Itzhak Perlman is one of the finest violinists alive today. Several years ago, Perlman agreed to attend a charity reception after one of his concerts in Vienna. Tickets for the champagne reception were sold for the equivalent of five hundred American dollars per guest.
At the reception, while the guests mingled, Itzhak Perlman stood in a roped-off area flanked by security guards. One by one the guests were led into the roped-off area and introduced to Perlman. As one man entered the roped-off area, he stretched out his hand, shook hands with the violinist, and said, “Mr. Perlman, you were phenomenal tonight. Absolutely amazing.” Perlman smiled and thanked the man graciously for the compliment. The man continued, “All my life I have had a great love of the violin, and I have heard every great living violinist, but I have never heard anyone play the violin as brilliantly as you did tonight.” Perlman smiled again but said nothing, and the man continued, “You know, Mr. Perlman, I would give my whole life to be able to play the violin like you did tonight.”
Perlman smiled once more and said, “I have.””
Source: Matthew Kelly, The Rhythm of Life
There are things we desire throughout our whole lives that have nothing to do with the alluring distractions of more money, a flashier car, more square footage home, or expensive vacations, but are buried deeper down within the soulful fertile soils of our heart. It is here, if we sit silently and listen long enough, there is a calling, an inner yearning for something greater, more precious. That ‘something’ rarely manifests itself into a physically tangible object; it’s worth measured by its grandeur. Instead its scale and value are measured by how well it aligns with authenticity of spirit.
These types of desires burn like slow, warm embers within us all.
The Greeks spoke of Arête (ah-rey-tay), which doesn’t have a direct translation but essentially means moral excellence achieved by living up to one’s full potential. It was their belief that in order to be truly happy and to flourish, we have to become expressions of our full potential. Whenever there is a gap between what we are currently doing and what we are capable of, this gap will inevitably be filled with depression, misery, disillusionment, regret and anxiety. By living the-best-version of ourselves, the gap between our authentic nature and inner desires lessons, leaving less room for unhappiness to settle into and take root in the cracks.
I have my own desires, many of them. But what separates each desire from the other, in terms of importance, is how closely it touches my soul and aligns with that one singular question, “What do I really, really want?” Most of us want the same basic things, to be happy and joyful, to feel safe, to feel useful, to be seen and loved and to know our lives have mattered. My own heart yearns to live fully and authentically. I know how this will look once blossomed into full manifestation, but more importantly, what I’ve uncovered after many years of trial, error and more trials, are the tools I personally need to utilize to make this happen.
So it becomes a curious thing when I find myself ignoring my desires, letting my tools gather dust and in general becoming careless with my time, which, not too shockingly, puts me face to face with my fears. Often times I’ll recall Paulo Coelho’s advice,
“One day you will wake up and there won’t be any more time to do the things you’ve always wanted. Do it now.”
And then I freak out and panic. Judge myself with some harsh criticisms. Then freak out and panic some more. Until I finally shut up the voices in my head by picking up my tools and using them, building where I left off.
The journey to figure out what one desires most out of their one precious life can be challenging enough, but once revealed, the new challenge then becomes consistency—to consistently watch over and diligently stoke the flames of creation. Talk about becoming tiresome and tedious at times! Which, not too surprisingly, can make it easy to be lured away from our post by more enticing distractions. Too often, I catch myself ignoring what needs to be done in replace of more sleep, a good book, laundry, cleaning the toilet–because by all means, cleaning the toilet is so much more alluring than sitting down to meditate or write. Quite frankly, I get distracted by a hundred different things and nothing in particular, allowing my inner Saboteur to momentarily take the reins.
But all the while I still feel the heat and passion that emanates from those embers.
There is a term in Yoga, called Sankulpa. Some translate it to mean intention but if we break the word down we can get a better understanding of its meaning.
Kulpa = A rule to follow diligently, above all others
San = The Highest Truth
Therefore, we can confidently translate Sankulpa to mean an elevated vow or heartfelt commitment made in connection to our Highest Truth. Honoring our Sankulpa becomes deeply rewarding and sacred because it connects us to the authentic qualities of perfection within us all, and gives us resolve to manifest those indwelling desires.
