by Kara-Leah Grant
Today is Day 138 of a 1000 Day practice I’m doing. It should be about Day 500. But earlier this year, on Day 338 something happened and I dropped the ball.
I’ve been doing Forty Day practices for nearly a decade now. At first, it took great dedication, commitment and mindfulness to practice yoga every day for forty days in a row, especially when I was doing the same practice each day.
I learned so much about myself, how my mind worked, and where I was sabotaging myself.
The fluctuations of my mind were revealed in stark relief against a backdrop of daily commitment.
(Which is one major reason why ever yoga teacher must practice daily. Daily self-practice reveals the mind which gives us an opportunity to work with it. That is the yoga.)
Then I tried a 90 Day practice. And a 120 Day Practice. I aced them both.
It seemed I had reached a level where I was able to effortlessly make a commitment to self-practice and then stick to it. I knew my mind well, I knew how to observe it in action and I knew not to buy into any of the myriad of excuses it could throw up for not practicing.
Enter the 1000 Day Practice.
It’s said (by Yogi Bhajan) that if you do the same practice for 1000 Days in a row, you master that practice and evoke a new aspect of consciousness within you.
Last year, I decided I was ready for that commitment, and I knew exactly what practice I was going to use – a Kashmir Shaivism practice that I had been initiated into back in 2010 when I completed my teacher training with Shiva Rea. I had done this practice for almost every day for six months at that time, and sporadically since then.
So I began.
Every morning, I got up early enough to spend 30 – 45 minutes in my practice – breathing, chanting, visualising and meditating. I loved it, and the days flew past. Before I knew it, I was nearing completion of the first year.
And then I attended a five-day immersion with Shiva Rea, the first time I had seen her since 2010. By the second day, I was perturbed. We’d been chanting through the chakras all day every day, yet the bija sounds we’d been using were different to the ones I’d remembered and been using in my daily practice.
Had I got it wrong?
I cornered Shiva and asked her about the sounds, and about what Christopher Tompkins (the Tantra scholar who had initiated us) had taught back in 2010.
Yes, they were the same, she said. It was the base of same practice.
Which meant… I had been doing my practice “wrong”!!! I was gobsmacked. What did this mean?
I contemplated over the day. And the next morning, when I would normally wake up to do my practice – my alarm didn’t go off.
My alarm always goes off! But it hadn’t, and I rolled out of bed with barely enough time to pull on some yoga pants before dashing out the door to catch breakfast before the kitchen closed and I could roll into first session.
At 10pm that night, I realised I still hadn’t done my practice. And this is when it happened. This is when my wily mind pulled a sneaky one on me and managed to convince me to break my 1000 Day practice. On Day 338.
You’ve been doing it wrong, whispered my mind. It doesn’t really count then. You need to start again anyway. You might as well skip today because it doesn’t count anyway.
And I believed it.
I didn’t do my practice.
I broke the 1000 Days.
At the time, I believed that I was “doing the right thing”.
That was how my mind sold it to me. That was the seduction. I felt vindicated and high-minded, and most of all right.
A week later, I began again, on Day 1.
138 days later, I have a different perspective. I realise now that another deeper layer of my psyche was revealed to me on Day 338, and I mistook it for truth.
This is what happens when we commit to a practice. We have thoughts about doing this practice and we either believe them – mistake the thoughts for truth. Or, we see through the thoughts and see that they are simply fluctuations of the mind.
Patanjali, in The Yoga Sutras 1.5-6 describes our thoughts (vrittis) in five different categories:
- Valid Cognition (Pramana)
- Misconception (Viparyaya)
- Imagination (Vikalpa)
- Sleep (Nidra)
- Memory (Smriti)
At the time, I believed my vritti was pramana – a valid cognition. I believed I was “thinking right”. However, time has revealed that that particular vritti was actually viparyaya – a misconception. And the misconception was arising from a samskara – a deeply ingrained pattern which seeks to keep me safe by ‘doing the right thing’.
This pattern is – was! – likely an early childhood developmental pattern (it’s a hallmark of Avoidance Attachment style).
It means that when I care about something or someone, I’m desperate to determine what the morally-correct or right course of action is and stick to it. If I do that, I’ll be safe because they will continue to love me. Then I can relax.
Day 338 revealed the vritti that lead to the samskara. Only I didn’t know it at the time.
Yet the seed of awareness was planted and over the last hundred or so days… many things have happened that have pointed me back towards this vritti and this samskara.
If you track back over some of the articles I’ve written on The Yoga Lunchbox, you can see examples of this samskara (psychological pattern) at work. For example, in articles where I’m examining what a yogi’s ‘right relationship’ is with alcohol, caffeine, and email.
On the surface, it looks like I’m talking about one thing – how to relate to alcohol for example. But really, on the unconscious level, I’m desperately trying to figure out how to behave in order to be loved and accepted.
This is a very subtle and deep layer of conditioning. It took 338 days of practice before it was revealed to me. When it was revealed to me through a vrittti, I mistook it.
And so it took another 100 or so days of practice before I was able to name the virtti accurately not as pramana as I originally thought (valid cognition) but as viparyaya (misconception) and begin the process of dissolution.
Therein lies the magic of daily consistent yoga practice. It reveals our mind and psyche to us. Our patterns become obvious.
Did it matter in this particular practice that I had been using different bija sounds in the warm-up I was doing? I have no definitive answer to that. It depends on how you define ‘matter’. It’s the kind of discussion I would have liked to have with my teacher – if I had one.
Despite doing my training with Shiva, I haven’t spent enough time with her to create a teacher-student relationship that holds my practice and yoga journey.
Instead, with no teacher to guide me, I was left to wrestle with my own mind and make my own decision.
The result doesn’t matter though. It may have taken me another 100 days or so, but through the light of awareness I was eventually able to see through the layer of conditioning that sabotaged my practice.
I also recognise that there was a layer of arrogance – I thought I had this daily practice gig DIALLED. Nothing was going to de-rail me as I marched towards 1000 Days!
Now, I feel a softness, a bowing, a sense of being humble. Or maybe slightly more humble. I also have a deeper understanding of the importance of our commitment to the practice.
It is not what we do on the mat that is so important. It is whether or not we show up each and every day. And it is the awareness we bring to the fluctuations of the mind as we make that commitment to show up.
This is where the yoga truly lies. Not in the postures. Not in the breathing. Not in the chanting or the visualisation or even the meditation. It is in our mind, our awareness of our mind and our response to our mind.
It is in our direct perception of reality – and how we move toward that.