How to get through "Hard". Yoga’s Answer: From the many to One.
Hard is hard because it’s complex. There’s no getting around the massive amount of process around getting through something hard. It’s hard because its big and has so many moving parts, we struggle to hold the whole weight of it in our hands at one time.
But hard is the very thing that yoga aims to get us through. How does it do this? By bringing the many into one. No matter how complicated something is, it has one through line, it has one thread, and can be gotten through one breath at a time.
I recently started at Columbia University. At 43 years old, having had a successful sixteen year yoga career that I have no intention of giving up, I stepped into this massive thing, at this incredibly hard institution and all the anxieties that go along with this big endeavor are flooding me this week. Already in the first week, I’m being challenged and inspired in ways I had no idea existed. The complexity of what’s now in front of me, and what’s available to me, is daunting. At the same time, I return nightly to my home, my yoga studio, my employees, students and friends who all still occupy the huge place in my life that they always have. There is so much to carry, including the questions of how, and even to some extent, when I had been so successful and happy before, the why. Although I think I know why I went, it’s very clear that I could be getting out of this experience some things that I didn’t intend. And although mostly good, I hope, that element of the unknown is spooky, even to the most seasoned traveler.
So hard is hard because it is many, and among that many are unknowns.
The practice of yoga is about knowing the One, inside all of it. When I sit in my morning 20 minute meditation, and when I step onto my mat for that first sunsalute of the day, my mind is anything but clear. If it was clear, I wouldn’t need to do these practices. (Although don’t let a seemingly “clear mind” on a given day fool you into forgetting about your regular practice.)
I sit down in meditation, and I raise my arms in urdva hastasana willing to accept the flood of thoughts, anxieties and emotion that I know have been hiding just beneath my surface to get through the day before.
Sometimes the prospective pain of this process is so intense, I avoid my practice all together. Thankfully, now after years of practice, my avoidance days grow fewer and fewer. (On a side note, there is a balance, in self-care that involves sometimes honoring the need to not take on your cleaning process on some days. When we can allow a natural ebb and flow of that, we are not forcing the practice but working with it in a way that feels good and giving. But this is a whole different topic.)
My rescue boat that gives me the willingness to accept the flood, is yoga’s simple, unwaivering message. That even in this most complex and turbulent storm, there is a One. One is a single point of contact that is our connection to the earth. One is the single element that draws us close to those we love. One is our internal knowing compass that even when some moves seem odd or crazy, always moves us forward for the better.
That last piece about the compass takes an enormous amount of trust. Then again, so does the connection to loved ones, as they are an unpredictable one themselves swimming in their own complex ocean tides. The wisdom of yoga gives us a plumline down to the first aspect to One, which actually itself a deeply trusted unknown. Over 90% of the world holds an indescribable anchor that they try to describe through the language of over ____ different religions. This is the anchor of connecting to One.
In my personal interpretation of yoga, my best description of the anchor is just the earth itself. Partly because my practice is asana based and the word asana means “connection to the earth.” And partly because the earth is what I feel a grounding, settling, peace-enducing relationship with, when I either sail through the beautiful flow of connecting and changing my hands and feet on the mat, or sit steady in meditation. And partly because I’ve seen that when I can begin with a connection to that earth, I’m able to see the “earth” in every person I interact with. I see the same carbon material, the same red blood and beating heart, the same air in our lungs. And in seeing these things, I feel more relaxed, and more connected to my fellow humans. This also brings me the most peace and joy.
So how do we get through the hard? By staying in an intimate relationship with the One, and by strengthening our relationship to it every day, especially when we are not in the hard.
We exercise our power to connect with the One when we sit through the mental emotional flood in meditation, trusting that a clearing will arise as each of the many complex elements of our lives rises up in an anxious roar, and then settles in it’s place creating a big picture out of what previously seemed like a tangled mess.
We exercise our power to connect with the One when we challenge our bodies in asana. Metaphorically pulling the victorious breath along through a series of stretches, contortions and balancing acts.
The One is with you always. It exists in your relationships, but it is not the other people in your relationships themselves. It is just your On-ness with them. It exists in the connection to the earth and all of the elements of air, water, fire. It exists in the times of loss and destruction as well as the peak moments.
And even as our greatest anchor, One is also light, portable, and able to untether itself from the safe cool mud that kept us sound for many years in one place, so that we may continue forward, in what ever form “forward” takes on. We know we have that rooting mechanism with us.
Whether things are hard or easy, connecting with One-ness, in what ever your definition of that is, whether it’s earth, or God, or love, faith, trust, universe. It doesn’t matter what you call it, just practice touching it, every single day. Have amoment every day, where your endeavor is nothing but to touch that One-ness inside of yourself. In what ever way that manifests whether it’s yoga asana, meditation or something else. And if you haven’t done that yet, and you are in the “hard.” Try now to locate the One in the complex landscape. It is there, just below the surface, speak it, hear it, feel it. It has never left you, and never will.