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The Joy of No Ambition

Two months ago, almost to the day, my digestive system shut down. Eventually, the pain became extreme and I drove myself to the ER. The diagnosis was a small bowel obstruction. Luckily, no physical thing was found to have caused it, and they’ve had a very thorough and high-tech look at all of my insides. I am well.


In retrospect, and what I sort of knew even as it was happening, is that I had fed myself too much. I don’t mean food. I mean other things: tasks, projects, timelines, endless news, violent tv, social media. It wasn’t just my digestive system that shut down. I shut down. The digestive system was the wake up call.


And so much of what I was feeding myself I consumed voluntarily. I was pushing against reality. I was, for instance, negotiating a lease for a space in San Francisco that would have stretched me financially at exactly the moment that I was working and working and working to get my existing studios open and finding that people weren’t really ready to come back. I was frustrated, and in my frustration, instead of backing off and taking a breath, I just kept pushing and pushing.


And then, it all stopped.


I met myself, finally, exactly where I was, and I identified the problem. Ambition. We are taught that ambition is good, that more is better. Stronger is better. Setting goals and meeting them is better. Be a bad ass, we are told. Go for it, go harder, try harder, do more, and do it better.


I backed out of the lease negotiations in San Francisco. I gave up trying to fill classes that weren’t filling (and miraculously, with no effort on my part, they filled).


I went to my mat, and I finally learned what gentle yoga is. I always thought gentle yoga was doing 70 or 80 percent of what you’re capable of. But here’s what happened when I practiced and did 10 or 15 percent of what I’m capable of: I wanted to do it every single day. Nothing can keep me away now. For the first time in years, practicing yoga has become something that requires zero discipline because I’m only there to be kind to myself, to attend to the moment and my breath and my arms and my legs. I am not there to get stronger or thinner or happier. I’m not trying to attain any poses. Some days, I don’t even feel the stretch of any muscles. I am never sore.


And in my life, I’m taking a rest. There are no new projects. It’s ok if no one else buys my book or signs up for my yoga classes. I don’t need any more yoga studios. I don’t need to make any more money. I’m free from all of that, for the moment at least.


I know the day is coming when I will want again to be of service to the world. I will want to do the things I’m good at, and that will mean projects and timelines and maybe even goals. But I’m hoping to do it with a little less drive to get somewhere specific, to reach an outcome that I think is going to make me happy. The truth turns out to be that there are no outcomes that make me happy. I’ve been lucky in this life and gotten many of the things I’ve wanted, and they all came with their own messy buckets of problems.


Can I work for its own sake, just like how I lift my arm as I inhale, just for its own sake? What would it mean to do 10% of what I’m capable of? What would it mean to not be constantly trying to improve myself, my business, and most frustrating of all, other people?


Meanwhile, I keep replaying a song you probably know, Anthem, by Leonard Cohen. My suggestion is that you find it, play it loud, and sing it louder.


Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack, a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in


Slow down so much that you can’t help but be kind to yourself. Or be so kind to yourself that you can’t help but slow down. This is where the magic is.


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