Despite the tragedies of 2020, when I reflect on where I was a year ago — mentally, spiritually, and physically, I am grateful for what the year has taught me.
The world continues to endure the effects of a devastating crisis. We’ve lost lives, businesses have closed, and we have tested families in ways we couldn’t imagine. Many feel the last 12 months have been the worst of their lives. I felt that way too — until I saw an opportunity.
The opportunity for growth
Once I accepted the fact we were knee-deep in a pandemic, I did what was necessary to sustain my business. And then I got to work.
I have to admit, a forced break was a relief. I had been working too much, too hard, for too long. Self employment has its perks, but working less (for me anyway) wasn’t one of them.
The state of world events was escalating. I kept up with the news — I read, watched, and I listened… Part of me wanted to do something, but what?
I decided to take advantage of the rare and precious gift of time. What better excuse than an international pandemic that required us to socially distance, shut non-essential businesses, and limit unnecessary outings to dive inward.
The gift of time
Not everyone had the gift of time. If you are a parent of young children, work in a hospital, or are the primary caretaker for someone, the shutdown imposed extraordinary demands. I get that. For me, I didn’t have such demands, and not taking advantage of an international shut-down would have been a waste.
I hope that by reading on, you’ll see that you may have more time than you think. And maybe it’s not time, but a change in perspective you need.
20/20 (as in hindsight)
For the last three years, I’d feel occasional pangs of anxiety and doubt. My life was moving in the wrong direction. I wanted change but didn’t know what that looked like. I felt I should do more, so I did — more courses, more exercise, more travel. Those things didn’t quell my desire for more.
More what? I wasn’t sure.
“We can’t solve problems using the same thinking we used to create them”
My yoga studies have taught me that beyond flesh and blood, personality and ego, lies our true self. This is that part of yourself that hangs out in the background, tugging at your heart and nudging you to live up to your potential. It attempts to guide you, direct you, or keep you from screwing up your life. No matter what you do in life or who you are with, your true self is there, patiently waiting for you to show up.
Have you ever felt that you should or shouldn’t do something so strong it was hard to ignore? Maybe this something went against reason or what everyone else thought you should do. Call it intuition.
Most of us blow through these feelings with our brains. We analyze, reason, and think our way through decisions. Practicality wins.
I was at a place in my life where my gut and heart were ganging up against my brain. It was an all-out war. “Listen up! Either you pay attention to us, or we’re going to make you miserable- anxiety, sleeplessness and depression are only the beginning. Trust us, it’s for your own good!”
One of my teachers once told me that in India, people didn’t go to psychologists or psychotherapists. “We know inherently that to ease suffering, we have to rise above the mind.” I don’t know if that’s true (that Indian’s don’t use mental health therapists, in fact, it would be a great disservice if they didn’t!), but the concept of rising above the pull of our thoughts felt very empowering.
In order to gain perspective on why you behave as you do and dig yourself out of uncomfortable situations and patterns, you need to move past the chaos of your mind.
You need to know what you don’t know. When you arrive at this place of knowing what you didn’t know, you gain the necessary insight to move on.
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “Insanity is doing the same thing, but expecting different results.” In yoga, repetitive thoughts, behaviors, or actions form patterns called Samskaras. You reinforce these impressions (good or bad) as you repeat them, much like a habit. In order to break bad habits or learn new patterns, you have to become aware of the pattern in the first place. Only then, can you change.
Stepping outside of yourself enough to witness how you are in the world takes courage and insight. And insight is born through intuition — just beyond the everyday workings of your mind.
Being still facilitates communication with that spiritual part of yourself that lives outside your thinking mind. You can use your mind to ask the questions percolating in your heart, but resist trying to think up the perfect answer. Writing things down, journalling, reading, researching are all primers, but the best answers usually evolve through insight and time.
Three months into lockdown, I had a choice. I could go through the motions and float by as things improved, knowing full-well I wasn’t living my best life, or I could use my time wisely and gather up the resources and courage to gain clarity and make changes.
Within yoga philosophy is a term called Pratyahara. It is a Sanskrit word that means ‘withdrawal of the senses’. It’s part of The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and the fifth limb of an eightfold path designed to guide us towards liberation. I’ve mentioned the idea of moving past the mind; this path offers a systematic way to do that.
Pratyahara is the step you take prior to meditation. You disengage with external stimulation and begin to witness your thoughts. The goal here is not to escape from the world, but to transcend- away from the trappings of the world and the constant chatter in your own head. As you go deeper, you begin to enter the transformative world of meditation.
Leading up to 2020, I had forgotten the magic yoga and meditation provided. I was too busy.
Busy-ness, when you think about it, is one step away from being out of control. I was filling my days with tasks and goals and checking them off as I’d go. My list was doing nothing to fill this intangible void.
In order to pull myself out of this cycle, I had to slow down, acknowledge that I was exactly where I put myself, and make better choices.
In a dark place we find ourselves, and a little more knowledge lights our way. Yoda
Stillness offers space to hear the guidance from within. You won’t access this type of wisdom from your thinking mind. In order to invite perspective, growth and insight, you have to be willing to sit still.
You don’t need gobs of time, the perfect environment, or an international pandemic to tap into your innate wisdom. You just need to stop doing and listen.
The year 2020 reminded me of the value of doing less and listening more. In doing so, I rediscovered that part of myself longing to be heard. For this, I am grateful.