Lately I’ve been going to an Iyengar based yoga class (a form of hatha yoga focused on alignment and holding postures for an extended period of time). My teacher, Tony, has several Tony-isms that he infuses into every class. One of them that has really stuck with me goes something like this “do what you can do and leave the rest for someone else”.
We’ve all been in a yoga class next to the ragged breathing of a person straining their way into a pose… and at some point we’ve probably also been that person. It’s really easy to say ‘be happy where you are’ or ‘know your limits’ or ‘what you’ve done is enough’, but another thing entirely to do it. We live in a culture that asks us to define ourselves by these very things – how much we’ve accomplished, what intractable problems we’re making progress on, how many things are in our ‘pipelines’, what we have crossed off our to-do lists. As a child, if I got 97% on a test, I was congratulated and then asked about what happened to the outstanding 3%. The best I could ever come up with was ‘next time’.
It was a sufficient answer, but upshot was that something was always left unfinished, incomplete. It was a false escape. You can see how this can apply to things like work and to-do lists – there is always tomorrow, coupled with the persistent feeling of incompletion. Let’s go back to yoga as an example: you’re in utthita parsvonkonasana, extended side angle pose, doing what you can do. But you know that beyond where you are, you could wrap your arms around your front leg to bind and that maybe in another life, you could lift your back leg into a standing balance.
What if you broke the yogi-rules for a second and took a look around the class? There’s a chance that you’ll see someone in every stage of the pose. Here’s why Tony’s ‘leave the rest for someone else’ addition is so great: right now, somewhere, someone else remembered their cellphone before leaving the store, did a perfect handstand, rode to work with their helmet on correctly (not that I know someone who didn’t ;)). There’s something really satisfying in thinking about where I am as in the middle of the ebb and flow of the experiences of a broader community. Sometimes I will execute something perfectly, but when I don’t, there will be someone else to pick up the slack (and later, I will do the same for them).
In this way ‘do what you can do and leave the rest to someone else’ is really a version of ‘we’re all in this together’. It’s a really beautiful reminder of how our interconnectedness can render us complete.