After reading How David Beats Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell, I felt a rushing surge of exhilaration as the Old Testament and The Yoga Sutras collided in my mind in the ultimate mash-up. David was a yogi.
To boil Gladwell’s article down to a sentence, David beats Goliath thusly: relentless effort + challenging convention. To yoga nerds like me who love the philosophy of the practice, this equation may call to mind two principles of our practice: abhyasa and vairagya.
Yoga Sutra 1.12, abhyasa-vairagyabhyam tad-nirodhah, is translated as “Practice and detachment are the means to still the movements of consciousness.”
Imagine that you are David. And your mind is Goliath. And beating Goliath means stilling the mind so that you can experience the true Self.
To follow David’s path in keeping with this premise, the first step would be relentless effort, abhyasa. This is not just practice (and let’s agree that practice here is your personal one– sadhana). This is practice that is relentless. This is repeated effort. Persistence embodied. These are those mornings when our darkness feels bigger than us and all we want to do is lie in bed and fall prey to inertia, yet we still go to our meditation cushion. These are those days when we have 15,000 things to do and every excuse in the world not to practice and yet we bend time so we can go to our mat. These are those times when life is good, the sun is out, and God feels close, yet we still do our sadhana. Relentless practice. Because it is only when our practice is as essential to the day as taking a shower that we’ve reached the same plane as David.
If practice is the endeavor to be there, with there being defined as an experience of the wholeness of the Self, then perhaps the relentless effort it took David to beat Goliath might look like life becoming uninterrputed sadhana. Practicing daily, not as a means to reduce pain, but as a means to enjoy life more fully, with no gap between who we are on the mat/cushion and who we are in the world. Practicing in a way that every moment provides an opportunity to embody the eternal rather than identifying with that which is changing. Where we are led toward recognition of our wholeness even during those times when we falter.
The second part of the David-beats-Goliath equation is challenging convention. David won because he broke with convention and fought using his own special gifts rather than the usual tools of battle. This required a certain amount of the yogic concept of vairagya, or nonattachment, where the mental states of attraction and repulsion no longer control us. The mind likes being in control. As our sadhana strengthens, all sorts of obstacles begin to arise, some internal, some external.
As we deepen our practice, relationships change. Lifestyle shifts occur. Old identities begin to break down. Vairagya gives us the ability to let go of preconceived ideas of how things should be. It allows us to let go and surrender, rather than holding tight to a way of being that no longer serves us.
Vairagya gives us the power to do what we need to do, without attachment to approval from others. I’ve seen this play out in my life as I’ve changed over the years and have had to let go of defining myself through behaviors or ways of being that were no longer serving me. I’m finding that the conventions I need to challenge in my life right now are self-imposed. In the past I ascribed my limits to society, conditioning, to circumstance. In challenging my conventions, more space is opening up in all aspects of life as a yoga teacher, wife, professional, and friend. Nonattachment includes letting go of whatever we need to release in order to step into who we could truly be.
Relentless effort and challenging convention are the keys to overcoming any obstacles. As yogis, abhyasa and vairagya are the two constants on the path.
How are abhyasa and vairagya showing up in your life? In what ways do you use relentless effort and challenging convention to overcome personal obstacles?