Batten down the hatches!!! In addition to all its other unexpected developments, 2020 has emerged as a record-breaking year for hurricanes. Hurricanes are rude and inelegant. They sweep in, loud and chaotic, trampling everything in their path. They are unpredictable, frightening, and unstoppable. And for those who are forced to ride them out, the only option is to tuck in, hunker down, and pray for deliverance. Sounds a bit like everything this unique year has served up – the pandemic, a completely new way of living-working-learning, financial hardship, social unrest, political chaos…(add your personal challenges here). And now, just when we are drenched and exhausted, and can’t possibly deal with anything else, here comes the annual Holiday Hurricane! While this time of year can be Merry and Bright, it can also be hectic, expensive, and stressful. It is fraught with unrealistic expectations of how it’s supposed to look and how it’s supposed to feel. You might feel the added pressure of trying to create holiday magic in a season that looks very different from previous years. Many of you are already experiencing the force of this latest storm. But let’s not forget that within the maelstrom of every hurricane lies a calm and quiet eye. What if we could live there?
Patanjali tells us we can. According to the Yoga Sutra, the state of yoga is accessed through a combination of effort and release. The word for release, Vairagya, refers to dispassion, acceptance, and surrender. We let go of our attachment to a particular outcome, and meet every moment with openhearted curiosity. We embrace the adventure of experiencing everything, while learning how to tap into our center, regardless of the situation. When we have mastered the art of detachment, we become so firmly grounded in our inner strength and divinity that we are no longer affected by the forces around and within us (PYS 1.16). We stand firm and unflappable in the eye of the hurricane. Sounds great, right? So how do we get there?
We practice. It is much easier to find peace in a silent temple, quiet yoga studio, or tranquil forest than in the noise and frenetic activity of everyday life. In moments of peace, and within the controlled experiment of our yoga practice, we can work to build, and continually reinforce, a fortress of wisdom and stillness within. The mat is the perfect place to learn to calm ourselves. Backbends and inversions teach us how to move through fear. Deep lunges show us we can survive, and even relax into, discomfort. As we work towards challenging poses, we learn that we can do hard things, and reach our goals by working carefully and methodically. And our favorite asanas can teach us the lesson of fortitude. These are the poses that feel great…at least during the honeymoon phase. Adho mukha svanasana (downward facing dog) can feel wonderful at first…the lengthening of tight hamstrings, the unfurling of the spine. It’s easy to relax when it feels good. But if we can continue to stay and breath deeply when our arms begin to shake and our shoulders begin to burn, then we slowly expand the boundaries of our comfort zones. In meditation we learn to identify our habitual thoughts, emotional patterns, and hidden resistances, and discover how to investigate and release them without being triggered or hijacked. As we grow more familiar with our tendencies and more adept at relaxing into discomfort, we shore ourselves up to withstand any future turmoil (inner and outer) that may threaten to throw us off center. We learn to assess a situation, take a deep breath, and respond instead of react. The more we practice inhabiting our inner stillness, the more proficient we become at accessing it…until, eventually, we live there fulltime. My teacher likes to say, “There is very little worth losing your peace of mind over.” As we continue to practice surrender and release, we recognize that while we may not be able to control everything that happens in our lives, we hold the key to an inner refuge. From the safety of this sanctuary we can meet each challenge with grace and clarity.
So, even as this year continues to challenge us, please keep practicing…whatever that looks like for you right now. Grab onto moments of quiet when you find them. Be willing to put yourself in uncomfortable positions. Let go of the myth of perfection and do the best you can on any given day. Invite your fears, worries, and sorrows to come a little closer so you can get a good look at them. And them thank them for coming and show them the door. All hurricanes pass eventually. When the sun comes back out, assess the damage, clean up the debris, and fortify the foundation….so the next time the weather turns, you are calm, prepared, and ready to withstand whatever comes your way.