The other day my yoga instructor said something that really struck a chord (a musical chord, as it were) with me. “You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of work. You should never engage in action for the sake of reward, nor should you long for inaction. Those who are motivated only by desire for the fruits of action are miserable, for they are constantly anxious about the results of what they do.” Now, at the time, I was contorted into a pretzel-shape, twisting my body in ways I never thought were humanly possible without a dislocated spinal cord. As I balanced there, my hamstrings screaming out me, I scoffed. Aren’t I in this crazy posture in order to reap the mental, emotional, and physical benefits? Isn’t it about the end goal: be it to calm the torrential wave of thoughts, increase flexibility, or to create that much-lauded yoga booty? He, of course, was trying to tell us that yoga isn’t about obtaining the perfect body, the perfect mind, or the perfect soul. There is no perfect. If you focus solely on your end goal, you will forever be disappointed because things never work out exactly as we would like. Often this is a good thing. Think about how boring it would be if all of your dreams, hopes, and wishes were fulfilled to their fullest extent. How would you grow? How would you be surprised?
As we moved on to the next posture, a crazy arm balance with my entire body weight balanced on my two hands and my face hovering dangerously close to the floor, I questioned his statement’s implications further. I have the right to work, but not to the reward? But, isn’t the right to a reward deeply engraved on our culture? We’re always dangling that carrot…. “If you get straight A’s this semester, we’ll buy you a computer.” If I go to the gym 5 times a week, then I will look like a movie star.” “If I work overtime every day this month, then I will take myself on a vacation to the Bahamas.” “If I take this pill, then I will lose 50 pounds in 3 weeks.” “If I obtain my masters degree in vocal performance, I will be guaranteed paying performance gigs upon graduation.” Watch any sitcom or commercial and you will see this reward system reflected in our culture. We work hard and we value hard work; it is true. However, we all expect (and are often promised) specific rewards for our hard work; yet, more often than not, our rewards alter from their desired state. As we all know, life is unexpected. If we focus on only the fact that our 5 days per week spent at the gym did not make us look like Angelina Jolie, then we will neglect to realize that we have gained strength, stamina, better health, and a trimmer waist-line.
By the time the class finished our postures and moved into savasana (no pretzel shapes here…. just a simple lying on the floor which is always much appreciated after so much intense activity) and our daily chanting, I pondered how this idea affects not just my daily existence, but my vocal career. With teachers constantly poking and prodding you in search of that ever-illusive “perfect” technique, it becomes difficult to simply enjoy the process of singing. When I was in elementary school, I would sing to my heart’s content. Jazz, pop music, Disney songs, basically anything that came into that jukebox inside my head. I can tell you without any hesitation that I never worried once about my jaw placement, the lift of my soft palate, or my tongue position. I was just singing because it made me happy. I was enjoying the process, not the end result. Somewhere along the way, I lost that feeling. I wouldn’t even sing with the radio while driving my car for fear that I might not be using the correct technique. Singing lost its joy and I almost gave it up completely because I was not winning competitions and getting into the programs that my teachers and I expected. We were focused solely on the desired destination, not the journey. That is not to say that I wasn’t getting into programs, making amazing vocal progress, and creating more opportunities for myself than other singers my age. However, we were not content because I hadn’t fulfilled their (and my) expectations. Speaking from personal experience, this is no way to live. When I began to view each vocal experience as just that, an experience– be it good or bad– my voice freed itself from the pressure of trying to fit into a specific end goal. Even if I completely ruin my chances at an audition or blow a high note in a performance, I gained experience. I tried something new. I worked–and that’s something I have the right to do.
All of this talk about a journey brings to mind my summer trip on the entirety of Route 66. I had to drive my car and all of my possessions from my grad school in West Virginia to California. Now, I could have focused on the end goal and just driven straight through on the interstate. It would have only taken 3 or 4 days of heavy driving and I would have saved a few dollars in the process. It wouldn’t have been enjoyable, but I would have returned to California, and that’s the end goal, isn’t it? Instead, though, I allowed myself 10 days and took my time driving old Route 66 through towns, cities, and backroads. I drove slow, stopped at virtually every town on the map, stopped in the middle of the road to take pictures, held long conversations with locals, and gained insight into the many different American cultures. It was an amazing experience that I will remember for the rest of my life. (You can read more about my amazing route 66 trip through my blog posts archieves. Just search “Route 66” at the top of my blog page and click on the “this site” button to see them all.) When I finally reached my end goal of returning to California, I was actually a bit sad to have completed my journey. The process was so exciting that I didn’t want to reach my destination. That’s how we should go through life… never wanting the process to end.
Life is a journey, so you might as well stop worrying and enjoy the ride.