I hate losing things. I still mourn the loss of a white sundress that went missing on my honeymoon, and a pair of pink Gucci sunglasses that the ocean swallowed one Fourth of July weekend.
Two months ago, I was at a pharmacy on the upper east side picking up medication. I remember feeling anxious and unsettled, like I’d had way too much coffee or was about to take an important exam that I wasn’t prepared for. It was only 7:45 a.m., but I’d already been to the doctor and battled my way across town to get to the one pharmacy on the island of Manhattan that had what I needed. I left the pharmacy clutching my paper bag of drugs, and I was walking toward the subway when I realized my sunglasses—my favorite Ray-Bans—were missing. The case was empty. I checked the little side pouch of my bag where I sometimes hastily throw them, but they weren’t there. I turned around and raced back to the pharmacy.
“Hi,” I said breathlessly to the woman behind the counter. “I left my sunglasses here.”
“No, Miss…” she began, but I cut her off.
“I’m sure they’re here. I know I just had them, and I must’ve put them on the counter or something while I was paying, because they’re not in my bag or…“
“No, Miss, they’re…”
“They have to be here!” I said. “I know I was wearing them when I came in, and I haven’t been anywhere else and…”
“Miss,” she said sternly, silencing me. “They’re on your head.”
“Oh,” I said. My face got red hot. I reached my hands up to pat my head, and, sure enough, there were my sunglasses. “I’m sorry,” I whispered, and skulked out the door.
There’s a phrase in Sanskrit, praaptasya praapti, which means, “acquiring that which is already acquired.” The woman at the pharmacy didn’t give me anything—she didn’t have my sunglasses—but she guided me to the realization that nothing was lost.
So what does all of this have to do with yoga?
The yogis say that our true nature is limitless joy. Not that we have joy, but that we are joy. Can you even imagine?
It’s a tough idea for our limited little egos to grasp. Also, our daily experience belies this concept of unconditional happiness and peace. We’re so used to conditional happiness: I will be happy when I have a healthy, happy baby; I will be happy once I make more money; I will be happy when I lose 10 pounds; I will be happy when I can hold handstand in the middle of the room. I don’t know about you, but just looking for parking on Main Street on a Saturday in summer is enough to make me feel agitated and stressed out. So much for being eternally at peace.
Some yoga texts explain that the reason we feel unrest or anxious is because we’ve forgotten who we are. We wrongly believe we’re separate from one another and feel isolated in the human experience. We carry around shame, disappointment, guilt, and resentment, and those things are heavy—it’s no wonder we’re exhausted all the time! We’ve lost our connection to our deeper Self, that part of us that’s always joyful and divine.
Patanjali tells us that even when we’re in darkness, or working through tremendous grief, our true Selves are limitless, eternal, content, happy, and peaceful. But what good is all this happiness and peace if we can’t feel it? Why have we forgotten? How can we remember again? How do we recover what’s lost?
Last year, at Ramanand Patel’s suggestion, I started studying Vedanta remotely with a teacher named Vijay Kapoor. Kapoor says that 80% of the Bhagavad Gita, that seminal Hindu scripture, is sadhana. I’d always thought sadhana meant “practice,” or even “an ego-transcending practice,” but Kapoor defines it as “positioning yourself”—positioning your life and your mind so that you can better understand your true nature.
Sounds easy enough, but finding your true Self takes sustained practice, hard work, and continuous study. It’s not an easy veil to lift, but the Gita gives us clues that it has to do with alignment.
How are you setting yourself up? Are you positioning your life in a way that allows you to access joy, or do you keep banging your head against the same brick wall and then wonder why you can’t find peace? As a head banger myself, I’ve been questioning my own alignment lately. Why do I continue to reinforce patterns that deplete me? Why am I reluctant to shed habits that make me anxious? Why am I still my biggest obstacle to experiencing lasting contentment? Why is it so hard for us to live our best lives?
Pema Chodron says, “You are the sky. Everything else is just the weather.” The habits that diminish us are the clouds passing through. Sometimes they congregate into violent hurricanes, thunderstorms, or blizzards, but the sky remains the sky: vast, open, blue, radiant. I sometimes think I have more fun identifying with the storms, because they’re powerful and dramatic. They can shake the very ground beneath me and send bolts of fire from the heavens to the earth. They’re beautiful and awe-inspiring and exciting and badass. But I’m no more the storms than the waves are the ocean. I know this, but I also forget it. I lose it.
How do we find our way back to our true selves?
I think it’s different for everyone. I’m learning that for me it’s a combination of rigorous exercise, sitting quietly, being near the ocean, chanting, spending time with my son and my mom, rolling out my mat, reading Mary Oliver, traveling, walking in the woods, and narrowing my to-do list. Then I find myself again.
Then I lose myself again.
So the bad news is, you’re the problem. The good news is, you’re the solution. You’re both the disease and the cure. The poison and the tonic. You’re the only one who can start paying attention to how you can better align yourself so you have access to the well of joy and peace that you already are. You find a way to acquire that which you’ve already acquired. Your favorite sunglasses that you fear you’ve lost are right there… on top of your head.