Which way?

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

“I don’t much care where—” said Alice

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

“—so long as I get somewhere,” Alice added as an explanation.

“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”

—Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Consider the conversation between Alice and the Cheshire Cat. Is it best to know where we want to go? Or only to want to go? Or simply to go?

My knee-jerk reaction, based on the Cat’s mocking pronouncements and my own personality, is to assume that one should have a plan. Meandering aimlessly is for lost souls and losers, right?

Well, I myself can argue otherwise with a literal example: travel. I write travel books on Hawai‘i, and people often ask me where to go, what to see, which accommodations are best. While I have no shortage of suggestions, I’m often stumped because I don’t know a person’s particular preferences.

Ultimately, you must know yourself well to travel well: to choose a destination (and purpose and pace) that reflects what you enjoy rather than what’s trendy. People with keen interests (whether hiking or yoga, botany or the arts) are wise to plan ahead, to ensure the right equipment, workshop space, or tickets to a show. Yet, over-planning is not the answer. Who knows what you’ll discover along the way? Why be tethered to a plan if it proves misguided on the road?

In yoga, we eventually know (or should know) the basics of alignment and form and quieting the mind—and which type of practice suits us. But beyond that, do we really know where we’re going with yoga? At that level, we’re mostly just walking along, trying to keep a steady pace, hoping to reach a good place. Likewise, in the big scheme of life, it’s also a balancing act between foresight and freedom, knowing and not knowing.

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5 thoughts on “Which way?

  1. Nice post, Yoga Spy.
    There’s a wonderful quote, which I can’t put my hands on right now: “Don’t insist on going where you think you want to go. Ask the way to the spring.”
    I think it’s Kabir.
    In yoga, I think we know we’re going towards the Self. Exactly how we get there is a matter of trust and practice.

  2. I retired seven years ago (after a thirty year career) precisely so I could explore the then totally foreign world of “not having any plan at all”. What would I do and where would I end up if I purposely had nothing in particular I was trying to accomplish (very foreign for me.)

    The surprising answer? Yoga writer and Bhagavad Gita devotee. I’m trying not to let it get so serious and structured that I have to retire from that!

    Bob Weisenberg
    ElephantJournal

  3. Thank you Eve and Yoga Spy – I took the quote of Lewis Carroll’s dialog and Eve’s answer about going towards the Self and placed it with my favorite yoga quotes. It is in good company.
    Bob, it’s my pleasure to meet a fellow Karma Yogi.
    Emma, thanks for the reminder 😉 So very true.

  4. My yoga teacher, Ingelise Nherlan, insists that the brain follows the eyes, which is why the direction of the gaze (drishti) is so important. Consider Warrior 2 for example, we gaze into the future, but our spinal column stays firmly rooted in the present, while our back foot is rooted to the past.
    One can’t ask the body to move forward, without an approximate idea of where it is we are asking it to go. Must run to teach now!!! thx for the post

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