You know what you want–-a new job, new clothes, a new boyfriend. You come up with a plan to get the object of your desire. You start saving for a down payment to purchase your dream house or condo. You sign up for an online dating service and create a wonderful profile. You head out to the store with a list of the clothes you want to buy and the amount of money you plan to spend. You are taking steps toward making your goals a reality. And then… the doubts show up.
Are you sure now is the right time to switch jobs? If you hold out a little longer, things will improve.
They have the dress in your size, and it looks perfect on you. But should you really buy it?
That guy you met was kind, sweet, and funny. You got along so well. But there has to be something wrong with him. Maybe you shouldn’t talk with him anymore.
Your plans and confidence begin to waver in the face of those doubts, and you get stuck. Doubt is similar to fear in this way; it keeps you from moving forward. But the biggest difference between the two is that fear keeps you from getting started; doubt prevents you from finishing.
The Sanskrit word for doubt is samsaya, which means indecision. That’s what happens when we give in to the doubts that arise. We second-guess our decisions. We begin to analyze the situation all over again. We stop moving forward.
The purpose of yoga is to help us mere mortals experience enlightenment. This enlightenment reveals that the Divine exists in each and every person. The enlightenment tells us that we already have everything we need in this world. The enlightenment provides comfort for the journey through pain and suffering that is necessary to reach its end.
[Along the journey to enlightenment,] there are a number of predictable obstacles (1.30) that arise on the inner journey, along with several consequences (1.31) that grow out of them. While these can be a challenge, there is a certain comfort in knowing that they are a natural, predictable part of the process. Knowing this can help to maintain the faith and conviction that were previously discussed as essential (1.20). Swami Jnaneshvara’s explanation of the Yoga Sutras 1.30 – 1.32.
Doubt-–along with illness, dullness, negligence, laziness, sensuality, cravings, misperceptions, failure, and instability–-is one of the predictable obstacles on the road to enlightenment. When any of these obstacles show up, they lead to mental and physical pain, sadness, frustration, irregular breath, and unsteadiness of the body—not good things. Patanjali suggests that concentration—a simpler form of meditation—is the best antidote for doubt and anything else that stands in the way of enlightenment.
“No sooner were the words out of his mouth than the father cried, “Then I believe. Help me with my doubts!” (Mark 9:24, The Message)
A man whose son was demon-possessed uttered these words more than two thousand years ago. He brought his son to the disciples of Jesus for healing, but they couldn’t drive out the demon. When Jesus returned to where his disciples had been ministering, he demanded that the boy be brought to him and inquired about the length of his symptoms. After explaining that the illness had affected his son for many years, the father threw in a little request,
“If you can do anything, do it. Have a heart and help us!” (Mark 9:14-22, The Message)
At this point, Jesus challenged the father’s faith, reminding him that anything is possible. That’s when the father replied, “I believe. Help me with my doubts!”
Prayer, like this father’s supplication, can be a form of concentration or meditation. It enables you to focus on your Higher Being (who I call God and Jesus). When your mind is filled with thoughts of the power, majesty, and perfection of the Divine, the doubts roll away.
I have found another cure for doubt—action. There is nothing like forward progress to chase away doubt. If I have made a decision, I stick with it and keep moving forward. When the expected rewards are especially great, I know that the road to get them will be long, complicated, and difficult. But if I keep walking one step at a time, one minute a time, and one day at a time, eventually I will get there.
Trying to open up a yoga studio has filled me with doubt. Have I found the right location? Where will I find the right teachers? Won’t it cost too much money? Getting loans is really difficult. What if I invest everything I have, and the studio fails? That last doubt is the worst one. I have a strong aversion to failure.
The doubts can be overwhelming, but I refuse to let them win. When I am feeling worried and doubtful, I pick one small thing to do, and I do it. When I complete the task, I get an instant jolt of positive energy. Sometimes it’s enough to drive away the doubts for a while. But more often, I have to do it all again—pick one thing and do it. Step by step, bird by bird, I will make it.
Author's note: Bird by Bird is a book for writers by one of my favorite writers Anne Lamott. In it, she tells the story of her brother needing to complete a term paper about birds in one night. When he asked their father how could he ever manage to do all that work in so little time, the father replied, “Bird by bird.” I love that metaphor and use it often.
Crystal Moore began her wellness quest in 2003 after being diagnosed with lupus. Her quest has led her to embrace yoga, faith, exercise, healthy eating, and relationships. Share her journey.