As we near the anniversary of our Nation’s Independence I’ve been thinking more about my own Sankulpa that I set 6 months ago, like so many others, around the birth of the New Year. Here at the halfway point of 2015, I do not feel as solid in my commitment as I was five months ago, or as much as I thought I would be by now. But it is at this halfway point that we celebrate our country’s independence from tyranny and I contemplate my own inner rebellion and battle against the tyranny of oppressive thoughts and behaviors that keep me from the personal freedoms that I so longingly crave. I question how do I keep my vision alive when faith can easily diminish without proof?
A very dear friend of mine is being naturalized this Fourth of July. He has held this vision, of becoming a United States Citizen, since he was eleven years old. Eleven. At the age of 9 he was sent by his beloved grandmother to live in a Romanian orphanage because she could no longer afford to feed him properly. To listen to his stories of growing up poor, and I’m not talking Working-Class-American-Poor, but At-Times-No-Shoes-on-Your-Feet-Poor, in a small Romanian border town, and the way he tells them, is truly shocking and awe inspiring at the same time. Stories of hardship and poverty are retold without anger or blame, but with such lightheartedness sweetened with humor and laughter, that it’s almost easy to forget how shocking the details really are. To hear the delight in his voice as he recalls the excitement over discovering a previously chewed (by a stranger) and discarded on the street, brittle and dirt covered piece of chewing gum. He and his brother would tussle over who got to it first. Gum was a luxury and it didn’t matter whose it was prior to their discovery. They’d pop it eagerly into their mouths, crunch on the gum until it softened, which never regained its original flavor, and then take turns chewing it, happily.
Stealing food, not for the boyish thrill of it, but because he was truly hungry, to live in a one room, cramped house with dirt packed floors and a single bulb dangling from the low ceiling that required hand turning to share its light– all of these tales and more are always told with a smile and a glean in his eye because he holds no grudge toward life and the hand he was dealt as a boy.
All it took was one U.S. sponsor to help him uncover the embers of his own desire, to come to the United States, but it was his unwavering faith and vision that continually stoked them into the flames of reality. The immediacy of his life’s situation didn’t deter or discourage him. Practically his whole life, he knew it would happen. He saw it happen. He felt it happen. And 20 years later, he will receive proof in hand, what was always in his heart.
Its stories such as these that ignite us to take more action in our lives, to live with Arête and to encourage us to continue to strive to be the-best-version of ourselves at all times. Everyday we are blessed with a hundred different choices, but the question that really matters, “Is this choice in alignment with my Sankulpa? My Highest Self? My Vision?”
I’d like to be able to say there will never be days that the warm embrace of my bed keeps me from my yoga mat and the spiritual practices that keep me fastened to my Sankulpa. But there has to be a time when the stark realization that our whole life is NOW, takes a firmer, more permanent hold than the Inner Saboteur.
The struggles and hardships of our lives construct a framework for us early on, but the intense blaze of our desires in combination with our steadfast persistence, resolute devotion and pure stubbornness to not give in, will forge us into our most Authentic Fullest Version of Self. It may take our whole lives, but isn’t it better to brush the dirt from our knees, bandage our wounds and move forward a thousand times rather than to sit on the side of the trail, beaten down, covered in thick regret, vulnerable to the harsh elements that will eventually kill our spirit?
I’ll end as I began, with another excerpt from Matthew Kelly’s book, The Rhythm of Life, that gives me the nudge of encouragement I need when feeling unmotivated, lackluster and sloth like.
“This is what I do know: You are capable of incredible things—things you have not even begun to imagine or believe in. Infinite possibilities are all around you, waiting to be explored, appreciated, grasped, and celebrated. You are using only a fraction of your potential . . . and that is a beautiful and exciting truth.
Every day you make hundreds of decisions. Some of those decisions help you become the-best-version-of-yourself, and others don’t. Life is a choice. Become a great decision maker and you will master the art of living. With each decision, simply ask: What will help me to become the-best-version-of-myself? Make this a constant part of your inner dialogue and you will become a fabulous decision maker—and live a life uncommon.”