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“Quit working so hard.”
If there has been a consistent theme in the advice I’ve received regarding my inner wellbeing, it’s to quit working so hard. Yoga teachers, therapists, and spiritual directors alike have all, in one way, shape, or form pointed out that my natural tendency to “grit my teeth and get ‘er done” impedes my ability to allow life (which could be as specific as a yoga posture or the next step in my career or as broad as my spiritual growth) to unfold as it will.
Because I have considered my ability to work hard one of my “superpowers” since I was a young girl, this has admittedly been a hard message for me to process. Twenty years on a yoga mat has helped. If there is one thing I know for sure about yoga, it’s that you simply cannot hurry things along with a new yoga posture.
Change takes time
A body opens at its own pace. Nine times out of ten, it is not just muscles that need to become flexible or strong. Sometimes we are undoing habitual postures and patterns that have been shaping our bodies for years. Sometimes we must patiently wait while an injury heals. Sometimes we are doing inner work as we develop the courage to face a deep-seated fear.
Patience and persistence are far more effective superpowers on a yoga mat than the proverbial blood, sweat, and tears.
Despite knowing this to be true, and despite knowing that everything I learn on my yoga mat is an even greater “A-HA!” when I carry that lesson off my mat and into my life, my lifelong hard-worker still grabs ahold of the steering wheel at times when patient introspection and discernment would clearly better serve me in getting where I hope to go.
A story from a contemplative teacher
James Finley, a contemplative retreat leader, core teacher at the Center for Action and Contemplation, and a retired clinical psychologist, studied with Thomas Merton, one of America’s most revered mystics. He tells a story about Merton telling him to quit trying so hard in prayer:
How does an apple ripen? It just sits in the sun.
A small green apple cannot ripen in one night by tightening all its muscles, squinting its eyes, and tightening its jaw in order to find itself the next morning miraculously large, red and juicy beside its small green counterparts.
Like the birth of a baby or the opening of a rose, [some things] take place in God’s time. We must wait for God, we must be awake; we must trust in the hidden action within us.
-James Finley, Merton’s Palace of Nowhere
Keep showing up, but leave some space for the unknown
Merton was not telling Finley to stop praying any more than my yoga teachers were telling me to quit practicing, or therapists were telling me to quit trying to change my habits of thought and behavior, or spiritual directors were telling me to quit seeking growth and change in my life and relationships. Not at all.
Merton, my teachers, therapists, and spiritual directors are simply advising that we leave some space for unimaginable possibilities, surprising twists and turns to the journey, and miracles too great to even hope for.
Trust the process even more than you trust yourself
My own shorthand for this big, breathtaking, beautiful piece of wisdom is to trust in the process. The yoga teacher who created the lineage in which I have studied and practiced for two decades was famous for saying, “Practice and all is coming.” (Sri K. Pattabhi Jois)
Like the apple in Finley’s story, place yourself in the sun. If you don’t, the growth you seek will remain out of reach. Then be content to sit there. As you soak up the warm, life-giving rays, you may not even notice how much you’re changing. But I promise you, you will be astonished at the effectiveness of patiently and persistently showing up to create the YOU of your dreams.
Looking for your own place in the sun? Reach out to schedule a free spiritual direction consult or a yoga practice check-in.