If one more yoga teacher tells me to let go of what is no longer serving me, I may just have to let go of yoga itself. This phrase, though it sounds good, doesn’t carry the integrity of yoga nor valuable advice for any of us. It is in part based on the idea of samskara, the yogic word for a mental impression or imprint that has to work itself out through karma. But, it is more likely rooted in the numerous sources of pop psychology that encourage people to simply leave behind the uncomfortable, sad, embarrassing or even shameful parts of our lives. Often, modern yogis call these our “stories,” and they tell us to let them go.
But story is just another word for lesson.
There is one great Yoga text that tells us how to deal with samskara, karma, and stories. The Bhagavad Gita is itself a story about ending a story. When Arjuna rides to battle to put an end to the wrongful reign of his family, he decides to terminate their story violently despite his affection for them.
But, this itself is a story we hold onto. We leave behind the anxiety, the violence, the doubt, and we keep the lesson for ourselves and those who follow us.
Let me tell you a story about myself. About 15 years ago, I fell madly in love with a man. It was the best hand fate ever dealt me; he was and still is a wonderful person. We are now married, stable, still very much in love, and expecting our first child in about six weeks.
The other part of that story, though, is that I was so caught up in diving into his personhood that I neglected every responsibility of my own personhood. It was my lowest GPA of four years at college. I lost a lot of friendships. There may have been a period of time in there where my hygiene was questionable. Note: keep showering, no matter how in love you are.
I have no regrets for how hard I fell. Every night we stayed up too late is a night I got to know him better, even when I missed class the next day. Every day I spent being entirely unproductive is one more day of memories we have together. My credit eventually recovered from my unpaid bills, and I was left with plenty of time invested in holding hands, driving around with the radio turned up, eating chicken wings (and calzone and gyros and egg on a bagel), and the coziest afternoon naps I’ve ever known.
I have some regrets about my failure to stay strong in my identity early in our relationship. At times, I’m tempted to say, “That was 15 years ago. Let it go.” But, there is an important lesson there, and I need that lesson today.
I’m about to fall madly in love with a little girl.
I can see it coming, but I won’t be able to do a thing to stop it. And I know I could lose myself in diving into her. This time, I’m keeping my story, learning my lesson, staying firm in my own identity, and remembering to shower. Okay, I’m sure I’ll miss a few showers, but new moms typically get a pass in that department.
Someday, I will tell my daughter this story the way my parents tell me their story. That’s part of the joy of life; not only do we learn from our own stories, we learn from generational stories, cultural stories, and the larger story of mankind. With the benefit of time, we can tell our stories evenhandedly, insightfully, and without letting them dominate who we are today.
Despite claims teachers may make to the opposite, there actually is not a single thing in your life that doesn’t serve you. Every love affair, every stolen kiss, and every belly snuggle serves you; every obstacle, every bad decision, every missed shower, and every failed class serves you just as much.
I hope you can put to bed the anxiety, violence, and doubt of the stories of your year. But, please keep the lesson.
(Photo: Somewhere back toward the beginning of our story at a Fraternity formal.)