I‘m sitting at the juice bar, eating a coconut yogurt bowl, while looking at my phone. A large-framed male approaches: “You look so calm,” he says. “I can’t help but notice. How do you do it?”
With yoga culture resonating through Miami now, this may be the newest go-to pickup line — you know, just like, “You have beautiful eyes.” I say this especially since I’m looking at my phone, rather than meditating with eyes half-closed and a devious smile. I’m working on typing an Instagram post with one hand, and eating yogurt with the other. Welcome to our brave new digital world.
I look up at the guy — he’s in his mid-40s, muscular, in a baseball cap and a backpack that appears to be full of gadgets since he’s already spread out several of them on the juice-bar table. Plus, he’s got a sevenish-year-old kid wrapped around his shoulders. Said kid makes me like the guy. This boy enjoys using his dad to practice wall-climbing — something I approve of.
“I’m a yoga teacher,” I say, and pause. He shoots back: “I knew it!” Then gets excited about yoga and meditation. I listen patiently as he tells me how he works on keeping calm and focused. He wants to delineate all the amazing aha moments he’s ever had. He tells me about all the pointed things he does in this field — lots of different techniques, courses, journaling, and a digital meditation tool he carries around in his backpack. But he forgets to pause in between sentences, one story weaves into another, and I find myself starting to plan my escape. So I never really answer his original question. Until now.
There was a king named Indra, who hired an architect to build the most incredible palace anyone’s ever seen. But every time the architect made a draft, the king complained it was not grand enough. Eventually, the architect complained to X (insert your preferred name for God). A young child shortly thereafter made a visit to the king. When asked about his intention for the visit, the boy casually said: “I just wanted to see if your palace is as good as the Indras before you.” The king was curious: “Have there been many Indras before me?”
Oh yes,” the boy responded, “as many as there are grains of sand in the world.”
On a side note, for the detail-oriented, there are roughly seven-and-a-half-quintillion (that’s the number with 18 zeros after it) grains of sand on this planet.
The king was first stunned to hear that he was merely a grain in the vast desert of Indras before him. How would he possibly stand out in the crowd of seven-and-a-half-quintillion Indras?
I myself always wanted to be unique. It was one of the few constants when a lot of other things were changing during my adolescence. Weird? Fine. Crazy? Sure. Average — as in one of many others? Just kill me.
The idea that being unique would make me happier was deeply rooted in me. But the king’s response to this piece of information was quite surprising: he relaxed and stopped trying to impress others. He realized that a life is easily spent improving yourself. Just for the sake of doing so. If you think about it, there’s always room for improvement — but only if you truly care, without caring about what others think.
Here’s my crazy idea, and the point of the story: stop trying to prove your success, and put down the self-help books. And flush down the bag of coke and put out that cigarette because it’s really just reversed-improvement (aka — self-destruction).
Let’s face it: you can’t ever be the best or the worst anyway. Instead, cultivate an urgent interest in getting to know yourself. Who is this grain of sand? Just look at you. Nobody could ever know you like you could know yourself. You grain of sand, you.
Ewa Josefsson pens the “Goodness” column for SG. She writes from the intersection of ancient wisdom and modern ignorance. Right now, she is working on not working on herself.