I’m not doing anything

Well, that was intense… and scary and strange and tragic and wonderful – so long, 2019!

It’s natural to look back at the end of the year and reflect on what we’ve done before we look ahead to what we hope to do.

Personally, my tendency is to think more about what remains to be done rather than about what I’ve accomplished. I find it easy to forget that each step before the final step is what makes the final step possible.

But when I looked back at my 2019 calendar it showed me how many steps I’d taken: how many classes I’d taught, things I’d learned, milestones I’d reached, people I had a positive influence on, and people who positively influenced me.

Have you looked back through your 2019 calendar yet? If not, check it out – you might be amazed at what you accomplished, what you survived, whom you helped, and who helped you.

So now that I feel a little better about how last year went I’m ready to look ahead to 2020. And whatever intention I set or goals I have, if I can remember three things throughout the year then there’s a good chance I’ll be able to feel good about how things go.

The first thing I want to remember is that I am very small and my time is very short so I should use the time that I have to cultivate a sense of humility in recognition of my actual position as an infinitesimal part of an infinite reality.

The second thing I want to remember is that commitment to the process without attachment to the results is the real key to success. In yoga, the endeavor is the perfection.

The third thing I want to remember is that I’m not doing anything.

The Sanskrit word ‘ahaṅkāra,’ usually translated as ‘ego’, is more accurately understood to mean a ‘false ego’ in juxtaposition to one’s ‘true ego.’

Ahaṅkāra is the element of material nature that binds us to a conception of identity that’s based on what kind of body we have or what our karmic circumstances are. You could say that my ahaṅkāra is my conception of myself as a white, middle-aged American man. This, of course, is a temporary material condition and therefore ‘false’ in the sense that it’s not my eternal spiritual condition.

The word ahaṅkāra is actually a compound word that we can gain an even deeper appreciation of when we look at the two words that form it: aham, meaning ‘I,’ and kāra, meaning ‘doing.’ Together, they form a word that’s most accurately translated as ‘I am doing’ or ‘I, the doer.’

The false ego is the condition of thinking ‘I am the one who is making things happen.’ And this certainly appears to be the case; it looks to me as if I’m the one who’s thinking these thoughts, typing these words, scheduling this email; that I’m the doer who hits ‘send.’

And yet, however it may appear to us, yoga philosophy tells us otherwise:

prakṛteḥ kriyamāṇāni – guṇaiḥ karmāṇi sarvaśaḥ /

ahaṅkāra-vimūḍhātmā – kartāham iti manyate //

“One who is bewildered by the influence of false ego thinks, ‘I am the doer of activities.’ In actuality, all activities are carried out by the three qualities of material nature.” – Bhagavad-gita 3.27

If all of my efforts to move the universe into alignment with my desires are illusory then I have to say that it’s a pretty convincing illusion. I’d certainly like to believe that I’m making things happen, that I’m the doer, that I have some control over my destiny.

The Sanskrit word for ‘controller’ is Īśvara, which is also defined as ‘Lord, master, or ruler; one having the potency to perform actions.’ The compound word yogeśvarā means ‘the masterful performer of yoga.’

We would like to think that we have the potency to perform actions that will move the universe into alignment with our desires. It looks like that’s what we’re doing. But we’re very small and the universe is very big and what we’re really doing is responding to the universe as best we can within the limitations of the qualities of material nature that bind us to a conception of identity that’s based on what kind of body we have or what our karmic circumstances are.

In other words, our true identity is that of one who is controlled, not the one who controls.

This can be a little disconcerting at first.

So if we’re not the controllers of material nature then who is?

ajo ’pi sann avyayātmā – bhūtānām īśvaro ’pi san /

prakṛtiṁ svām adhiṣṭhāya – sambhavāmy ātma-māyayā //

“Although I am, by my very nature, unborn, imperishable, and the Lord of all living entities, I appear in every millennium by my own inner power, standing within and yet presiding over my material energy.” – Bhagavad-gita 4.6

Krishna, the speaker of the Bhagavad-gita (who is also known as Yogeśvarā) seems to be claiming dibs on being the controller of the material energy that’s controlling us.

How does this information help me? It’s totally liberating! It takes a huge burden off of my shoulders because I can stop trying to move the universe into alignment with my desires!

And you can, too!

yadṛcchā-lābha-santuṣṭo – dvandvātīto vimatsaraḥ /

samaḥ siddhāv asiddhau ca – kṛtvāpi na nibadhyate //

“Content with gain that comes of its own accord, unperturbed by duality or envy, accepting both success and failure with a steady mind – such a person is never entangled by reactions to the actions they perform.” – Bhagavad-gita 4.22

So the pressure’s off: I can go about my business fully invested in the process without attachment to the results. And since fine-tuning and focusing on my process is one of my New Year’s resolutions, this looks like a total win-win for me.

How about you? What are the principles that will guide you in 2020? It’s not a rhetorical question: please leave a comment and let me know.

Happy New Year,

– Hari-kirtana

Hari-kirtana

I’m a yoga teacher based in Washington, D.C. and the author of In Search of the Highest Truth: Adventures in Yoga Philosophy. I lead Yoga Teacher Training courses, workshops, and yoga classes. I also serve yoga practitioners as a private instructor and assist yoga teachers in their professional development.