June Theme: Ascending the Summit
Ascending the Summit by Ella Luckett
One time I was rock climbing, and got to a large ledge just a few yards from the top. I tried to get up over it or around it for several minutes and exhausted my muscles to fatigue in doing so. I finally yelled down to my belay partner: “coming down!”
He said, “Nah, you’re almost there!”
“Yes,” I said, “but I can’t get past it, and I’m exhausted and just done.” I said this in complete satisfaction of the height I’d reached, it being the highest I’d reached yet. As a yogi, I have a severe lack of competitive nature. Well, actually, I was born that way - not a competitive bone in my body, not even with myself.
“Okay, Okay, how about this,” he called up “Try three times more to get over that ledge and to the top, and if you still can’t make it… try again.”
My laughter at his absurdity, was laced with a little fear as my hands weakened and my palms got sweaty. Having looked straight down to call to him, I felt even more ready to descend, as the sudden realization of my life hanging in the balance of a piece of string over 200 feet in the air set in. I whimpered a little. I could have argued with him and gotten my way, but the question before me was: do I want to put effort into arguing my case for quitting or take the friendly nudge he’d given me and put in that effort, instead into going for the peak?
I felt around again to each of the various hand holds, all of which I had tried and previously rejected. Settling on just any random one, I let go of the idea that strategy would help me here, and recruited pure brute strength. With a grunt, a little bit of a cry, and a powerful exertion I hoisted myself over that damn ledge and continued to clamor through fearful tremors the last few grabs to the top.
Forget about sweat, those last few moments squeezed out of me a whole new layer of a toxic internal barrier. It was an exercise in pushing further and moving outside my comfort zone to realize a higher goal. Even if it was something I was wholeheartedly unattached to, it was still a cool win. The push, the haul, the victory was cathartic, and I felt grateful and ecstatic. “…So this is competitive nature” I thought to myself. “Kinda fun.”
With yoga we have to always remember it’s a balancing swing. The release of attachment to results is the medicine to those held in the clutches of misery when they don’t get what they want. But we can’t hover at the front crest of the swing, any more then we can hover at the back end. Meaning, complacency is as much an obstacle to a free and happy life as anything. It’s the attachment to being unattached!
So, what if we set our sights on something and run and sweat our way toward it. So what if we shout and rage if we miss the mark, if for only just a minute, till the minute passes, and we return to our buddahhood. There’s fun and fever of life we should be careful we don’t miss out on in our quest to rise above it. Raising consciousness shouldn’t pull us out of the first few chakras that are concerned with ego and drive, rather, they should allow us to live simultaneously in them all. So we can still fuel the flame inside us of a fiercely lived life, but remain clear that none of it should cause us suffering. Our soul exists in perfect peace with or without wins or losses, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun to play the games in front of us.
I’ve been working toward some pretty specific goals for many years now. All along however, I let them go every day, as I know even if I reach them, they won’t be the source of my happiness. The source is me, with or without any achievement. But there came a point where, letting go too much caused me to slowly slip down the side of a mountain. In that moment, I had turned to my closest friends and said, “That’s it, I’m coming down the mountain.” They, unlike my belay partner, didn’t argue. They respected my wish, and simply said, “how can I help?” But when I looked down, I couldn’t bring myself to descend to the bottom to start over either.
I just kept moving forward everyday, reminding myself that the only way out is up. A tedious non-climactic number of months where the progress was so slow as to be unnoticeable, and the work was so tedious, as to be mind-numbing. But I didn’t let go, I kept climbing just to climb, and tried to find peace in the present moments while I climbed…
Yoga Sutra 1:14 Practice becomes firmly grounded when well attended to for a long time, without break, and in all earnestness.
…And today, I’ve reached a crest. A beautiful vista where I can actually take pleasure in some of the gains my work has awarded me. Still, very much aware that it means nothing at all, I am able to take pleasure, joy and playful laughter in this grassy ledge, a milestone somewhere between past and future.
This is the difference between the monk and the tantrica. Austerity is not our mission. To deprive myself of goals, joys, missions in the name of cleanliness of spirit is not what we’re after. Now I realize that relinquishing the results should not diminish the passion behind your play. And often the most tedious of times, the times you want to turn back and give up in the name of not disturbing a peaceful mind, can be the threshold of something new and beautiful. These vistas are worth sweating for. Why not? Why not just heave ho? There’s really no way out but up.
So don’t let your practice of detachment drain the color from your actions. Let it be the ground underneath you that gives support to your running dancing feet. Although your deepest inner peace and happiness should remain unaffected by wins, losses, or accomplishments, stay dedicated and persistent to missions that feel right, and don’t be afraid to enjoy the view from the high places you reach.