As I prepare to head into another round of yoga teacher training while also gearing up for a busy summer season in Tofino my thoughts turn around the topics of skillfulness and expansion. Skillfulness can mean many things but for me it is really representative of the amount of focus and intention I can bring to the tasks I am taking on. Without skillful focus I can waste a whole lot of precious energy and attention and still come out with limited results. Whereas just the right amount of disciplined action will allow me to broaden my possibility and maximize my potential.
John Friend talks about this as the dance of Yes and No. We say No to some things so we can Yes to others. In this context I am a skillful dancer when I am able to say No to distractions that will take me out of alignment with my highest vision so that I can devote more energy to the relationships, creative projects, and practices that allow me to live out that vision. We all apply this type of skillfulness when we make an effort to get our paperwork done so that we devote a clear mind to our latest art project, or do a spring cleanse so that we can maximize our health for the summer season, or choose to go to bed early rather than stay up another hour watching TV so that we can get up early to meditate.
The students who have gathered here in Tofino to do this next month of Teacher Training have made a choice to focus their energy and their attention on the study of yoga so that they can deepen their understanding and broaden their perspectives. They are going to discipline themselves so that they can expand, which will in turn lead to even greater demand for skillfulness. Because it really is a dance. We consciously contract, or narrow our focus, so that we can expand our potential, and since there is no top end to our potential (except the limitations we place on ourselves) then this dance goes on and on. Skillful contraction and joyful expansion. And in this way we become ever more skillful and ever more expansive. In this way we live our lives to the fullest.
Now if only it were always that easy.
Because another part of this dance is that sometimes we become distracted, or lose our focus. Or we doubt our ability to expand, or we lose the motivation to try. This is part of the Spanda, or universal pulsation, of being human. We can’t avoid this, it happens to the best of us and in these times of confusion we may feel we have really lost our way. But if we simply have the intention to keep moving forward, we will. For intention is an act of skillfullnes.
One of my all time favourite lines of poetry is from Robert Bly’s translation of Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet: “You see I want a lot. Perhaps I want everything; the darkness that comes with every infinite fall, and the shivering blaze of every step up.” That line speaks to me of high intention, deep passion and a life of fullness. Because the reality is we will all fall at times. We will stray from our path or become distracted by life’s events or forget what we value. But with an intention like that we will continue to come back, and we will continue to step up. We will continue to expand.