One day my Dad sat my siblings and I down and asked us to write out a list of all of the things we felt we couldn’t do. He then took our lists to the bottom of the garden with a spade, dug a whole in the ground and buried our ‘I can’ts’ in there. He proceeded to conduct a funeral service to the word I can’t and then banned us from using the words ever again. Trivial yes but incredibly important and symbolic for a young child and in fact adults alike.
It’s so easy for us to get stuck in a rut of our creation, surrounded by self made obstacles often without even realising we’re doing it! We become such experts at making excuses that we can end up persuading ourselves to believe we can’t do things before we have even attempted to. If we start to dig into these obstacles we can almost always trace their origin back to fear on some level, fear of change, of failure, of the unknown. We are all so much more capable than we know and often all it takes is a change of perspective for us to see that.
Last weekend I had the absolute pleasure of spending a weekend in the mountains and forests of Snowdonia with my girls. We truly embraced our wild time; hiking, swimming in natural pools, drying on the hot rocks and owl calling. Often when we reconnect with what it is to be human (a species of animal, not a special being above the rest of the animal kingdom) we can come away renewed and refreshed. We all need time in the wild for quiet reflection, rest, physical challenge, bonding with our tribe and to reconnect with the cycles of nature and often when we return from the wild to the pressure, disconnection and automation of our daily lives it can lead to some serious shifts. When these shifts start to happen it is the best time to make changes and take risks trusting in ourselves, our instincts and our abilities. When my girls and I returned to our lives every single one of us made resolutions for change and mine was to have faith, simplify and slow down.
It was perfectly a timed restoration of faith as I was entering into the first week of my part time hours, something that has been filling me with utter fear. All kinds of apprehensions and doubt were running through my mind as I entered a new phase of life with less money but more time. I had known for a while that something had to change and that trying to work full time as well as play shows and teach yoga regularly was not going to end well, yet until last week I had been convincing myself that there was no choice because I ‘can’t’ live on a part time salary. Suddenly after the mountains something clicked. Of course I can! I don't spend a lot, I don't drink, I don't shop, our outgoings are comparatively low, so now just to continue to cut down on unnecessary spending; cycling more, making my own coffee and carrying a flask, making my own cosmetics, charity shops and swap shops. It’s so do-able and it’s PRICELESS because I can honestly say that for the first time in YEARS I am not tired and that is worth all the money in the world!! I am more productive at work when I am there, I am enjoying the whole process of planning, teaching and marketing and shows are fulfilling and exciting rather than exhausting.
Sometimes one of the hardest challenges when overcoming our obstacles is knowing what they are! Often we try to work through these things using logic and reason to no avail because these blocks can be so deeply ingrained in our approach to life that we need to dig a little deeper to find the root. This is where it can be useful to escape into nature or at least from the distractions of our life even just for 10 minutes to allow our minds the space to settle down enough for us to be able to listen to what our internal messages are telling us. We can then start to go deeper, to practice more inquisitive forms of meditation, sitting with questions and waiting for the answer to arise, not necessarily in the form of words or thoughts but perhaps in the form of images, feelings or emotions. There’s so much more going on in there than we know but we’re often not quiet or still long enough to find out. Recently I practiced a questioning meditation and asked ‘am I on the right path?’ and in response I suddenly felt overwhelmed with security, my mind filled with a bright white light and I felt deeply, deeply calm. I have absolutely clue what happened there but I do know that from that moment onwards I had complete faith that things are unfolding as they should.
There is a really interesting section in the Yoga Sutras about obstacles. Sutra 1.30 explains - Citta vikshepa te antarayah - first the mind becomes distracted and then the distractions become obstacles. It then goes on to outline the 9 expected obstacles to enlightenment, with the idea that if we know they are coming we can more easily let go of them.
I found this particularly interesting when considering anxiety as an example. First we get anxious in a particular situation, then we begin to create stories, then we become more anxious, then our body reacts physically, making it feel real, leading to us then avoid that situation again. We create our own obstacles but often with anxiety as we become more used to dealing with it, we begin to know the cycle, we know what to expect and therefore we can more easily manage it and let it go. So I can see the logic of this concept and I am sure we can all identify with at least a couple of these obstacles!
The sutras outline the obstacles to yoga and the consequences that they can lead to suggesting that often we recognise the consequences before we recognise the obstacles. The idea being that if we were to recognise the obstacles first, we might have a chance at avoiding the consequences and it even goes on to detail 5 ways that we might proactively avoid slipping into these ruts.
Obstacles to Yoga
Vyadhi - Disease
Styana - Mental laziness/lack of perseverance/sluggishness
Samsaya - Indecision/doubt
Pramada - Intoxication/carelessness/neglect
Alasya - Idleness/physical laziness
Avirati - Overindulging/lacking in moderation or control
Bhrantidarsana - Living under illusion/false vision
Alabdhabhumikatva - inability to progress to or reach a goal visualised/disappointment in one’s desired object
Anavasthitatvani – an unsettled state/instability/inability to maintain the achieved progress
Dukha – Pain/distress/sorrow/unhappiness
Daurmanasya – Mental pain/affliction/despair/dejection
Angamejayatva – Unsteadiness of the body/restlessness/shakiness
Svasaprasvasah – Irregularities of the inspiration and expiration
Overcoming the Obstacles
Meditation on the four attitudes
In my classes and my own practice this week we have been reflecting on these obstacles and consequences and sitting with the question “What is holding me back?” Opening with the chant, Heyam Dukham Anagatham – The pain that is yet to come is to be avoided, a reminder that we are in control of how we approach our lives; we can decide how we react and interact, how we perceive and what we believe. This week I am challenging myself and my students to let go of fear and doubt, to be open to change and new experiences, to bury the word I can’t and start living life as a pleasurable experience rather than an endurance test. If you’re not content… ask yourself why. If you can make a positive change… make it! Life is to be enjoyed, not endured. You can do whatever you want to do, so start thinking today about how you can make that happen!
‘Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.’ - Max Ehrmann