Friday, May 17, 2013

The Ox and the Cart

I dabble in endurance sports (marathons, ultramarathons, etc.). I also dabble in adventure sports (winter cycling, winter triathlon, adventure racing, rock climbing). My history in these edurance missions is mixed and muddy. I often have fairly good luck in team efforts but when left to complete a long race on my own I often fall short of my goals.

My husband began as my partner in these endurance efforts. He has a long history of pushing his own perceived limits in punishing ways, from 135-mile winter bike races to expedition-style, multi-day adventure races. Through it all he has developed a mental tenacity capable of overriding the signals that regularly short circuit my system. Watching his success has often left me (1) very proud of him; (2) searching for my own override switch. The answer lies in the mind.

Enter the analogy of the Ox and the Cart.

The ox pulls the cart along. The cart will follow wherever the ox may lead. The question is, "Where do you want to go?" This seems fairly easy to understand. Now, lets say the mind is the ox. The body is the cart. Now, "Where do you want to go?" The body will follow where the mind leads. By focusing the mind we, in turn, can lead the body into joy or into suffering. Just with our thoughts.

In our yoga practice we have the opportunity to be attentive and aware. We have the opportunity to train our mind onto our breath and to notice when the mind travels elsewhere. We can experience the comfort of holding a pose while focused on our breath. We notice the discomfort of holding a pose while wishing we were elsewhere. When we are not mentally focused and present, we experience suffering by wishing for what is not. When we allow our thoughts to drift into negativity about our current situation we are like a worm on a hook. Desperate to be free of the barb in our side. The body follows the mind into this discomfort and we experience dis-ease.

We use the time on our mats to practice mental focus, training our thoughts toward positivity in each asana. We become better at noticing how the mind wanders, followed by the discomfort of the body and become adept at refocusing our mental efforts. Slowly, session by session and pose by pose we come to understand the ox and how it pulls the cart. We begin directing the ox towards happiness and contentment, noticing more quickly when we follow the wrong path.

The Dhammapada contains an excellent passage that speaks to the power of the mind. It is one of my favorites. I offer it to you as a source of reflection for your practice.

We are what we think
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.
Speak or act with an impure mind
And trouble will follow you
As the wheel follows the ox that drives the cart.

We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.
Speak or act with a pure mind
And happiness will follow you
As your shadow, unbreakable.

How can a troubled mind
Understand the way?

Your worst enemy cannot harm you
As much as your thoughts, unguarded.

But once mastered,
No one can help you as much.
Not even your father or your mother.

~ Dhammapada The Buddha

source: Kornfield  - The Teachings of the Bhudda, v.42

No comments:

Post a Comment