” If only I had known. I would have become a locksmith.” – Albert Eistein

I have this inner bizarreometer. Some of you may recognise the trait. Seemingly ordinary, inocuous, mundane, every day things will suddenly seem ridiculous. I had one such moment the other day. I was listening to Radio 4 and a news item announced the receipt of a prize for women scientists by, not surprsingly, a woman scientist.  “Great” was my first thought. A clearly very skilled and clever woman was being rewarded for her efforts. She had done something quite important in the field of diabetes research.

Until my bizarreometer kicked in.

Suddenly, the notion of winning a prize for being a scientist, or for anything else for that matter, seemed very strange indeed. And that led me to thinking about those we reward. It struck me that the winning of prizes is more often than not, for some outward manifestation of a skill. For “achieving” something.  From employee of the month, to Knight of the Realm, people are rewarded for doing stuff.  Now, this may not strike your as strange. Why should it?  We live in a culture which is all about doing. And it is not just about doing things. It is about achieving things. Based on a very specific notion of what merits achievement and success.

On that same day I kept encountering people doing things that I realised  they are never going to win a prize for – like the man who was noisily, aggressively (but very efficiently) emptying bins in Glasgow City Centre.  I think we can safely guarantee he will will no prize, and yet his contribution to society is actually really, really important.

As important as discovering some tiny mechanism in a cell that governs insulin secretion?

Sadly, my bizaremometer does not provide answers, simply presents me with considerable food for thought.

Where this journey of reflection led me was to the notion of success as doing something. Is this really the measure of what it means to be successful as a human being? Even if you consider what it means to be an extraordinary human being – whatever that means – should this be measured by the things that person has managed to do? We are hard wired to think of success in outward terms. We think of entreprenuers, scientists, explorers, athletes, film directors, politicians. Ordinary people enter the frame when they have done extraordinary things. Overcome adversity . Gone out of their way to help. Risen above a challenge. Battled for a cause…

And yet there are millions of us who will never be formally recognised for anything that we do. There are indeed millions of us who will -in the normally accepted sense at least – not achieve anything very much. We celebrate those who battle and overcome but what about those who quietly and gently accept?  I think  of the nuns who prayed quietly for my friend when he was in hospital with leukaemia, the  little boy close to my heart, who has severe celebral palsy and will maybe never walk or talk, but whose joy is palpable and infectious, the beautiful woman I met recently who accepted her diagnosis of advanced ovarian cancer and allowed herself a quiet, gentle passing.

There  is also  incredible power in not doing. In simply being. In my teaching I notice that people often have great difficulty in simply being. Their reaction to the stress  and busy-ness of their lives is to want to do something about it, or to keep busy in order to distract themselves from how they are feeling. In the stillness of a yoga class, I can see  this manifest as frustration. “When is she going to start doing something?..” And when we practice asana, the frustration of not being good at something, not getting it right, with nervous glances around the class to see how other people are getting on.  With time, this abates, if people give themselves the time. And when we touch that stillness, we move into the state of  Yoga. Which is a state of being, not doing.

What emerges is perhaps a greater measure of success…