As children, Jenness and I often watched Ed Sullivan’s “Toast of the Town” television show on Sunday nights. Among the performers we saw over the years, one old-time vaudevillian, named Erich Brenn, always held our attention, and we’ve thought about him often in relation to yoga science.

This performer had a rather simple act. Before him stood three long banquet tables. Secured to the tables were upright wooden dowels, each measuring about three feet in height. The performer proceeded to balance a spinning dinner plate atop one of the dowels on the table and kept it balanced by twirling the dowel. Then he balanced a second and a third plate. By the time he started to balance the fourth one, he had to run back to the first and re-twirl the dowel. And then he’d run to balance the fourth plate and a fifth plate and a sixth plate–until there were twenty or so! By the end of the act, to keep all his plates in the air simultaneously, he was dashing back and forth like a madman. Needless to say, it was a riveting sight.

That vaudevillian was a great teacher–a true guru. His act has taught us a lot about our own habits. When we were twenty, we said to ourselves, “We can do that,” and we
balanced a few plates in the air. When we were thirty, we said to ourselves, “We can do that, too,” and up went a few more. When we were forty, “We can do that.” When we were fifty, “We can do that.”

But as we entered middle age, we began to realize that a lot of our time was being spent just rushing to keep all those plates in the air. We had taken on so many obligations,
it sometimes felt as though we were enslaved to tiring and stressful expectations, disappointments and hassles. We had become so busy keeping all our plates in the air that we hardly had time or energy for nurturing ourselves and our loved ones.

To help us end such bondage, yoga science poses these questions: “Are you being kind to yourself when you choose–consciously or unconsciously–to balance so many plates? Are you practicing ahimsa (non-injury) by keeping so many plates in the air?” Remember, each and every thought and desire is merely a suggestion of what to give your attention to; it is not an imperial command. You can always have control over your actions.

Swami Rama of the Himalayas always marveled at the intelligence of his Western students, but he also recognized our lack of patience. He likened our condition to that of a first-time gardener. The novice tills and fertilizes the soil, carefully plants the seeds, covers them gently, waters them, says a prayer and retires for the night. Waking the next morning filled with exuberance, he races to the garden to survey his new crop, only to be emotionally devastated because nothing has sprouted. Concerned that the seeds might have been defective or eaten by some pest, the gardener digs up the seeds, trying to discover the problem. Of course nothing is really wrong with the seeds. The problem is a lack of patience and understanding of the process. Anything worthwhile takes love, trust and self-discipline.

Remember: be kind to yourself; put some conscious effort into learning to love yourself. Be patient, and try not to take on too much too soon. Throughout your entire spiritual practice (sadhana), start with what’s easy and the choice will be exactly right for you. In order to be the right choice, it must be easy. If you wanted to become a body builder, you wouldn’t rush into the gym and, with no prior experience, begin to bench-press two hundred pounds. You’d start by lifting just the bar with no additional weight. Then, you’d gradually add five pounds, then ten pounds, then twenty–until you reached your ultimate goal.

Ahimsa must begin with you, and in order to apply the precept of ahimsa to every thought, word and action, you must exhibit patience and love. In the words of William Shakespeare, “How poor are they that have not patience! What wound did ever heal but by degree?”

Give your sadhana a little time, but continue to test, experiment, evaluate and trust the teaching. Slowly, slowly, you will begin to recognize that there is a perfectly compassionate and benevolent wisdom beyond the mind–always eager to lead you for your highest and greatest good.