If you’ve ever read Dr. Seuss’s classic, I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew, then you may understand one of the themes that has run through my life and my practice since I was a child. This book was my absolute favorite when I was young, and I can recite many of the lines by heart even to this day. Today, while walking in Rock Creek, I saw how this book clearly describes the yogic principle of sthira-sukha, or balanced effort and surrender.
In Dr. Seuss’s wonderful story, a small human-like creature is having a hard time. He keeps getting hit with problems such as stubbing his toe and spraining his tail. He tries to avoid his troubles in lots of fruitless ways. “‘If I watch out for rocks with my eyes straight ahead, I’ll keep out of trouble forever,’ I said.” You can guess that this didn’t work, and our friend just keeps having more problems. Sounds like most of us. So what does he do? Well, he hears about a really great place, Solla Sollew, on the banks of the beautiful river Wa-Hoo, where they never have troubles, at least very few. And it’s tempting. He can avoid all of his nasty troubles, simply by going to Solla Sollew. It sounds easy, and if you’re like me, you have tried to get to Solla Sollew more than once. We all want to avoid suffering, and we all like the easy way.
In the book, our friend spends months or maybe years journeying to Solla Sollew, and on the way encounters even more difficult troubles, including being forcibly conscripted into an army (given a shooter and only one bean), caring for a camel who starts to bubble, walking for days in a dark tunnel with literally billions of birds going all the wrong way. He discovers that the problems he encounters on his journey to Solla Sollew are much more difficult than his everyday problems. When he finally gets through to Solla Sollew, his is thrilled and excited about his new problem-free life. He discovers that Solla Sollew is exactly as advertised, and has only one problem. And the one problem that the town has is a Key-Slapping Slippard who doesn’t allow anyone to come in or go out. So now what? Our friend is quickly encouraged to go on to Boola Boo Ball, on the banks of the beautiful river Woo-wall, where they never have troubles, no troubles at all.
Just like the creature at Solla Sollew, we can choose to look for an easy way out. Sukha means easy. Patanjali, in the yoga sutras, suggests that we need both sthira, steadiness, and sukha, to reach a state of bliss or enlightenment. Why can’t we just take the easy way? If ease is what we are after, why not just go to Boola Boo Ball? If relaxation is what we are after in yoga, why don’t we just lie in savasana for an hour? I have been entranced with the easy way for most of my life. It just seems so easy. But what I have discovered through my yoga practice is that without steadiness, without the vigilance and effort of mindfulness, my habit energies will eventually lead me to more suffering. I visualize easefulness, or inner stillness, like a sleeping baby. Our resolute steadiness is like a parent who stands watch over our easefulness so that it isn’t disturbed by the natural waves of life, and so it can rest in the deep universal stillness. When we aim for Solla Sollew, we end up being chased by our troubles over and over again.
So here’s our friend, standing at the locked door of Solla Sollew, and asking himself, should I take the easy way? Should I just go to Boola Boo Ball, where they never have troubles, no troubles at all? Should we avoid suffering because it’s easier than facing it? These are good questions to ask ourselves. When I heard this book as a child, I remember every time at this point in the book I was thinking, “Go to Boola Boo Ball! There are no troubles there! Just GO!” But he never did go. I couldn’t understand it. Instead, he bought himself a big bat and headed back home. On the one hand I was frustrated that he didn’t take the easy way, but on a deeper level, I knew that he made the right choice. True, the bat was not a very non-violent way to approach his troubles. But he had learned that the way to suffer less was not to seek a magical place that seemed to have no troubles, but to face his troubles head on. This is a lesson that it may take my whole life to learn. Sthira, steadiness, is an invitation to be awake for whatever comes our way, so that we can care for the sukha, the ease that resides in the deepest part of our being. Our sthira faces each moment with a steady presence allowing us to go deeper into our stillness. Without steadiness, we will lose our ease, because the nature of life is such that we will always encounter disturbances. So we need both.
So while we are on holiday later this month, I invite you to practice sthira, or steadiness with me so we can enjoy more sukha. We may not be in yoga class every week, but we can practice steadiness in many other ways. Asana (poses) and sitting meditation are great, if you are able to practice regularly, then that’s wonderful. But even if you just sit up in bed each morning, smile, and set an intention to cultivate a steady presence throughout your day, regardless of what troubles arise, that’s sthira. Practicing with our steadiness, we can savor the stillness and ease that is our true nature.
May you have steadiness and ease throughout the holiday season.