Picture this: You are clicking along in practice. Then, like an orange cone in the middle of the street, something forces you to slam on the breaks. Illness or injury force you to take a step back; work commitments eat away at your practice time; too much holiday cheer or cookies make getting up a drag; it’s dark; it’s cold; and Doubt (with a capital “D”) in the form of that nagging question: “Why the H E Double Hockey Sticks am I doing this and getting NOWHERE!!!” grinds your beautifully disciplined practice to a dead stop.
I hear you. I’ve been there, too. Probably this morning.
When roadblocks of orange cones stand in the way of my practice, I look for advice on the best detour. Krishna counsels “Therefore let the scriptures be your guide as to what is to be done and what is not to be done.” [Bhagavad Gita XVII.24] Truthfully I’m a bit of a geek, so I pick out books, flip open a page and see what inspiration comes. Not always the most efficient method, but that’s what I got. If you are coming to me for answers, you are only entitled to the cut-rate spiritual advice I have to offer.
I have been reading Brahmananda Sarasvati’s Textbook of Yoga Psychology, well, I quickly realized that the psychology part was far beyond my grasp and skipped right to his translation of The Yoga Sutras. A not-so-random search landed me on I.30-31, which I will liberally give here:
I.30 “Disease, laziness, doubt, heedlessness, lethargy, clinging to sense enjoyment, erroneous perception, failure to attain a state of concentration, and inability to remain in a state of concentration are obstacles which distract the mind.”
I.31 “These obstacles manifest as grief, anxiety, unsteadiness of body, and unsteadiness of breath.”
I was familiar with these verses, and am experientially [all too] well versed in the actualization of these obstacles and manifestations. What I found incredibly interesting was Brahmananda Sarasvati’s commentary. Again, given liberally, he likens the practice of Yoga to cleaning a house. As you clean, you may stir up some snakes. The snakes are not there as a result of cleaning, they have been there all along. They have been brought into the open because they have been disturbed by the cleaning. You do not stop cleaning because you find a snake. You seek to remove the snake as quickly as possible before it has the chance to hide again and possibly bite you later.
These obstacles let us know that we are doing our practice correctly. We are shaking up all the gross and icky feelings, samskaras, and karmas that we need to work on to progress further. If we quit our practice, the obstacles become more firmly rooted. Of course, I am not saying that you continue to practice crow with a shoulder injury, inversions with bronchitis, or navasana with a raging hangover (no need to deny it, it happens from time to time) —these are times to recover and increase your meditation practice. Let me stress: injuries, sickness, depression require medical attention first! Existential doubt and laziness require a trip to your teacher. Know that your practice can, will, and should evolve as your life circumstances change. All teachings agree: at all costs, keep practicing!
I wish you and orange cone free day. But if you happen to find these pesky critters in your path, pause, accept their presence, reflect on their raison d’etre, then put it into 4L and drive over the top of them!