by Kara-Leah Grant, Musings from the Mat
It’s a crisp, clear, clean autumn morning in Napier, New Zealand. Almost a frost, but not quite. Cold enough for me to see my breath as I stood waiting for the jug to boil. I have entire day stretching out before me with no appointments and no yoga teaching. My only commitments today are to The Yoga Lunchbox and writing.
Something’s missing though.
Something that’s been with me for a long, long time.
Possibly since childhood. Actually, definitely since childhood.
I’ve lost my ambitious drive – that which glued me to my chair for up to 12 hours a day back in 2006 when I launched my first blog and taught myself WordPress, CSS, HTML and the online world of blogging.
That same drive is what saw me re-branding and relaunching The Yoga Lunchbox two weeks after giving birth to my son. It’s what’s kept me showing up to work on this website 10 to 30 hours each week, week in and week out, for six years.
Blown to the wind…
And I feel both relieved and also like I’ve lost a dear, dear friend.
Plus, without that relentless drive whipping me forward, I’ve had to re-orientate myself to everything I’m doing.
For a long time, as a part of this drive, I needed to write. I needed to write to understand myself, to express myself, and to assert my place in the world. I needed to say, this is who I am and this is what I have to offer. I needed to write for validation.
That too is gone.
Oh, I still love to write, that passion is still there – but it’s a softer, more spaciousness feeling. It’s not the hard drive that kept me glued to my seat, churning out a thousand words and more every day. Now, I revel in getting curious about a topic, researching, diving in deep, exploring concepts and then putting it all into words.
It’s not about me anymore, but about using myself as an instrument. Or being used.
This ambition of mine – that which propelled me forward my entire life – has been gone for a month or so. It’s difficult to remember exactly how I released it as I’m no longer in that process. That right there tells you something. Normally, I have to write to process my experiences and the results have always ended up either here in Musings from the Mat, or on Elephant Journal.
Now I seem able to process my experiences without the need to write them out in public. This latest un-doing started after a workshop I did with Duncan Peak where he mentioned the term vasana. It’s something I’ve been doing without a need to write about it.
But I will attempt to reconstruct the deconstruction of my ambition because I have a feeling it may serve.
Ambition is revered in our society – we bow down before those with big ambition and worship at the monuments they create – whether it’s climbing mountains, or publishing books, or making money, or conquering other worlds and people.
Yes – it wasn’t that long ago that we celebrated those that conquered, leaving destruction and suffering in their wake. Witness the colonisation of much of the world.
I can’t speak for the source of all ambition though, just for the source of mine.
In conversation with a friend – which is how many of my insights arise as I witness myself before the Other – I remarked that I’d spent the last ten years of my life attempting to prove I wasn’t a failure. As I spoke, I realised the folly of my actions – because if I felt like I was a failure, then no matter what I succeeded in doing, I would still feel as if I was a failure.
I was seeking to shape my external world as a way of changing my internal world.
I know better than that.
Our internal world shapes our external world. Our external world merely gives us feedback on the unseen parts of our internal worlds.
Attempting to achieve external success so I would feel successful was doomed to failure.
‘Why do you feel like a failure?’ My friend asked.
I laughed. ‘Let me see… I’d just come out of the psych ward, spending not one visit but two. I’d been dumped by my fiance. I’d made a mess of my finances. I’d had to leave the life and people I loved in Whistler, Canada and come back to New Zealand at age 29 a total failure.’
It’s an old story. And one I’m sick of – mostly because it’s not true. I never was a failure – that was just the meaning I attributed to the events of my life. And it was that attributed meaning that caused the greatest suffering for me – not the actual event of psychosis.
My friend and I spoke more about failure and success, which of course is tied to self-worth.
We seek success because then we feel better about ourselves. My basic childhood pattern, for whatever reason, linked my own lovability to success.
I was a smart kid and effortlessly did well at school, winning all kinds of prizes and awards all the way through my academic career. Call me a classic over-achiever if you like. And somehow, through that process, I connected being loved with being successful.
When I bailed on a set career path at 21 and headed overseas to travel and explore, I was able to let go of the idea of defining myself by my successes and just enjoy living life. I felt free. There were moments of panic that arose – what am I going to do with my life? Who am I? What am I meant to be doing? – but I successfully ignored them and continued on my merry way. Plus, I was winning just enough accolades for my writing to keep the wolves of failure at bay.
Whereupon my story-telling ability took charge of my own life and created a narrative I’ve only just freed myself from.
I don’t have to be successful to be loved. I don’t have to be anything to be loved. Not only am I loved just for being me, but I am love itself.
And my God! Can I tell you what a relief this had been? I don’t have to prove anything anymore, I don’t have to do anything anymore, I just have to be me. Because what else is there?
