier to bear than the other: we either grateful for knowing the worst is behind us, living side by side with darkness, or we are unsatisfied.
So why can’t we be healthy and happy and content? Dostoyevsky in his novel, Idiot asks the question: is it better to be ignorant and happy? Or to know and suffer? But ‘the ignorant’ still have their share of pain and the ones who know are holding on to solace or redemption that is deeper than simple happiness. There is a sort of acceptance, a sense of self-worth after overcoming a tragedy that those who hold the lucky cards can’t have.
There are no journeys on this earth which are free of pain. Each experience has its price and its rewards. I wish us all to honour the paths that were chosen for us, they are all connected and are here for a reason. Let’s make our journey through life, on and off the mat, an experience of moving forward: through change and pain and acceptance and gratitude.