03/02/2015 03:41 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Where Are You Leaning Your Ladder? (Thoughts During Handstand)

Today I climbed a mountain, shaped to a peak by the soles of my feet and the spread of my palms.

Flexing my quads to the back of my knees, I pressed my hands into my mat in downward dog. After an exhale, I squeezed my mula bandha to float (or attempt to) into handstand for, as Raghunath instructed us, 25 breaths.

A warm-up, my feet rested against the wall as I centered my stare and focused on a four-count exhalation. Knowing my traditional yang energy, I'd push to 26 breaths before coming down because that's my identity, that's how I'm wired -- to push harder, go longer, be faster and, by extension, become better.

As a Capricorn, I'm a mountain goat at heart -- persistent and tenacious. I charge headfirst up a mountain and yearn to dive into the deep-end. But then my shoulders shook and I wobbled in my handstand.

As my feet leaned against the wall, Raghunath said, "When climbing the ladder of success, make sure it's leaning against the right building."

As a pretty driven person, I have no problem pushing myself, but as I charge up my ladder, I'm reminded to take a look at where I'm going and who I'm bringing with me in my many roles in life: a teacher, husband, writer, and coach.

So often, our society places emphasis on financial growth or building big muscles -- on building up an impressive resume, not an epic eulogy.

Like the others in class that day (and perhaps you), I want to be the best person I can be. At the risk of sounding cheesy, dare I say I want greatness.

But so often I'm distracted by where our culture says I should go -- where I should be leaning my ladder.

Filling up my bank account.

Building up an impressive physique.

Collecting more stuff.

That's what we've allowed to become the definition of success. But what if we changed that? What if we allowed ourselves to develop our own definition of success, one that isn't idolized by the tabloids or a Super Bowl commercial.

One that focuses on our passion and our unique gift to this world. We lose sight of our passion and our purpose when we live our lives for someone else's definition of success. We take aim on someone else's target and fire. We lean our ladder against someone else's building.

Yes, you could ditch all of this and just be -- just breathe. That's very zen. I get that. But, for anyone that has a steady meditation practice, you know that "just being" is the steepest ladder to climb. It's by no means an easy breezy cake walk.

If we're not growing, we're dying, so it makes sense to climb.

Three Questions to Ask to Find Purpose

To help aim the ladder in the right direction, there are three questions to ask oneself:

  1. What is your passion?
  2. What pays well?
  3. What are you really talented at?

And then, taking a look at all three answers, you should get several different ladders to choose from. Then, ask a fourth question to choose the best ladder.

What does the world need most?


So, what's your definition of success? Where are you leaning your ladder? As you press yourself into your next downward dog, why did you come to your mat today?

Raghunath reminds us that we have a choice; we have the ability to act and make choices in this world. He reminds us of what the Bhagavad Gita calls "atman" -- the spirit within us all that transcends the physical body.

It's a reminder that we are beyond the physical body. We are a spirit within a body, not a body with a spirit.

The ladder we climb stretches beyond this life.

(Listen to an interview with Raghunath here.)