Intellectually, I’ve known all of this stuff for years. But somehow, I’d never quite connected the dots, and it’s only been in the last month or so that everything has sunk deep into my core knowingness.
My ambition has gone. And in it’s place I’m discovering a spacious, creative, curiosity about the nature of life. That spaciousness is still giving rise to writing and articles, but in a different manner.
The most difficult thing has been fronting up to The Yoga Lunchbox every week. Now I’ve let go of all ambition, it’s difficult to voluntarily do this work. I’ve had to re-orientate myself to the website.
I’ve had to ask myself, without ambition, will anything get done? I’ve also been asking myself, what are my obligations with this website? What do I owe people? Can I let it be whatever it is, changing and flowing as I change and flow simply because that is it’s nature, and my nature?
We live in a world driven completely by ambition and growth. We make plans and goals and then take action to support those goals and plans.
Since I started this website, my goal was to make it profitable so I could be paid to do what I love. I’ve failed miserably. Yet at the same time, I’ve also been doing what I love for six years, even though it hasn’t been ‘profitable’.
The beauty is, now that I’ve let go of my relentless drive to make The Yoga Lunchbox profitable, I feel a contentment and spaciousness that I’ve been craving for ten years. This is what I wanted to feel, this is why I was so ambitious about making the website successful – so I could feel this contentment while doing what I loved.
This feeling was there all along. Right from day one… I didn’t have to get somewhere to feel it, I just needed to let go and be.
Now, things get done for the love of them, not to get somewhere. There is a change though in that keeping to a regular schedule – doing things for the sake of it, like writing three articles a week – no longer works. instead there’s this ebb and flow where sometimes I’d doing very little, and then it cranks up and four articles will appear within a week.
This seems to to be the natural rhythm of non-doing. It’s like the tide, sometimes low, and sometimes high. There is an effortlessness to it all. And mostly, I’m doing things because I love to do them, and I want to explore that thing – whether it’s creating a yoga class, or a yoga course, or a yoga article, or creating a yoga video series.
That’s the difference.
That’s what happens when we stop living from ambition, and start living from presence. The underlying energy that charges all that we do shifts from fear to love.
There is more I want to write about this, but I need to take some time to read, study, contemplate and then write. This is the new way of working for me. It takes time, and spaciousness, and mostly, emptiness. It’s sitting with concepts – not so much thinking about them, but contemplating them in a meditative space.
For now though, I want to leave you with a story and a quote.
The first is the story of of Andrew Carnegie, one of the wealthiest mean of the 20th century. I found this in the writings of Osho, so I can’t vouch for it’s accuracy.
One of the greatest rich men in the world was Andrew Carnegie. He left inestimable treasures, but when he was dying his biographer asked him, “Are you dying contented?”
He opened his eyes and said, “No, I am a very discontented man. My whole life has been a failure. I am dying unfulfilled.”
The biographer was surprised. He said, “But you have so much money! Perhaps nobody else has that much money as you have got. Why should you not be contented and fulfilled?”
Andrew Carnegie laughed and he said, “Yes, the same logic destroyed my whole life. I was also thinking that if I can have that much money then all will be well. Money is there, and I have lost my life in accumulating all this junk, but inside I am as empty as ever, in fact far more empty than ever, because when I was poor at least there was hope that some day I am going to be rich and then all will be well. Now I have even lost that hope, because I am rich and still my poverty remains the same.” ~ Osho speaking.
This second quote is from Krishnamurti, a man I will write more about in a future article as well.
We are ambitious. Ambition is not only in the outer world, but also in the inner world, in the world of the psyche, the spirit. There also we want to be a success, we want to have the greatest ideals. This constant struggle to become something is very destructive, it disintegrates, it destroys. Can’t you understand this urge to ‘become’, and concern yourself only with being whatever you are, and then, from there, move on? If I am jealous, can I know I am jealous or envious, and not try to become non-envious? Jealousy is self-enclosing. If I know I am jealous and watch it and let it be, then I will see that out of that something extraordinary comes.
The ‘becomer’, whether in the outer world or in the spiritual world, is a machine, he will never know what real joy is. One will know joy only when one sees what one is and lets that complexity, that beauty, that ugliness, that corruption, act without attempting to become something else. To do this is very difficult because the mind always ‘wants to be’ something. You want to become philosophers or become great writers; you want to become an M.A.
But you see, such ambition is never a creative thing. In that ambition there is no initiative because you are always concerned with success. You worship the god of success instead of understanding the ambition itself. However poor you may be, however empty, however dull, if you can see the thing as it is, then that will begin to transform itself. But a mind occupied in ‘becoming’ something never understands the ‘being’. It is the understanding of what one is, the being of what one is, that brings an extraordinary elation, a release of creative thought, creative life. ~ The Collected Works of J. Krishnamurti, Volume VIII, pp 96-98,