The Stirrings and Stillness of Action ​by Rachael Peoples

I have struggled for a large part of my life, as long as I can remember, on reaching, grasping for things, to seek out actions that allowed me to pronounce that I had accomplished something. Not only that, but I had accomplished it looking to be recognized or rewarded in some way for doing so. For some reason, even though I had accomplished nearly everything I had set out to do, never did I feel like this was enough. No check mark could be placed on the “feel complete and content” line on the to-do list. There was no point at which I could say, okay, that’s enough, or even scarier, that I am enough. There was no lasting sense of accomplishment. Even when I did get recognition, I couldn’t hold on to it, I couldn’t keep that feeling. Almost immediately, I would race back into whatever was next. I have had huge successes. I have rarely let myself fail at anything. And yet, how was it that I felt that I was somehow failing ? (at small things, big things, something, everything) How could I know that I was failing, if I had yet to stop to think about what “success” would be for me?

The Bhagavad Gita, perhaps, offers a glimpse if we are still enough to allow it. If we allow ourselves to stop, to listen, to meditate on its teachings. One of the lessons that resonated for me from Pema Chodron’s When Things Falls Apart was the concept that there could be action within inaction; and inaction within action. It is not surprising that the verses on action in the Gita also stirred something deep within.

[2.47-50]

You have a right to your actions,

but never to your actions’ fruits.

Act for actions’ sake.

And do not be attached to inaction.

Self-possessed, resolute, act

without any thought of results,

open to success or failure.

This equanimity is yoga.

Action is far inferior

to the yoga of insight, Arjuna.

Pitiful are those who, acting,

Are attached to their action’s fruits.

The wise man lets go of all

results, whether good or bad,

and is focused on the action alone.

Yoga is skill in actions.

It almost makes me angry for someone to tell me, for this ancient text even to tell me, that I have no right to the results of my actions. It’s bubbling there even through this journey, and perhaps because of this journey. Why? I have been guided for a lifetime toward the idea of working hard to accomplish something; but have spent very little time defining what that something looks like; so when someone recently asked me to think about, to set an intention about, what my heart’s deepest desire was — I felt, not for the first time, so so lost; so desperately did I want to cling to something that would save me and provide an answer to that question for I did not know; and I did not know myself. For what purpose have I been acting all these years? And how could I not know? How could I be living in this life but yet not living quite at all?

It is not that none of that life so far counts for anything, it is not that I should not have done and accomplished the things I have so far; but my attachment to the results – and those results meaning something – where I have work to do to truly embrace; and let go. “The wise man let’s go of all results, whether good or bad, and is focused on the action alone.” [2.50] My ego cries out. It screams of no longer having a purpose; it extends its claws, it threatens my acceptance of this idea. Hello my ego, I see you. But you see, I am finally here. I have arrived. You no longer need keep vigil for my life. For “action is far inferior to the yoga of insight” [2.49] and the insight is there if I allow myself to see it, if I no longer allow ego to cover my eyes and blindly act toward an unreachable goal. My ego would lose its employ should I finally attain that which I was seeking; and so was it unreachable by design until I had looked deeply for this insight, until I had learned this lesson? I am by no means done with action in this lifetime; for there is true joy and love in actions when done with understanding, mindfully, and for their own purpose. “Without concern for results, perform the necessary action; surrendering all attachments, accomplish life’s highest good.” [3.19]  Perhaps I have yet to discover my heart’s true desire; but in this moment, I feel closer than ever, and have even caught a glimpse of peace. And so, in this moment, I will act to take care of this moment. I will enjoy this moment. I will smile, and open my heart to this moment; and perhaps, in the end, succeed, in accomplishing my greatest feat yet.

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