As a kid, I loved taking the shortcut. There's one particularly famous incident in my family, when my parents bought me a computer game — the kind where you have to find clues, solve problems, you know, use your brain -- and eventually come to “win” the game over months and months of concentrated effort.
It took me a matter of days (this is pre-internet) to find a cheat sheet, and dominate—lickety-split. In a nutshell, that was my calling card—find the quickest answer. School represented the same opportunity for short-cutting—simply figure out how to manipulate the structure to get the needed results and “win”.
...And I’m not alone in this.
Our Culture of Winning and Instant Gratification
We are a culture predicated on instant gratification and on “winning”—always searching for immediate results for our actions and pursuits. "What can you do for me now?", "What’s in it for ME?" -- these have become the mantras of modern society.
There was a lesson in that video game incident that my parents tried to bestow upon me - one that counters the dominant cultural narrative of “quick fix” -but it was a lesson that wouldn’t take root for years.
Climbing the mountain is NEVER about reaching the top. It is always about EACH STEP we take.
I, in my quest for “winning”, removed the joy from the experience. What satisfaction did the end bring me? Indeed, very little—if any. I am finding more and more, this is the core of what ails us as a collective—the immense dissatisfaction with short-term gratification.
It’s not that we shouldn’t spend any time scrolling through our Facebook news feed, or watching videos of cats dancing—it’s just that our desire for these and the countless other actions of instant gratification are symptomatic of a deeper issue.
Is It Life, Or Our Perspective, That Is Limited?
The issue here is that we see ourselves in a limited capacity. We see LIFE in a limited capacity. We see life as finite, as our lifetime as a short existence, requiring us to fill all our days with meaningful (which, of course, is often meaning-less) action. As if we’ve got to get it all in while we can. We actually think the things we HAVE to DO—actually HAVE to be DONE.
Well guess what? They don’t.
I’ll never forget driving on a narrow road in a redwood forest. It was a Sunday afternoon and there was a car 50 meters in front of me slowly ambling up the same road. Then, all of a sudden, a tree fell. It landed on that car, crushing the front—stopping it dead in its tracks.
I went to the aid of the driver, and when I got to the car, the woman opened the door. Miraculously, she was fine! Not a scratch. She was ok physically, but clearly shaken. And how did she choose to spend this death-defying moment of perfect synchronicity?
She couldn’t stop talking about where she needed to go, all the things she had to do, all the responsibilities and commitments she needed to fulfill. I felt sad. After all, a redwood tree nearly crushed this woman, and yet, rather than pause and appreciate, her pace quickened. (It’s possible this response was simply a neurological symptom of shock, though I prefer to see it in the context of “the lesson” brought to me.)
Our Short-Term View of Life
In our pursuit of accomplishment, we have chopped, dissected, and planned our day down to the second. We fill that day with short-shrift entertainment, devouring information, and shuffling off from one responsibility to another. We have 1 hour for exercise. 30 minutes for lunch. 20 minutes until we have to pick up the kids.
Nearly everything we do exists in the short-term. We ask ourselves defeated: How can I possibly apply myself to a long-term endeavor? How can I find the time for spiritual enlightenment, let alone, peace of mind?
The practice of yoga—of deep meditation and self-realization—IS a solution to our short-term view of life—and one that requires us to be committed fully to the “journey.” Surely, in line with our proclivity towards instant gratification, we can observe immediate results in our yoga practice; Increased flexibility, improved physical fitness, clarity of mind...and yet, these results are only the surface of what’s possible.
The more we engage with the full tradition of yoga (not just the physical asana), the more the deep, life-altering results will reveal themselves to us. Yoga requires us to take the long view. Each day is a step—not necessarily “towards anything”—just a step.
Yoga connects us to the infinite, and as the name implies, it knows no timeframe. It matters not where we go with yoga, just that we go. It’s time we perceive life differently, and in yoga we find a lifelong endeavor—one that delivers the joy of each step on our mountain of existence.