“Do or do not; there is no try.” Deep, false thoughts from an orientalist 70s puppet. And despite its obviously suspect origin, this nugget has been hugely influential on several generations of moviegoers and heterodox spiritual seekers. The first Star Wars came out before I was born, trick-or-treaters are still wearing Darth masks, and Tuesday night I was in a crowded train-car with a grown man wearing a Force insignia ring. Other manifestations of Yoda’s truism: Don’t let them see you sweat. If you have to ask, you’ll never know. Leaders are born, not made. (This last one has equal traction in the other direction, especially in the leader ‘making’ industry.)
Yoda and the Force were made to emulate a philosophical worldview like Buddhism, Taoism, yogic thought, but it gives a critically bad lesson here that is found nowhere in the source material. Practice, ie. trying, is at the heart of all these disciplines. I’m speaking as a person who used to be embarrassed and avoidant of effort. I learned Yoda’s lesson first and well, so well I don’t even remember learning it. I wanted to be gifted, and rewarded for things that came naturally to me. I wanted to avoid things I struggled to do. Even small failures were embarrassing, as if I shouldn’t be in that situation at all.
Gym class turned into a shame arena, and I lost all body pleasure for a long time.
I also didn’t really learn how to study; if I didn’t understand it upon first reading or hearing something, there was no way I could acquire that information. Asking a teacher or practicing/studying with friends wasn’t in my repertoire. Everything I wrote was a hot-take; I didn’t understand revision either. I still kind of hate to draw the same thing twice, although drawing was the one area where I really applied myself in the traditional sense, maybe because it usually met with approval and praise. Maybe because it was fun enough that it didn’t feel like practice. Or perhaps those are the same thing; it was fun because it brought approval.
At first the appeal of yoga was the same; my innate flexibility (read: hyper-mobility. Not actually so helpful.) gave me an ongoing impression of success. I’m good at this! For a long time I was in classes with teachers who didn’t dispel my illusion. Probably just as well, I might not have stayed if I knew what kind of work was really in store for me. But eventually the paradigm shifted inside me, without conscious direction. I started putting myself up front, right in line with the teacher’s critical eye. I started to understand the relationship between effort and accomplishment. And my body started to enjoy trying, sweating, and lost much of its fear of being seen to do so.
Before there is do, there is try. In George Lucas’s fantasy religion, try and fail is the equivalent of don’t try. But anyone who didn’t used to be able to lift then separate their toes knows that the only thing that lies between do not and do is months of trying and failing to lesser degrees.
First you ask your toes and they don’t even know how to speak your language. Then they learn and when you ask they lift all clumped together. They they’re stronger and they consider widening. Then practice placing pinky and big toe on the ground while extending center three toes, etc. Each new challenge begins with an invisible mental process called trying, as you lay the neural network that will someday become an action. Anyone who tells you different isn’t interested in your progress.