Abhyasa: Diligent, Focused Practice

Be soft in your practice. Think of the method as a fine silvery stream, not a raging waterfall. Follow the stream, have faith in its course. It will go on its own way, meandering here, trickling there. It will find the grooves, the cracks, the crevices. Just follow it. Never let it out of your sight. It will take you.

Sheng Yen

 

This is the sutra that speaks to me the most. I believe that anyone who has accomplished anything they have set their mind to really knows and understands this sutra. This sutra, in my experience, has been the most life-changing and can be the most challenging, too. Distractions can easily be let in to our lives, misdirecting us onto paths and little side trips that do not serve us and our higher purpose (forty minutes on Instagram and Facebook?? Really?? We ALL know how that feels!!).

Abhyasa is the foundation for the reason why there is a Cheetah logo for both of my cheetah companies. To invoke the spirit of the sprinter, sprinters, like no other, know what the action of abhyasa feels like. Directly related to dhristi, single-pointed focus with your eyes, I was first taught to focus in track and field when my coaches taught me my REAL finish line was ten meters past the actual line on the track, and the having a focal point while weightlifting helped me lift heavier. As a result, I was one of the strongest girls on my track team and college, and was always one of the fastest.

Focusing really works. And I love what Nicolai Bachman wrote in this chapter in his book, The Path of the Yoga Sutras, that abhayasa “…involves a committed effort to maintain your chosen practice long enough to reap its rewards.”

This was true for me in sports years ago, it’s true for me daily on my yoga mat, on my meditation cushion, and in the CrossFit gym. Focused and intentional effort, even if it’s in just small amounts, adds up over time. Bachman writes that “Abhyasa brings us to a professional level of performance, providing us with the knowledge and expertise to acquire a better job and even teach others.”

It is the dhristi-like stare of the hunting cheetah that inspired me to name my companies Red Cheetah Yoga and Cheetah Grounds. I have had people come to me and comment on the “chasing” image of the cheetah chasing it’s prey. To be clear, the philosophical energy of my company does not have anything to do with chasing, because chasing would instill a sense of lack, which is not empowering or inspirational. What we are about is the work it takes to get where we are going: especially as a yoga company that serves mostly athletes and athletic endeavors, we are about supporting the work it takes to achieve goals, to have the steady focus, the diligent focus and the keen discernment (viveka) that cheetahs have when they are on the hunt. The gazelle in this case really is the metaphor for our goals, and luckily the cheetah is statistically the most successful hunter on the African plains.

Our focused cheetah logo is meant to instill this sense of focused determination. And where life may not be a sprint, I can speak from the space of former sprinter that BECOMING a sprinter is NOT a sprint at all. Like any other specializing art or science, it is an art and science that takes years to develop and create, just like our yoga practice, just like creating great art, just like composing amazing music.

When a cheetah misses it’s kill, it does not sulk off and get sad and depressed over it. No. If it does that, it will starve to death. Spiritually, humans do this to themselves all the time. When we deny ourselves the right to pursue our dreams and passions, this is what we do to ourselves inside. Our inner talk talks us out of our dreams and goals all the time-but only if we let it. We can easily let the inner self-talk say things like, “Why would I paint for a living? I have a family to support. I need my job in order to survive!”

Whether it’s painting or racing cars or tending a garden that needs to come out to fulfill your soul, we halt ourselves from feeling what we need to feel because we are afraid of what the consequences might be because of what “others may think of us.”

This is where diligent, focused practice is so, so important.

My best friend in the world is a very successful lawyer. I saw him and so many others like him straight out of law school doing a lot of pro-bono work, working for free. Where this work could be construed as being disempowering for them because it was free and there was rent to be paid, student loan bills to be paid off, and food to be purchased, him and his colleagues knew that if they just pressed on they would reap big rewards later.   Diligent, focused practice can be applied to any area of your life, and if it is applied to something you believe in, and you stay true to that course in an easy, diligent way, then you will reap the rewards you deserve just by practicing patience and hard work.

“It’s important to stay on track and not give up, even when we want to.” Nicolai Bachman really hits the nail on the head with that quote. He also says “…perseverance will ensure some level of progress.”

So many people want the “get rich quick” schemes and expect to be successful right out the gate. Well, it is possible to be successful right out the gate for many things, but success comes in many forms. Success in a great education or a willingness to take a risk to change your life, and remember that your greatest success of all is your ability to be consistent in your words, actions, and thoughts, and for all of your actions to be in alignment, like showing up on time and consistently being in generous listening to others. Success is not always measured in dollars. Success is measured in how satisfied you are with your inner being and how true you are being to your purpose.

Keep the trained eye on your goals and purpose. The steady gaze of a cheetah who has just spotted his next meal. Cheetahs do not just chase haphazardly. No. They are very careful planners, sure to not waste any energy in their sprints, and cautious to ensure that their burst of energy will be fruitful. Cheetahs take much more time setting up their kills: getting in the right position, making sure the sun is in the right position so they can see the best, ensuring the wind is blowing downwind so his presence won’t be detected, selecting the perfect gazelle that is a little behind the herd, and probably the one that is too old, sick, or injured and will slow the herd down if left alive, anyway.

Cheetahs are the animal version of Abraham Lincoln, who said, “If you give me six hours to cut down a tree, I will spend the first four hours sharpening my axe.”

Plan. Stay on your course. Your course does not have to be hard, and it does not have to rush forward. Your course is one step at a time that is intentional and present.

Let diligent focus be your constant habit, and reap all of the rewards associated with it.

 

Thoughts

 

Ongoing, sincere and effortful practice is the source of my strength and progress.

Consistent, focused practice will diminish distractions, reduced attachment to superficial matters, and deepen the connection to my divine inner Self.

Every time I practice, it empowers me and reinforces my positive direction.

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