On the Pursuit of Tranquility


This morning, while teaching my 7:00 ashtanga class, I got present to being agitated. Later on, when I was going through my self-practice, I got present to the agitation again.

There were reasons for my tension—fledgling little anxieties eager to grow up into full-blown paranoias—but where my thoughts wandered off to was the question: how much of my life is spent against this constant backdrop of fear?

Because it really doesn’t matter what I’m afraid of (gaining weight, losing money, growing old, falling down). Whatever the source is, the experience is always the same—and so are the effects (illness, insomnia, preoccupation, stress). I’m told courage is the ability to act in the face of fear; to be completely honest, I’d trade in all my bravado for a good long stretch of serenity.

How I even stumbled onto Zen Buddhism (and yoga, partially speaking) was I was searching for some peace of mind. Not the cloud-parting, violin-accompanied, nirvana-associated kind, but just plain old tranquility (the kind you see in cats snoozing in the sun). A breakthrough for me was sitting long enough to not just smell the coffee, but actually drink it.

And in the almost-five years that I’ve practiced yoga (and meditation at infrequent intervals), I’ve come a long way—far away enough, at any rate, to catch the fear when it does come up versus taking it for granted as the normal flavor of my mental landscape; far away enough, too, to realize that the fear itself is never far away. No matter how much I grow in the practice (whether on or off the mat) it’s just there, waiting quietly and unobtrusively (sometimes padding about on little cat feet).

So what is there to do?

Well, not much really. And strangely enough, there’s a kind of peace to be found in making that concession.

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