Things don’t always go our way… Our insurance claim is denied, it rains on our wedding day, we are left alone at a coffee shop when we receive a text from our friend that said she’d forgotten and could we please re-schedule for another day. These are the moments that we shake our heads and say something along the lines of Forest Gump’s eloquent line, “It happens.”
If we really stop and think about it, getting out of bed in the morning requires a good deal of what I like to call “sass and gumption”, otherwise known as “courage and faith.” Each day we step out into the unknown. We don’t know what is going to happen and there is no guarantee that what we assume is going to happen will come about. Getting out of bed is either stupid, or it is very, very brave.
Furthermore, we don’t know what sort of state we will be in when (and, frankly, if) we return to our bed in the evening. Therefore, it not only takes courage to get up in the morning, but a heaping dose of faith that we have what it takes to make it through! From my perspective, if you got out of bed this morning, you are quite the badass indeed. (By the way, if you could not get yourself out of bed this morning, you, too, are a badass. Perhaps you will get out of bed tomorrow.)
Do your duty.
Yet, know as indestructible that by which this whole world is spread out. No one is able to accomplish the destruction of that which is immutable. – Bhagavad Gita 2:17
The Bhagavad Gita is an epic Sanskrit text that recounts an encounter with Prince Arjuna and the deity Krishna. Arjuna is being called to lead his soldiers in a battle against his own kinsmen who lost their way. He experiences what St. John of the Cross would later call “the dark night of the soul”- a time of spiritual crisis when we falter and lose our faith. In this moment of need, Krishna appears to Arjuna in the form of a charioteer and offers him counsel.
Krishna reassures Arjuna of two things: First of all, there is an ultimate plan. There is an order to the Universe and we each have a part to play in its unfolding. The acorn is equipped with an internal blueprint that allows it to grow into a mighty Oaktree. Likewise, there is a blueprint in each of us that, when followed, leads us to self-actualization. Our task is to commit ourselves to the growth process and fulfill our dharma, or duty. When we do our duty, we are using our gifts and talents righteously.
Righteously? Isn’t that a bit of a loaded term? Actually, no. When we act righteously, we are making right use of our thoughts, actions, and the tools that are available to us.
The second thing of which Krishna reminds Arjuna is that there is a part of each of us that cannot be injured or killed. Our souls are unchanging and indestructible. If the physical world is an illusion, albeit a persistent one, as Einstein said, it is our souls that are real and lasting. The immutable soul is the truth of who we are. It cannot be destroyed. Therefore, we have no reason to fear.
Yet, we all experience fear. If we didn’t, there would be no need for courage. If we did not doubt, faith would be meaningless.
We are not born with courage or faith. We cultivate them by doing things that challenge us. This doesn’t mean that we must engage in risky behavior to prove we are brave. Rather, it means we practice facing our fears. For some people this may mean leaving a soul-sucking job or a destructive relationship. For others it may mean challenging an old belief system that no longer serves them. Facing financial ruin, a medical crisis, or owning up to a foolish mistake are all acts that require we act with courage and have faith that whatever comes we will ultimately be okay.
The fact that everything will ultimately be okay is not an invitation to passive living. In fact, it is a call to live with even greater conviction. Courage is like a muscle. It only gets stronger when we are challenged. Like a muscle, we don’t start with the most difficult exercises. Instead, we start with an exercise that is just outside of our comfort zone. Yoga offers us a way to develop courage on our mats that can be tapped in to when we are off our mats.
In the book Living Your Yoga, Dr. Judith Lasater offers an exercise for developing courage. Pick a yoga pose that you find challenging, but that you are confident you can do. Make that pose part of your daily practice. She uses handstand as an example. Don’t try to do the full expression of the pose all at once. Instead, begin by just placing both of your hands on the floor and kicking-off the ground with one leg. The next day, try the other leg. The day after that, try both legs and see if you can hover. Approach the pose slowly, one day at a time. One day you will find yourself balancing on your hands with both legs strongly extended into the air!
Lasater, Judith. Living Your Yoga: Finding the Spiritual in Everyday Life. Rodmell Press. 2000.