You intimately know all the things you’re currently not doing to lead a life of purpose and peace. This is the life that you dream, write and talk about, but can never seem to take consistent action toward fulfilling. It might even be the life you secretly think isn’t possible.
So instead of eating the salad, you chow down on the fifth pumpkin muffin. Instead of meditating, you open the Facebook app on your phone. Instead of exercising or taking a walk, you park yourself on the couch with the remote.
Why is it sometimes so gosh-darn-difficult to motivate yourself to even take one tiny step toward your desires?
Because merely wanting something will not magically cause it to appear. If that were the case, there would be no suffering and no hardship for any of us.
This is the pain of our quick-fix generation, exasperated by countless “experts” who say that all you need to do is believe in miracles and all will unfold. Yes, even this Pollyanna yogini is skeptical of that process.
So in lieu of set-and-forget intentions and manifestations that die within minutes of writing them down, how do you bring what you really want into your life?
The process of getting what you want
Yoga has a system for this and it begins with sankalpa. Sankalpa is Sanskrit for determination or will, a resolution to fulfill a specific goal. In the Vedic and tantric traditions of yoga, sankalpa was considered “the foundation for achieving or becoming anything of real significance,” writes yoga teacher Rod Stryker in The Four Desires.
Stryker outlines a simple equation for attaining one’s desires. When the intensity of your desire plus the intensity of the energy you direct toward achieving it is greater than the intensity of resistance, you will fulfill your desire.
In other words, you’ve got to want what you want plus invest energy into attaining what you want. If the resistance — the challenges that obstruct your path — overpowers these two things, your desire will remain in your imagination.
Let’s say you want to create a consistent yoga asana practice three times a week. First, are you absolutely committed to making it happen? Second, are you ready to invest time, energy and perhaps money to drive to a yoga studio and pay for classes? Third, can you overcome the days when you’re tired, busy, not feeling well or might be anxious or fearful to attend class? The days when a friend invites you out for a drink or the couch sounds better than a rubber rectangle and your thoughts?
We know our internal resistance well, but achieving our goals often means confronting cultural, financial and societal barriers. When the three-times-a-week yoga practice wanes, your willpower might not be the only culprit.
Which is to say that there is nothing inherently wrong with you or wrong with the world for not giving you your desire. Overcoming resistance is part of the process — always has, always will be.
If you’re still all, “No, I’m totally to blame. I should know better,” consider my little dog.
Willow barks incessantly and frantically every time someone opens the front door. Is this a defect in dogs, to bark at opening doors, or simply a less-than-desirable behavior? She is no less of a beautiful, loving creature for having this habit. The difference is, unlike human minds hers doesn’t say, “Bad, Willow, bad!” every time a door opens and she barks.
You may have all the intention of making better choices, but unless the reward of making a choice is infinitely better than the pain of change, you won’t choose differently.
For Willow (and people), telling her to stop won’t do any good. She needs an alternative that’s much better than barking at the door. I need to grab the treats and give her a new choice: 1. Calm down for the tasty treat, or 2. Bark her head off as usual and get no tasty treat.
Is she still going to whine and probably bark in the process of calming down? Sure. Is it inconvenient to feed her treats every time the door opens? Yes. But the more we practice, the more concentrated she becomes on the tasty treat. She has learned one-pointed focus, a little doggie dharana if you will, and chooses to concentrate her mind to receive the better reward.
There is no change in her behavior until the choice I want her to make is more compelling than her default decision.
Which brings us back to you. Why is it so difficult to do the things you know will lead to peace and less self-deprecation? Or really, just more ease and energy and less daily drudgery?
Within the next 10 minutes, you could have an answer. Pick one thing you wish you’d do more of (but aren’t) and write down the answers to these questions.
- Do I really want what I want?
- Am I taking action and investing energy into what I want?
- Is the thing I want more compelling than what I already have?
Your answers can point you to which part of the process you’re struggling with: 1. The desire itself, 2. The actions and investments necessary to bring it about, and 3. The resistance you’re facing.
Upon discerning this, your next step is to sit quietly with it all for five minutes. Focus on the desire. Observe what it feels like in the body. Watch your resistance and watch your inspiration. Listen to what you need, without expectation, without judgment.
After five minutes are up, open your eyes. This is how you overcome resistance. How you give your mind a respite from its usual self-sabotage barrage.
This is the very first, small step toward creating a life you no longer doubt is possible.
Asana Practice: Balancing Table Pose
Dealing with our mind chatter is a balancing act. What happens when our guts say yes, but our minds say no? We’re pulled in different and opposing directions all day long when it comes to fulfilling our dreams within a world that often tells us it’s not possible.
Practicing Balance Table Pose is a physical attempt to bring all the energy back to your center, so even if you’re moving forward or stuck in the past you can find presence in the now. And it’s in the now that you find all the answers you need.
- Come to tabletop position on your mat, knees stacked under hips and hands beneath shoulders. Turn your inner elbows to face one another and spread the fingers wide.
- Inhale your left arm forward followed by right leg up and back. Lift the low abdomen up to elongate through the low back and engage your abdominal muscles.
- Turn the left thumb up to face the ceiling and draw the arm gently back into its socket. Flex the foot and dial the right pinky toe down, spiraling the right inner thigh up. Create one long line of energy from fingertips to heel, gazing forward of the mat or relaxing the neck by gazing more directly down.
- Breathe evenly, maintaining the pose for six cycles of inhalation and exhalation. Softly release to the mat, taking Child’s Pose if needed before practicing the opposite arm and leg balance.