Analytics Tracker

Monday, January 30, 2012

Living The Questions, Con't: Intention vs. Result

“The wise man lets go of all results, whether good or bad, and is focused on the action alone.  Yoga is skill in action.” ~ Bhagavad Gita

I'm still pretty pumped up from the workshop this weekend - even though I'm pretty sore I was actually planning on going to class tonight.  But...then I remembered that have to fast for 12 hours because I'm getting my cholesterol and blood sugar measured tomorrow at 7:30, and if I went to class I wouldn't be able to eat dinner until 8:30 or later.  So...the universe has spoken.  Instead I'm sitting at home writing a blog about Kant.

This was actually sort of the entry I'd been meaning to write yesterday but then I went off on a tangent about vasistasana and never returned.  I've been thinking a lot about the relationship (or not) between intention and result, and how this relates to life both on and off the mat.  This pretty much ties back to my chatturanga/cobra example from yesterday, and the relationship of the inner alignment to the outer form.

Whenever I think about intention vs. result I think about a thought experiment my professor ran by us while we were studying Kant.  Yep...Kantian philosophy.  Letting the freak flag fly today.  And as long as we're at it, senior year three of my friends and I organized a game of what was essentially Philosophy Taboo.  The ligntning round involved one of us reading a passage from either Edmund Burke or Thomas Paine, and you had to guess who wrote it. 

The coolest people alive, probably

I'm pretty sure the following anecdote is something Professor Langerak just pulled out of his brain for us to noodle on and not actually from Kant, but here goes:  ay a King has two servants, and he sends them both into town to look for...something very important to him.  I can't remember what it was.  Let's say his puppy ran away and they're looking for the King's lost puppy.

I'm so alone...
Servant 1 wants to do a good job, so he looks high and low for the puppy, tracking down all sorts of leads and doing some serious puppy-detective work, but try as he might he comes home at the end of the day empty-handed.  Servant 2 is a lazy bastard and doesn't really give a shit about puppies, so instead of looking he goes to the tavern for a drink.  When he leaves, he coincidentally sees the puppy sitting right outside the door!  Hooray!  Servant 2 returns home triumphantly with the puppy.

Who should be rewarded?  In my mind and in Kant's, the answer is pretty obvious - live with intention, don't worry about the result.  There are definitely arguments against this; for example, good intentions can sometimes lead to bad or harmful results and vice versa.  

I guess my counter-argument would be that the reason good intentions lead to bad results is that the situation was misunderstood or only partially understood.  If someone takes an action with the best of intentions but lacks a key piece of information, and something bad happens that was not intended, we can usually figure out what went wrong and decide to fix it in the future.  If someone does something that will result in harm, and they fully realize that something bad will happen and in fact want this to happen, that's a totally different situation.  No amount of education or evaluation will make that person change their mind.  They know, they just don't care.

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine told me about a situation at her work that is a great example of this.  They had an opening for a high-ranking position within the organization, and one of the people on the search committee - we'll call them Pat - had their eye on the position.  Pat had in fact been led to believe that they were being groomed for the position and that they were basically entitled to it.  However, the procedures and ethics of the organization called for a formal search process.

The reality is, Pat was not a good fit for the position.  They had neither the expertise nor the experience - so instead of doing what was right for the organization, Pat used their position of power to manipulate the process in order to set themselves up for getting the job.  Having that job was more important to Pat than doing the right thing, either ethically or for the health of the organization. Luckily some colleagues figured out what was going on and put a stop to it - but the aftermath was almost worse because Pat felt so entitled, and ended up hurting a lot of people in their attempt to get what they wanted.

Going after form before action is like trying to build a flimsy house on a fault line - when the ground shakes, everything falls apart.

When we're misaligned in yoga, we don't necessarily hurt others but we can hurt ourselves, mentally and physically.  I am a pretty competetive person by nature, and I don't mean that in the sense that I'm always trying to be better than everyone (except in competetive charades - then I am in it to win it), but more that I have a tendency to look at myself in comparison to others and think: "Why can't I do that? What's wrong with me?"  When I first began my yoga practice in 2009, I would look at someone doing a perfect Urdhva Danuarasana and all I could see was how lame I looked in comparison.  I tried to muscle myself into poses I wasn't ready for, just because I didn't want to look like a complete loser.  In that mindset, it was hard to see the shri in someone else's practice, because they were a mirror of my own failure.

It's really easy to get injured practicing this way, and I think a lot of people probably do.  What Anusara taught me was that the building blocks of the pose are more important than the final form.  For example, in Trikonasana, keeping the front leg straight and the spine lengthened is much more important than getting your hand to the ground.  The hand will come to the ground eventually, but it should evolve organically out of proper alignment, rather than being an end in itself. 

I think this theory can be applied to just about everything in life.  If we let go of our attachment to the result - the final form - and focus on the alignment, it's much easier to find peace with where we are.  Our mistakes and shortcomings are not failings - they're just where we are on the path.  When I look at my friends who've been practicing for like, 10 years, their urdhva danuarasana looks totally different than mine.  My pose is different than theirs, and that is OK.  If I concentrate on the alignment the beauty of the full form will come eventually.  If I try to shove myself into the pose, I'll hurt myself and my practice will be set back. 

In life, we often have no control over the results of our actions - our job, our salary, our appearance, our physical condition, our relationships are often dependent on the decisions of others.  Instead of striving for a perfect result, maybe we should focus on putting 100% into our actions, and let that be a goal in itself, without expecting anything from it.  In yoga, the benefit of the pose comes from the alignment, not from the outer form.  It's great to have the outer form as a road map.  We need it, otherwise we would lose the goal of where we were trying to go.  But, we have to be OK with the fact that we might not always get there.

This can change your me.

Alright I've wasted enough of your time.  I just thought of a whole other idea I could tack on the end of this thing but I'll save it for another time.  If you started reading this blog because of adorable kitten photos and random pics of what I did over the weekend you're probably feeling pretty misled right now. Sorry for all the words!!
"Even if, by some especially unfortunate fate or by the provision of nature, this [good] will should be wholly lacking in the power to accomplish its purpose; if with the greatest effort it should yet achieve nothing, and only the good will should remain (not, to be sure, as a mere wish but as the summoning of all the means in our power), yet it would, like a jewel, shine by its own light as something that has full value in itself."  ~ Immanuel Kant


  1. I think the more thought we put into our intentions, the better the result will actually be.

    1. Totally agree - it's that whole 'opportunity is where luck meets preparation' thing...we can't control the luck part, but we can control the preparation part.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...