One of the commentaries onPatanjali’s Yoga Sutras says,
“It is said in the sacred texts that just as to escape from thorns it is necessary only to wear shoes and not to cover the face of the earth with leather, so happiness can be derived from contentment and not from thinking, ‘I shall be happy when I get all I wish for.’ ” (Swami Hariharananda Aranya, Yoga Philosopy of Patanjali, 1983.)
What’s possible when you stop trying to change the world? Yes, we change things, but it’s not about the thorns; there will always be thorns (differences of
opinion, scheduling difficulties, multiple places to be at once, people to let go…). Dealing with thorns gives us opportunities to grow and experience new things, and to derive a better life. Not only is trying to make thorns go away a vain project, buy it just makes for more work ultimately. In the same way that it’s much harder to cover the whole thorny world with leather, than it is to just wear shoes, it’s much harder to get your spouse to like the same things you like, than it is to just appreciate it when your spouse is happy, and it’s harder to get everyone to subscribe to my political agenda, than it is to just live life responsibly.
Doing good in the world (getting rid of thorns) isn’t about making the world uniformly “my way” either, shoeing myself appropriately is all I need to go out
into the world, and when you do genuinely want to make a positive difference, it’s much more compelling to demonstrate the beauty and contentment that your way of life affords, than it is to demonstrate the discomfort or fear in your way of living. It’s counterproductive to present yourself as trying desperately to get everything about the world to change around you, so you can finally relax and be OK with life. Instead of striving and fixing, let’s be really curious about
what’s actually going on OUT THERE in your society, your company, even just in your family. When you understand it–really understand it–it’ll change. Promise.
This passage says to me that you can’t change others and eliminate thorns out there in the world without incurring resistance and snares of infinite variety. Rest assured, you change reality by changing your own way of approaching
reality. (just put on leather shoes.) For instance, see the good in everyone and everything you encounter, see it directly. For example,
- waiting in line for someone who’s slow, you could think: ‘it’s good she’s being thorough and
getting her needs met.’
- listening to someone complain, you could hear the underlying commitment to what’s right and good.
- feeling encroached upon by someone’s energy: ‘How great! The spirit’s
really got ahold of that guy.’
Now, be aware that you might criticize YOURELF if you notice you’re NOT seeing the good in something. Say, for example, you suddenly hear yourself
saying, ‘That idiot! what’s wrong with HIM?!’ then an instant later you think, ‘oh no, i’m not seeing the good in him! What a jerk i am!!’ I encourage you to just skip the internal drama. don’t act on the self-criticism. The thought (‘i’m a
jerk’) will dissolve if you just go right back to seeing the good. In yourself see nothing but the ‘good catch.’ This is what it’s like to wear leather shoes, rather than eliminating thorns, even within yourself. Integrate contentment into everything you do.