You Can’t Always Get what You Want: The Meritocracy Strikes Again + Abhyasa & Vairagya

Having a yoga school, you notice and learn a lot about people and yourself.

I think one of the biggest pitfalls I have noticed ties in directly to the notion of a meritocracy. People think they deserve a lot from other people, they deserve things from their yoga teachers & their practice. The idea is that if you work hard, then you get results. Whether that be a new posture, flexibility, strength, teaching opportunity, special attention or something else.

The hard truth is, we are not in control of much of our destiny. I know this won’t sit well with the New Age types, or those who like to ‘manifest’ things and read the book ‘The Secret’. The fact of the matter is, you don’t always get what you want in life, and sometimes after much hard work and effort you still don’t get what you want.

Becoming an Ashtanga teacher who has Sharath’s blessing to teach (Authorisation) is a wonderful lesson in this for many people. There are some guidelines about how you might become and Authorised or Certified teacher, but there is always an element of random. Teachers who have made three trips get Authorised before teachers have made four trips. People practicing Primary Series get Authorised before people who are practicing Intermediate Series. A lot and time and energy is often spent trying to figure out why he/she “gets” something in comparison to someone else.

Another example is in our workplaces: you have a job and you work hard. Then out of left field someone you think is not as qualified as you, without the same experience gets the promotion you were hoping for. Unable to perhaps see from your manager’s perspective why this might be, or unable to see what other opportunities are right in front of you, you are horrified! Again you have bought into the notion of a meritocracy. The idea is that if you do X. Y or Z you will get what you want.

Basically we all think that we deserve something in this life – and obviously I am not immune to this! But I have come to realise that just because you treat someone with kindness doesn’t mean you will experience kindness in return, or just because you have given someone a great opportunity doesn’t mean they will be thankful, just because you took your kids to the pool and lunch doesn’t mean they will behave when they get there!

Indeed when I first starting teaching Mysore (some time ago now) I thought my students owed it to me to turn up, if I was there, so should they be! That’s not where I am at these days with teaching. I teach because I want to be there, whatever else happens. Expecting something from someone, whether it be your yoga teacher, boss or student will often lead to suffering. If you do expect something then it is essentially you make it clear – state that your actions are predicated on the assumption that your effort will have a certain fruit returned. Then people have the opportunity to say ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ to this exchange.

Too often I see people not asking for what they want, not getting what they think they have a right to, then crying foul.

Life isn’t fair, it isn’t going to turn out exactly how we would wish. There is no escaping old age, sickness and death. In fact it was this realisation that prompted Siddhartha to leave the comfort of his palace and undertake a path of self discovery to become the Buddha – the Awakened One.

When we find ourselves not getting what we want – we can scream its not fair, sulk and ask “what about me?”. Or we can start to practice yoga.

In yoga philosophy the teachings of Abhyasa and Vairagya spring to mind. Abhyasa is the determined, long term stable effort of spiritual practice.  Vairagya is non attachment. Like wings of a bird, both are needed to fly successfully. Similarly in our practice, one without the other means we might get pulled into the lure of the meritocracy as we don’t have the understanding of Vairagya to balance out our steady effort.

In the early years of practice, still informed by societal conditioning and under the spell of the meritocracy, people overly focus on Abhyasa – the sustained effort that is put into practice. Without an understanding of the corresponding non attachment (Vairagya), it is easy for the practitioner’s Ego to become over blown and full of self importance and pride. When we begin to understand the nature of Vairagya then we begin to know our Self better. Our assumptions, desires, and reactions to basically things not turning out as the Ego might like become very clear to us.

Essentially we get to know ourselves better. We see how our attachments play out, and we see how those of others play out too. At the time it may not feel like a welcome situation and we may feel like it is unfair. But within that situation is often what we need to grow, to evolve and to live the delicate balance that is effort and surrender in spiritual life.

Sometimes through not getting what we want we find what we need…

“You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you might just find, you get what you need”

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