We all have those moments when life brings us to our knees. It recently happened for me and it was the truest test of my dedication to my practice so far. When things are going smoothly it is easy to believe the teachings, to have faith and certainty that everything happens for a reason. That the universe is a kind place designed to help us become our highest Selves.
In yoga, we call this idea Īśvara-Praṇidhāna ईश्वर-प्रणिधान or surrender to the divine. It is one of the Eight Limbs of Yoga and is found in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. It is probably the most difficult and most important of the Niyamas. The phrase “Let go, let God” encompasses the same idea. It is a letting go of the ego, a complete trust in divine flow, the experience of a deep connection to source. I first experienced this concept when I was a small child in Catholic school. Sitting in Church, light streaming through stained glass windows, a sense of unconditional love filling my heart…I felt for the first time the presence of something greater than myself.
Since then, in various forms, Īśvara-Praṇidhāna has been a natural expression of my being. A philosophy easy for me to embrace. Until the past month or so, when stuff really hit the fan. I was brought to my knees by grief and felt as if life couldn’t get any worse. Well it can always get worse, but things were pretty bad. It was in those moments that my faith was truly tested. Then something amazing happened. I asked for help, I meditated, I prayed. I believed everything would work out. And you know what? It did. Through the amazing kindness and generosity of some angels in my life I was able to turn the situation around and get the outcome I so deeply longed for. I couldn’t have done it alone. You know what? I believe there is little we can do alone. We are all immensely powerful, however, we truly need each other. I have no doubt. And I am beyond thankful. In this season of thanksgiving, I have never been more aware of my blessings. So thank you. You know who you are. <3 <3 <3
The following are some things that helped me in moments of despair. I hope they help you too if there comes a time when you need them:
1. Breathe – Most importantly remember to breathe. This too shall pass. One technique is to simply double the length of your exhale. This automatically calms the sympathetic nervous system and leaves you feeling a bit more at peace. Inhale to a count of four – exhale to a count of eight. Or 3:6 or 2:4. Create no strain, just focus on the release that comes naturally with an extended exhalation. Soften and let go.
2. Move – whatever it is you do – do it. Yoga, running, swimming, cross fit, etc. Get moving and allow yourself to be immersed in a moving meditation.
3. Be Still – I know I just suggested you get moving, but alternately it is just as important to find some time for quiet and for stillness. Try sitting for ten minutes in the morning, as soon as you wake. Create time for meditation so you can connect with that deep place of peace within you. I love this analogy: Imagine the ocean during a ferocious storm. The surface is completely chaotic, strong winds, tumultuous waves and pelting rain. If you stay on the surface you get thrown about, however, if you dive deeper down you will discover perfect stillness. The same is true for us, especially when life gets hard. It is in these times that it is all the more important to make time to connect with that deep reservoir of serenity we find within.
4. Get outside – Commune with nature. Amazing things will happen. I promise. Go for a walk, leave your phone behind, pay attention to everything around you. Then pay attention to everything within you. Notice how your feet kiss the earth. Notice how the wind caresses your skin. Notice those things you would generally be too busy to notice. There is magic in the small stuff. Know you are never alone.
5. Create – Make Art. Make Music. Write. Express yourself without judgement. Just let whatever it is that’s troubling you flow through you. Whether you write, paint, make music, sculpt, etc. utilize the amazing power of creation to help you return to center. You’ll be glad you did.
6. Read…get a great novel, an inspiring self help book, a spiritual classic. Immerse yourself in the wisdom of the ages. My all time go to book is the Bhagavad Gita. When I am filled with doubt, sorrow or despair it never fails to bring me comfort. To reconnect me to the greater aspect of life and my connection to all things. I often just open randomly to a page and see what great wisdom awaits me. I did this as I’m writing and here is what I found:
Bhagavad Gita 5.18
Those who have realized the Self see that same Self equally in a humble scholar, a cow, a dog or a dog-eater.
Jesus said “Love your neighbor as yourself”. This is the same concept. A realized person is able to love all. To see the Self in all. There is no differentiation based on skin color, religion, sexual orientation, etc. Can you see the aspect of the divine in all? Can you be kind and loving to all beings you encounter? Always a lesson to learn. One of my biggest struggles with this recent challenge has been forgiveness. What is there to forgive when I believe the above statement? I am another you after all. A reminder to always come from a place of love. So yeah, read…you might just get a powerful message to help you transcend your struggle.
I hope these tips help you when life gets hard. I hope you never feel alone.
Lokah samastah sukinoh bhavantu – may all beings everywhere be happy and free. May the thoughts, words and actions of my own life contribute in some way, to that happiness and to that freedom for all.