My friend recently completed his Yoga Teacher Training. The other day, he boldly stepped in to teach his very first yoga class when the scheduled teacher failed to arrive. What an initiation…Trial by fire. What an incredible gift – to him and his students. It took me back to my very first time teaching – The hours I spent trying to design a brilliant series. The list of REALLY IMPORTANT INSIGHTS I wanted to share. The astonishing gymnastics my mind performed, flipping between “You’re going to be great,” and “Who are you kidding? What do YOU have to offer? What if they hate you?” This was over a decade ago, so I have no recollection of that terrifying first class, but I guarantee that I was far less effective than I would have been had I just shown up and done it, rather than whipping myself into a froth, trying to make it perfect.
What is your go-to strategy when you have something big and intimidating looming on the horizon? A work presentation, job interview or important meeting? A daunting social engagement? Or, God forbid, a major decision that could impact the entire course of your life? If you’re like most of us, you start THINKING. Now, I’m not talking about the necessary thought required to fully prepare yourself for what lies ahead. Of course, you want to think about the points you’ll touch on in that meeting, potential topics of conversation to pull out at the party, or the way your future might be affected as you contemplate a fork in the road. I’m talking about the soul-crushing, energy-draining, fear-mongering, ineffectual type of thinking known as RUMINATING.
It’s normal to feel some fear and anxiety when we’re staring down the barrel of an upcoming situation that’s going to stretch us beyond our comfort zones. This future event is new and unknown, and our minds desperately try to seize control of the impending potential doom. So, we collect as much information as possible to prepare ourselves for what lies ahead. As long as our minds are DOING something, there’s a feeling of relief and an illusion of control. If only they could just stop there. But, for so many of us, once we’re fully prepared, our minds move on to worrying… because if they can just stay busy, they can sustain the myth that they can control what’s coming. So, we start thinking ourselves in circles, trying to make contingency plans for an infinite number of things that could go wrong. And by the time we walk into that important meeting armed with our skills and information, we’re also cloaked in an anxiety that mutes our passion, nourishes our self-doubt, and builds a protective wall that discourages flexibility and exchange. What if somebody asks a question that isn’t in our meticulously prepared notes!
We’ve done it again…just like we often do it on the mat. We’re all Effort (Abyassa) and no RELEASE (Vairagya). And if things go poorly, we convince ourselves that we should have worked harder. Maybe. Or maybe we’re missing another important piece of the puzzle. The yoga teachings describe two types of knowledge. Jnana, which comprises the things we learn from an outside source, and Prajna, the internal knowledge we already possess. Jnana is the intellectual lessons we absorb from the outside in, through teachers, books, trainings, articles, workshops, podcasts…etc. We have to work to learn these things. Prajna is the inner wisdom, housed in our hearts and bodies, that we uncover in stillness. It is already there, just waiting to be discovered. All the thinking and ruminating and worrying make it impossible to access our deepest intelligence, and our natural state of peace. We need to learn to quiet those bullying thoughts if we want to gain access to our inner insights. And we are at our absolute best when we lean into to both types of knowing. Imagine walking into that big interview fully prepared with facts and figures, but also calm, present, and confident that you’ll known the right thing to say in each moment as it unfolds.
When you find yourself held hostage by worries and “what-if’s”, get still be quiet, and enjoy the show. Yoga and Meditation give us a little bit of distance from our crazy-making thought loops. They allow us to watch the Mind Circus from the cheap seats. Eventually, if we just keep watching, without jumping into the fray or reacting, the unhelpful thoughts grow dimmer and quieter until, one day, we can’t hear them at all. Then finally, once all the noise is silenced and the last of the sequins and peanut shells have been swept from the sawdust, peace, insight, and absolute flipping brilliance begin to naturally arise from within. (PYS 2.2)
So, the next time you’re getting ready for something BIG, maybe set the worrying aside and try something different – A simple, three-part plan to encourage success and protect your peace of mind: 1) Learn all you can to set yourself up for success. 2) Trust that you have everything you need inside you to meet the moment with clarity and grace. 3) Go give it your best shot. Prepare. Relax. Show up. You got this!