Yoga philosophy teaches us that two of the primary sources of suffering are attachment — clinging too tightly to things we want, like or love — and aversion — recoiling from or avoiding things we don’t. The problem with clinging to things we dig is that they won’t last, and then we will inevitably suffer. See, change is an inevitable part of the universe. Everything in our world arises, abides and then ultimately dissolves. And the problem with avoiding things we don’t want or resisting things just as they are is that we fight with the present moment or with things we cannot control.
What, then, about goal setting? Are we yogis supposed to just laze around and shrug our collective shoulders with an attitude of “it is what it is”? Hardly. We are to create and pursue goals, of any and all variety. That’s how growth happens. But we should not cling too tightly to the result of our efforts.
This is one of the key pieces of wisdom imparted in the Bhagavad Gita, an ancient book on yoga philosophy that is largely dedicated to the practicalities of living your best life and finding your purpose, or dharma. It was the Gita that inspired Mahatma Ghandi to become the great peace activist he was.
The Gita advises that we renounce the fruits of our actions. It states: “You have the right to work but never to the fruit of the work. You should never engage in action for the sake of reward, nor should you long for inaction. Perform work in this world … without selfish attachments, and alike in success and defeat. For yoga is perfect evenness of mind.”
Tall order. Do the work but don’t be too invested in whether you succeed or not. Give your all for the sake of simply giving your all. This is a lofty ideal, aimed at the amelioration of suffering. But is it humanly possible?
I think we can inch closer to this ideal, even if we never attain Ghandi-like status.
I’ll give you one example. Last summer I wrote a book. Naturally, it’s about yoga. It’s coming out in the next month or two. I’m excited, but also nervous. What if it actually sucks despite the fact that it’s being published? What if no one reads it, or worse, people read it and roll their collective eyes at what a waste of time and money it was for them? And so on and so forth. But with the wisdom of the yoga philosophy I have studied and attempt to break down for the reader, I can cling a little less tightly to my desired outcome (wild media acclaim and a spot in Oprah’s heart – I joke, but only mildly). I can appreciate the journey that has been the writing process and all of the studying that preceded it. At least that’s the goal.