I recently planted flower boxes for my window sills, an annual tradition that brings me immense satisfaction. Forget the flowers; I like playing in the dirt. When I was a kid I would spend hours digging for lost treasure in the backyard. One time I remember finding pieces of broken pottery and some oyster shells. I was convinced that I had uncovered ancient Indian artifacts, but was later informed that the pottery was from clay pigeon shooting and the oyster shells were the remnants of our neighbors’ annual summer barbecue. Undeterred, I declared that I wanted to become an archeologist so I could spend my life digging in the dirt, unearthing hidden mysteries.
Practicing and teaching yoga is a little like being an archeologist, so I guess in a way my dream came true. Now, instead of digging in the dirt, I excavate my inner terrain. I love yoga because the more you dig, the more there is to uncover.
If I’m being honest, though, I’d have to admit that sometimes it’s just easier to sit and admire the treasure I dug up yesterday. It can be challenging to override the habit of resting in what’s comfortable—in what I already know. I catch myself on autopilot a lot, taking for granted the lessons learned from all those years spent sifting through the mire. Who can blame me? Digging can be rewarding, but some days it doesn’t feel worth it when you only find an oyster shell or a broken piece of clay. Other days you might only come across worms, or weeds. Sometimes it’s just easier to enjoy the spoils of yesteryear.
The problem with resting on our laurels is that the mind will slip out the back door. This disconnection of mind and body cannot be qualified as yoga. And while some might describe autopilot as practicing without any alignment or interest in refinement, autopilot can also be seen in the carefully crafted, perfectly executed pose. As much as I cringe when I observe students cranking through their sun salutations, popping Chaturangas like candy, I can feel that same level of attachment to “my way” of practicing when I whip out a demonstration of my polished vinyasa. No matter how you slice it, attaching to the way we do what we do prevents us from digging deeper.
Attachment breaks the spell of connection. In meditation, for example, when we experience a moment of stillness, void of thought, we catch ourselves in that space and declare, “I’m meditating! This is it!” With that acknowledgement, the moment is gone. When I play the piano and I experience a hypnotic state of oneness with the music, my attachment to this state leads to separation; I disconnect from what I’m doing and ultimately fumble over the keys. Similarly, if I become attached to the consciousness with which I practice yoga, I can be sure that something else is falling through the cracks in my awareness.
Like an artist playing with negative space, observing our attachments ultimately reveals our blind spots. If we’re always shining the spotlight over our favorite hole, furiously digging day and night, we’re missing the whole picture. Paying attention to what we notice, on our mat and in our life, can help reveal what we’re missing. Glossing over the postures can certainly hold us back, but so can striving for perfection, or attaching to the wisdom we’ve acquired.
This quote from B.K.S. Iyengar has always inspired me to keep digging. “Consider a lake. Does the water touch the bank on one side and not on the other, or does it touch the banks equally? When you are performing an asana, your consciousness, like the waters of a lake, should touch the frontiers of the body everywhere.” Continuously excavating the familiar leads to an erosion of the shoreline. Sometimes digging deeper means putting down the shovel and shining the spotlight in a different place. What we then learn is that there’s always more treasure to uncover—more to understand—if we’re willing to dig in.