How do you decide?

In the last couple of years, I’ve enjoyed a privileged sort of fun. I bumble around with people who came to a decision to change some old habits. Something happened, some sort of ‘that’s it, this is it, who am I, I’m doing this, let’s go.’ And they didn’t just let the decision go. They acted on it.

So they tried some stuff out—pilates or running, rock climbing, swing dancing, diet or bike riding—and they get a little insight, and then a little frustrated, and then they pick themselves up and try again. They start to see that this decision is going to require some attention. That they want to be paying more attention to how they live their lives and interact with life around them. They stumble into ideas rooted in the practice of yoga. Not just ideas about poses and yoga journal conferences. But ideas about calming the mind through careful, consistent observation of habits and patterns of behavior.

And because I’m lucky, or because the wind blew, because the door was open, because I had availability on my schedule, some of them introduced themselves to me.

A friend asked me recently whether I would ever stop my yoga practice. He said, ‘Do you get tired of doing the poses and doing the meditation? Do you get tired of sitting still and then hearing people like me dismiss yoga as some false faith system? Don’t you get tired?’

I answered, ‘No. Because I make a new decision every day to practice yoga.’

Which means, I say hello to every morning with gratitude for the light shining through the windows. And then I decide to express my gratitude by making a decision to practice. Which is my way of growing my love—for myself, my questioning friends, my clients and everyone I haven’t yet met. It’s my way of knowing myself so I can know the world.

Which doesn’t mean that I’m not going to fail a bunch. But a new day comes along with frequency, and, as long as I’m fortunate enough to awake to it, I’m regularly grateful to the light for returning. It gives me another opportunity to dedicate myself to my practice. Because the whole point is practice. The brief moments when light shines in the darkness are just gifts that remind me to recommit to my practice. Plus, they break my heart open a little more. And that just makes me happier to see how much light shines in everything. In everyone. In me.

The Yoga Sutra advises consistent practice. Abhyasa vairagyabhyam tannirodha. We should use consistent effort and we should keep ourselves from attaching to it. And we should do this for a long, long time. Satu dirgha kala nairantarya satkarasevito drdhabhumih. The effort becomes fixed only when done over time, with reverence and focus.

Which means that a diligent effort requires a continuous decision. It isn’t easy to practice. The mind wants to be busy with external ideas. The body wants to be lazy or active or fed or rested. The decision is to become disciplined but the decision itself requires discipline. And every day, a new decision. Every moment, another one.

So see what happens if you start by making a decision every morning: today, I’ll practice yoga. I’ll practice coming to the present moment through awareness of my movement, my breath, the flow of my thoughts. And watch what happens if you do this a few days in a row. And if you fail to make the decision on one day, no worries. Just try again. And again. And again.

It’s always a decision. And no one else is going to make it for you. So when you make your decision, remember how special it is that others are doing the same. And appreciate the presence of your sisters and brothers meandering mindfully on the path—whatever path it is that they decided to pursue.

Because time is always moving.

Happy New Year, my friends. I hope you’re inspired by the turn of the calendar and delighted by your place on earth. Why not?

As we reflect on the march of time, it’s darn common that we look at ourselves and wonder: who have I become? how can I be better? what the hell happened? Or maybe we aren’t quite so confrontational. We may, instead, make a promise to ourselves that sounds something like a sweetness offered to a neglected kid: I’m going to make you happier. Healthier. Stronger. Fitter. More productive. More creative. Different.

We make goals; we make promises to ourselves. And then we join the march of time—to steadily march away from them.

I write today because I have a suspicion that I’m starting to understand why this happens. I don’t want to be presumptuous, so correct me if I’m wrong.

When we make promises to others, we aim to assert our accountability. ‘I promise I’ll be there in 20 minutes!’ In essence, we’re saying: ‘I will not let you down.’ We don’t want our friend to be waiting outside for an hour so we get in the car and get our ass down to our friend.

When we make a promise to ourselves, the issue of accountability becomes a little fuzzy. ‘I’ll be there in 20 minutes!’ doesn’t really matter if it’s just you waiting on yourself. What are you going to do if you don’t make it? Pace the block cursing that flake… I mean, you? Unfriend yourself on facebook? You’re just going to sigh and have a beer. If you even notice that you let yourself down.

So why do we let ourselves down? What’s up with that? I think it has something to do with this: we prefer to avoid suffering. Because we don’t understand the value of suffering. And the resilience of our own hearts in response to it.

Consider this. Your best accomplishments are generally hard-earned, fueled by passion, sweat, tears and a refusal to surrender. We all have a few of them. We sometimes forget how we got there. So let me suggest a little guidance from an old tradition.

In the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, we’re told to practice consistently and remain detached in order to shift our patterns toward greater understanding, integration, control of wild thoughts: abhyasa vairagyabhyam tannirodah. In the following sutra, we learn: tatra sthithau yatnabhyasa. Practice—through an ardent and sustained effort—will bring stability to this understanding. With this understanding, we find tranquility. Calm.

Which all seems pretty familiar. No?

It is a great gift when we are able to succeed and experience the satisfaction of a goal completed. We feel exhilaration and relief. It is a blessing when we turn the requisite steps of success toward the development of our best selves. This is when we find calm. Equanimity. And this is what Patanjali is getting at. This is how we find the stability to stick with our resolve. To go the distance on behalf of ourselves so we can be tranquil.

As an exercise, consider answering the following.

What efforts do you make that lead you toward greater stability in your self-knowledge, toward personal calm? What actions can you commit to that will lead toward this stability?

What efforts or actions do you make that lead you away from this stability? What actions should you release because they deter you from calm?

It’s a good time for this kind of reflection. It’s the new year. It’s a time of renewal. Of course, any time is appropriate to begin considering your patterns of activity that serve or challenge you. But now is now. And this is the only moment I have. Join me in giving it a little thought.

Because time is always moving. And we all are so lucky to move along with it. Hopefully, with great love for the calm in our souls and the bodies that usher them around this good earth.