I am a moderately sub-par yogi. I know enough to understand the asannas, and the breathing that sounds somethings like an ocean wave. Beyond that, I defer to my friends who are more dedicated to the practice than I. Despite that, there is one particular lesson in yoga that I have learned which has absolutely changed my life. The first time I ever went to a yoga class, everyone seemed to be so centered and calm and yet moving way too fast for me to keep up. Despite this experience, you know if you have ever taken a yoga class that it is not about competition and judgment, but rather about trusting your own practice. Instructors frequently remind the class that yoga isn’t about forcing anything, but trusting the intention and the breath. This is not because there is an absence of techniques, tools, or goals in yoga – quite the contrary. But rather, it is never expected that an individual leans into those techniques and tools more heavily than their body allows. It is not a free for all that is void of any absolutes, and yet the goal is not the destination. The goal is only valuable inasmuch as it helps the process.
The process of building a yoga practice is one led by surrender to our own body’s capacity rather than our intellectual or cognitive determination alone. It is an exercise in trusting the goodness, the strength, the honesty of the body – rather than our own brain forcing its expectation. It is the job of our rational mind to organize our schedule to create time, to show up, and then trust our body to do what it was birthed to do.
Yoga is never about prescription. No one ever grows in their yoga practice from pushing beyond what they can do to achieve their destination. It doesn’t build from should or oughts. To do so is a disservice to both our own bodies and the art itself. It is by intention, about trusting the bodies’ capacity to tell us what it needs that we are actually able to advance in our practice.
I use this imagery to create a parallel between how we approach the “problem” of our underdeveloped bodies to the “problems” of underdeveloped world. While it might seem crass to compare our physical limitations to get into half moon with global genocide and starvation, there is a certain corollary that can’t be missed. When presented with these problems, our choice is to first: make prescriptions, or accept them first before we move forward with intention. And prescription says that we already know what the problems are and we have to address them – because not doing so means we are doing nothing. Prescription makes checklists, raises awareness, and develops strategies. Prescription begins holding plank for 30 breaths twice a day when our body is begging for child’s pose.
In fields of social and environmental justice, and its corresponding world of growing non-profit work, many attempts are made toward health through prescription alone. It is present when the goal of the thing becomes more important than the process itself. Bizzarely, no matter how much we desire, hope for, or crave the outcome, it is the intention of the process that must fuel the vehicle – not prescription of the outcome. As Paul Hawken says, “[altruism] is a reminder that constructive changes in human affairs rise from intention, not coercion.”
If not prescription however, the necessary movement forward relies on our capacity to surrender. Intention is full of surrender, and the problem with this is that surrender is stupid. Surrender does not deny the problems, nor does it necessarily understand or even know the solutions. Surrender accepts the imperfections, and embraces them in all of their messiness. But surrender is terrifying.
Surrender is uncertainty.
Surrender is vulnerability.
Surrender means we own that we don’t have all the answers.
Surrender demands that we sometimes rest what we “know for absolute certainty” and trust the intention, the belief. While we know that many social movements in human history – establishment of unions, anti-apartheid in South Africa, civil rights, abolishment of slavery, womens’ rights – are a beautiful, honest and accurate embodiment of where we are moving towards as a species – what was necessary for their rooting and development was not prescription, or a specific determination, but rather an intention. A hope, a direction. Describing his approach to activism in the 1960’s, civil rights leader and Congressman John Lewis says it this way:
“But later I discovered, I guess, that you have to have this sense of faith that what you're moving toward is already done. It's already happened… If you visualize it, if you can even have faith that it's there, for you it is already there. And during the early days of the movement, I believed that the only true and real integration for that sense of the beloved community existed within the movement itself.”
What is more important than any other principle in any of our individual and corporate paradigm toward issues of justice is not our prescription, but rather our capacity to embrace that we are already there – even if we aren’t. The intention that surrounds our acceptance of our present realities begins as an invitation. We are invited to hold the paradox between what is – point A, and what is – intention toward point B. Surrender at point A is an invitation, it is not a demand. As the revolutionary Che Gueverra said, “Let me say, with the risk of appearing ridiculous, that the true revolutionary is guided by strong feelings of love. It is impossible to think of an authentic revolutionary without this quality.” Regardless of the facts, the data, and the totality of beginning, our only path forward is with an intention of love.
This Holiday season, in the face of global and local hell of all sorts - rather than focus on prescriptions of what should be, may we all begin to live with intention, and through that intent, co-cultivate a world together that already sings the beauty that exists in the midst of its absence. May we set our intentions toward love, hope, and honesty even when the noise of chaos, pain, and suffering is deafening. May we pursue love and vulnerability in ourselves, our families, and our communities.