When author and Nobel Prize winner V.S. Naipaul was still a boy in Colonial Trinidad, there was one opportunity to leave the island: a full scholarship to Oxford or to Cambridge. All the academically minded boys dreamed and competed for this opportunity and with incredible pressure from their families, the boys endured great anxiety to strive to this goal.
Naipaul shares a pivotal moment in his upbringing: he was playing cricket with friends after school when the older boy who had just won the prestigious scholarship headed home across the pitch. Naipaul congratulated him on his success and added, I hope to win that when I’m your age.
The older boy responded,
Don’t say that. If you want to win it, put down the bat, go home NOW and study.
Naipaul put down the bat. He went home. And he studied. Years later, he won the prize to Oxford and during years of great racism, he established himself as a preeminent and groundbreaking English language writer.
What child puts down a toy, calculates the long game, holds to the task and then achieves the precious goal?
In Yoga the untamed, untrained mind is akin to a child’s mind. The ego is like a child. The Sanskrit term for “ego” is Asmita. Asmi is a verb form meaning I AM. Asmita is I AM-NESS.
The I of this moment, this sensation of I, is so precious, so overwhelming desperate and fragile in its feeling of everlastingness that it kicks and screams and cries out, shouts “Me and Mine”!
The Asmita, I AM-NESS, does not see the long game, the community, sustainability, or global resonance. It sobs at spilled milk, a dropped ice cream cone, the fleeting sound of NO. The I AM-NESS does not see options or choices, it sees one limited path that must be met now. And if it is not, this aspect of mind, of self, of I, quits in bitter fits and sobs, no future in sight.
The trained mind, the steady mind, the emotionally intelligent mind is in the long game. It sees the goals and takes every step. It acknowledges NO as fleeting and temporary and believes in the power of yes. It journeys onward to meet it.
Yoga understanding of mind acknowledges Asmita as an obstacle to freedom. Any act, habit or view that is tinged with it, causes suffering.
The path to remove this obstacle is called abhyasa or practice.
To achieve an academic prize, one leaves games behind and uses the hours of the day for the practice, the implementation, of daily study.
To replace a harmful habit with a beneficial one? Each time I am confronted with the desire indulge the harmful habit, I put it aside like a child’s toy, and pick up the good habit.
When we asked our teacher Pattabhi Jois, how long until we understand Yoga?
Noooo, Guruji, how long?
And then he shared, in Sanskrit, the definition of abhyasa, of practice.
Sa tu dirgha kala nairantarya satkara asevito drdha bhumih.
Take daily effort, for a long time, without quitting or interruption, and your mind fixed on the truth, and in service to the goal, and then, you will have a firm grounding in it. This is practice.
Know your goal, define it, affirm its truth, see the benefits and then serve the goal. Do not serve the I AM-NESS.
Serve the goal.
Every day and it will be yours.
Put down the toy and claim your prize,
And know I am cheering you on,
Join me in making a resolution, a samkalpa, now.