Out walking this morning, with the sun still low in the sky, I noticed what looked like diamonds shining on the path before me. It was the sun, reflecting on bits of broken glass that littered the trail. It’s interesting how light reflecting on the glass changed my view of things. Looking back, I saw only plain brown dirt. Looking toward the sun, light sparkled all around, and it was beautiful.
Yoga has a way of illuminating the ordinary things in our lives, turning what is plain into something precious.
I’ve noticed, these past few weeks, how my view of things is influenced by the direction I’m facing. I’m referring to my response to the COVID-19 pandemic. I read and watch the news, talk to people who are out of work, and my heart is heavy. I feel weighed down with grief for the entire world. The more I link to this kind of information, the greater the weight feels.
I have noticed that my daily yoga practice is more important than ever. I was practicing very consistently, daily, for a few weeks early in March. Although experiencing shock, worry, and fear, I also had a feeling of being supported and lifted up in some way. Even though I was being confronted with devastating news, I also felt protected and able to remain hopeful and balanced. Then, for a few days, my regular practice was interrupted, and I found myself sinking into a quagmire of fear, depression, and hopelessness.
In running across the glittering pathway this morning, I was reminded that yoga teaches that the qualities of what we link to have a tangible effect on us. It’s like using a strong detergent on my counter. It leaves some residue, usually one that I can smell. The counter looks the same, but there has been something added that needs to be neutralized. In my life, yoga is the neutralizing agent.
In facing the sun, I saw light and beauty. Facing away, I saw brown and dullness. It bears asking, what kind of linking are we doing every day? And, how are the qualities of what we link to staining our thoughts, conversations, and relationships? I had been steadily linking to a stable, reliable object in my meditation. When my practice got interrupted, I continued to link to the news, but not the stable object. The negative effect of news without some countermeasure was dramatic.
Patañjali says in Yogasūtra I.4 that a disturbed mental state has a way of shaping our identity. This is non-yoga. We are pushed and pulled with our mind’s ungoverned flips and flops. Whatever is there, be it confusion, angst, or unclear perception – this is driving us. He goes on in Yogasūtra I.5 & I.6 to list the activities of the mind. He says that these activities can be either “painful” or “not-painful”. A disturbed mind fosters a painful condition.
As this pandemic goes on, the weight of the news grows heavier. Having an emotional reaction to the world news is perfectly normal. We can’t always avoid the things that create these mental fluctuations. The external link to disturbing news is hard to bear, but it feels necessary.
Practice feels even more necessary. It isn’t making the external difficulties go away, nor does it magically erase my emotional responses. But I’ve found that my yoga practice and meditation give me the strength to keep going. It is a place to sit with my feelings and to be okay with my sorrow, fear, and grief over what is, what has been lost, and what may yet come. After some time with my emotions; after I have emptied my bucket of tears, I am on the other side of things. My heart feels tender but soft. My anxious thoughts have stopped, and I am in a quiet place, comforted. My heart feels cracked open, but I feel more whole than before. And from this space, I gather up my strength, straighten my back, and lift my chin. Looking around, I see what needs doing in my immediate arena, and I’m ready to act.
This work isn’t easy. When I avoid facing these feelings, I can feel my heart scarring over, laying down thick protective layers. It prevents me from feeling bad, but it also blocks me from my most important source of direction. I believe in the power of my heart to lead the way right now. It lights my path just like the sunlight did on the trail. It is in this most tender space that we give and receive from the deep source of love, comfort, and peace. Practice helps me have the strength to bear the pain of living in the real world, and the grace to respond from the space of my heart.
Laura is a certified yoga therapist and holistic health coach. She is deeply committed to helping her clients create a joyful, balanced life. Learn more about her here.