Don’t Work . . .

Don’t Work! That’s what my dance coach tells me when he feels like I’m trying too hard. How can anyone be on the dance floor for an hour focusing on technique, choreography, flexibility, stamina, rhythm and musicality and not be working hard? It seems like strange advice to give someone focused on big goals, to work less. . . Most of us never place any value on working less.. Instead, we constantly hear the opposite. “You have to try your hardest.” “The one who wins is the one who tries the hardest.” “You have to sacrifice and work hard for what you really want.” We are conditioned to apply this “hard work” mentality as our path to success in life, no matter what the circumstances. At the gym, we think no pain, no gain. If you’re not sweating, you’re not working hard enough. At the office, if you’re not climbing on someone else’s shoulders to move up, you probably won’t. If you want a successful relationship, you have to “work” at it. We believe that we can have, do and be whoever we want, if we work hard enough. We think that struggle is normal and necessary, but is it? Does the “whatever it takes” attitude actually work in the long run? Could there be any logic in working less? I know the concept doesn’t make sense, but let me back up a minute and tell a story. In 1999, I attended my first Yoga Journal Conference in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I went by myself and knew no one. At the time, I was recently separated and facing the negotiations of a divorce with three children, ages (2-6), who I knew would suffer the consequences of splitting up our home and lives, no matter what. I was trying to lessen the blow, hell bent on doing “whatever it takes” to make it on my own. Attending the yoga conference was a chance for me to get away for a few days and gather strength for what I’d be facing in the coming months. I’d only been practicing yoga a few months, so I attended a lot of the workshops. I was learning technique and postures that were completely new to me. Day 2: I entered the final workshop of the afternoon. The instructor was in the front of the room warming up. Her shoulders, back, abs, everything that wasn’t covered, were ripped! I could tell right away from the looks of her, I was going to have a tough time of it. I honestly felt a little intimidated, but I wasn’t about to leave. I was concentrating on holding myself in Dolphin pose when she stepped up next to my mat, bent over and said, “Stop struggling with it. You shouldn’t have to struggle.” It was a totally new pose for me and it upset me that she couldn’t see how hard I was trying to get it right! When she moved on, I came out of the pose quickly rolled up my mat and sneaked out the back, tears streaming down my chin. I ran to my car and had a good cry. I was mad, infuriated even, but the truth was, I had been struggling, for months. I was on my own and I thought the only thing that would help me survive was an independent brut-ish force. But my strategy wasn’t really working. That instructor saw through my bullshit armor and intuitively spoke right into the very lesson I would continue to “struggle” to learn over the next fifteen years, to surrender to life, let go and trust. When we struggle, believing that we can take the world on our shoulders single-handedly, that we can force into being what we want in life, we negate the very grace and perfection of a Universe designed to support and nurture us. When we are struggling, nose to the grindstone, we become blind to all of the help available to us at every turn in the road. We truly are alone—by choice. Although we’ve been well-trained to try, we don’t get equal training on important life tools like trust and surrender. So I’m still working on it after all this time, although I’m getting better. Whenever I’m trying too hard in dance practice, my coach has to remind me. Because when I take too much of the responsibility for the dance, I shut him out and can’t feel his lead. That is the exact moment when I begin to feel lost. And for him, I know (because he told me) it feels like trying to move a carcass around the room. It’s an apt metaphor for someone disconnected and trying to go it alone. But when I let go and stop trying, I immediately become a receptor for information and our ability to create good movement together takes over. Everything becomes easier, nicer and more enjoyable. Fifteen years ago, a woman I didn’t know whispered in my ear, telling me to stop struggling. I resented it. She could never know what I was going through. But, in reality, she knew something even more important than my circumstances. She knew that struggling blocks the flow of good in our lives. It doesn’t honor the truth that we are always lovingly supported if we choose to trust and allow it. Anyone who practices surrender knows it’s a lifelong lesson, one in which we absolutely need others to remind us. Do you have an activity that challenges you to experience the results of conscious surrender on a very visceral level? What does it feel like? Who will remind you?

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