In my debut post I hinted at the notion that knowing what you want is great, but if you never ask yourself why you want it, then you really don’t know what you want at all. How many celebrities have to testify that although their lives are flowing with abundance, they are not immune to the human condition before we believe them? Now, I’ve lived in enough shitty apartments without electricity to know that having money will coax a smile more seamlessly, but I also know it’s not a true goal in and of itself. Why do you want money? Is it to retire earlier and spend more time with your kids? Is it to be in a position to help others? Is it to feel secure?
It’s super easy to blindly chase a goal and neglect all the people and things that were meant to be your motivating force. If you work your whole life to spend time with your kids, but miss all the moments when they excavate their sinuses at a school recital or paint the crib with their own shit, then what were you really working for? Or maybe, deep down, you want financial freedom in order to build houses in Haiti, but you haven’t had that conversation with yourself, so you keep buying manolo blahniks instead. Or, if you’re anything like me, maybe you never really set a clear goal in the first place. (I honestly think I laminated the idea at a very young age that money is irrelevant, which probably explains why I’m in so much debt. Well, that and privatized higher education).
I learned a technique from my yoga nidra teacher to distill your most honest why (operative word here being honest; you may want to say it’s to build those houses in Haiti, but if it’s really to summer in Venice, then that first instinct toward altruism won’t serve you). Yoga nidra is a sort of guided meditation that helps you ride the rail dividing sleep and wakefulness. You’re super receptive in that state, so it’s a good place to plant your why (in nidra it’s called a Sankalpa). My teacher calls the process she uses to get to that honest kernal “peeling the onion.” There are benefits to undressing your desire during yoga nidra, but most of us are just going to get out a piece of paper and a pen… Okay, the notes app on our phone… Okay, we’ll do the exercise in our head while we’re peeing in the morning (that’s actually not a bad idea, your intuition is pretty on point in the a.m.).
Basically you write the first thing that comes to your mind that’s missing from your life. For continuity, let’s say money. Ask yourself, “Why do I want money?” Then answer, “To buy a house.” Again, you ask “Why?” And answer, “ Hmm… when I really think about it, being a homeowner actually sounds insidiously oppressive.” “So what do I really want?” “To buy experiences.” Again, “Why?” “To have freedom of choice.” Can I simplify that any further? “I want freedom.” That’s it. That’s the pit.
So then, every time you make a related decision, ask yourself, “Will this choice bring me closer to freedom?” and, “Is it worth the freedom I have to spend now to buy future freedom?” When the answers are yes and yes, you may actually find yourself feeling grateful for the tedium that is your life. And also not stuck with a mortgage you don’t want.
And if you’re a woo-woo wonder go ahead and reframe that in the present tense for a pithy lil’ mantra, “I am free.”
“Peeling the layers” can go down all sorts of ways. Some onions have clear, crisp layers bursting with prebiotic zest; others you have to peck at furiously just to get that first eerie layer to fall off like paint chips; some are just waiting for the perfect timing to launch you into a spontaneous fit of tears. It won’t necessarily be pretty, but you really can’t fuck it up. Feel free to rinse and repeat for the various areas of your life in need of a rewrite.
One suggestion: if you arrive at “I am happy,” consider asking yourself what that really means to you. (Are you seeking equanimity? Peace? Ease? Gratitude? All these suggestions have more grip). “Happiness” is elusive, lofty, and our insatiable quest for it often leads to depression.Work on you and the appropriate amount of happiness will follow. (P.s.:the appropriate amount isn’t all the time.)
So what did this process look like for me? I started with phrases like “I want a career I take pride in” and “I want to add value to the world.” I won’t take you through the labyrinth of my mania, but I will share a quote:
“The whole work of man really seems to consist in nothing but proving to himself every minute that he is a man and not a piano key.”-Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes From Underground.
We may be products of experience, but we have the power to choose new experiences. Our attitudes and ambitions may be molded by our thoughts, but we have the ability to think differently. We may live in a society with priorities against the grain of our own, but we possess the compassion to make progress together.
I want agency. I am not a piano key.
What’s your driving force?
Wait! Wait! There’s more! Lol, I could barely even type that. But there is! If you’re intrigued enough to try a real yoga nidra session, I put together a lil’ recording for you, here.
- The best times for nidra are first thing in the a.m., or just prior to sleep. Lots of people actually use it to fall asleep, although the intent of a true nidra session is to STAY AWAKE and ride that division between sleep and wakefulness.
- It is said that a single hour of yoga nidra is as restorative as four hours of sleep, so often I’ll practice first thing in the morning after a night of poor rest.
- The best way to get ready for Nidra is to lie down on your back with a blanket (your body temperature will drop). If it’s daytime, you may opt for an eye mask/eye pillow.
I prefer Nidra without background music (in my recording you’ll hear the white static of a home recording plus the gentle noise of my essential oil diffuser – which I find lulling in it’s own unobtrusive way), but everyone is different, so if you prefer instrumentals with your meditation, check out this or do a youtube search.
I also recommend the free “Insight Timer” app, which has loads of recordings for both yoga nidra and other meditations.
Further reading: Yoga Nidra by Swami Satyananda Saraswati