Standing with my friend, Marnie, in front of her bookcase, she pointed to a small, beautiful box with a lid and said, “that’s the box I wrote about,” reminding me of her writing she’d read to me a few days before. In her writing, she described how she had written something on a slip of paper that was important to her--something she wanted to experience--and had placed the paper in that very box. Years later, the something she had written on that slip of paper came true in the most unexpected way--a way she could have never, ever predicted or expected.
Marnie opened the box for me and showed me a new slip of paper on which she’d written something new she wanted to experience. She unfolded the paper and read to me her words--earnest, personal, and important. She smiled as she read aloud her wish and as she re-folded the paper to return it to the box, she said to me, “These things. We can’t know.” She meant, “We can’t know what’s going to happen in life, exactly.”
I’ve been struck by this juxtaposition of ideas: how we can hold a clear vision in our mind and in our heart and, at the same time, let go of the path to get there--or anywhere. I've spend a lot of energy in my life wrestling toward a desired outcome, so much that I exhausted myself along the way.
In the yoga tradition, the term Aparigraha, describes the concept of un-attachment--the letting go of the outcome. In a central teaching in the Yogic text the Bhagavad Gita, it is Krishna who offers this important lesson: “You have a right to perform your prescribed duties, but you are not entitled to the fruits of your actions. Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, nor be attached to inaction.” The passage gives three instructions regarding our work in the world: 1) Do your duty well, but do not concern yourself with the results; 2) Do your work, but give up any attachment while doing it; and 3) Inaction is not an option.
We can’t know the outcome of any situation, so it’s best to concern ourselves with what we’re actually doing right now as we work towards our desired outcome. Do your duty to your dream, but do not concern yourself with the results. The results of our actions are not dependent only upon our efforts. A number of factors may determine what comes to pass—our efforts, our destiny, the will of the Divine within, the efforts of others, the cumulative energy and destinies of other people involved, the place, the situation and the timing. If we create anxiety around the results, we will experience a let down whenever things don't happen according to our expectations.
Writer Mike Dooley frames this concept as, "take action but do not attach to the cursed hows." Every day, let your actions be in alignment with your dreams and desires, but don’t worry yourself with the eventual unfolding. Be open to the possibility that the end result could be so far beyond your capacity to conceive.
Let go of the concern about the results and focus your energy on showing up for yourself--in duty to your work, your craft, your creativity and your dreams. When we embrace that truth that we can't know these things, we are able to focus on our efforts and simply be in the mystery of the potential outcome; it may be so wildly, vastly better than we ever imagined