A yoga friend mentioned to me the other day that an experience that interferes with her yoga practice is competitiveness. If a moment arises in class when she glances around and sees that others are doing a “deeper” version of the posture than she is doing, she feels competitive. I have a feeling that this is very common, even if we sublimate it in some way to keep it manageable for ourselves. I know in my own practice it took a very long time for me be able to celebrate the beauty in another’s posture, even if I might admire it, I didn’t necessarily celebrate it. If my yoga friends celebrated a postural accomplishment that I achieved, I denied it’s value in my practice. What my yoga friend is pointing to is not some egoic moral issue. It’s that one of the most precious fruits of yoga practice is the experience of connection we can experience when we practice together – even on Zoom, and that the very human tendency to compare ourselves to others interferes with that.
Some of you may have read that my wrist was smashed a few years ago. It’s fully functional, but I’m taking my time reclaiming the fullness of some of the postures I did. I do remember what they felt like…Urdhva Dhanurasana, for example, full wheel. As I draw up the kinesthetic memory, I recognize now what a celebration of life it was that I was able to experience that full opening spaciousness of the front and back of the body. I had a dream after the wrist smash that I would do that posture again. That inspires me. But I go one step at a time. The gift of that experience though, is that I can’t compete. I can’t even compare. The truth is, based on the degree of the smash, doing plank is a miracle. Side plank also a miracle. That I can participate in a live class of the nature that I always practiced is a miracle. With my previous accomplishments removed what remains in class is the sense of connection…unadulterated by the thoughts I had about the quality of my practice, good or bad.
A week ago I had my first experience of actually being deeply moved by a colleague’s accomplishment of physical grace. Instead of “I should be able to do that” – well, that thought was not relevant – I had a spontaneous “that is so cool”. And then, an interesting thing happened in my ability to see without comparison I could perceive my colleagues articulation of the posture differently, and as a result I began to understand that there was a small micro movement in my body which, at this moment in time, I wasn’t accessing. Sometimes, becoming aware of something you aren’t doing becomes the doorway into doing.
I was told once that the Buddha said that the final frontier to overcome in the mind is comparison. Think about it. He has this…she has that…I have this…she is this, she is that, I am this. It all points somehow to lack. That one or the other of us is missing something or one of us has something that we should be grasping for. This mode of thinking – it’s not bad or wrong – it just interferes with what is possible I ourselves and in our relationships. Yoga promises that we will come to know ourselves as whole through practice. If we know ourselves as whole, we know each other as whole and we experience the wholeness that is love itself. This is an experience worth practicing for.