How to make our way through challenging times
This past month I re-read a story that Swami Kripalvananda told to his students while he was alive. As I read and re-read this story it began planting itself in my subconscious and began taking root, subtly changing how I went about my days.
Maybe it will do this for you too...
The story Swami Kripalu told was about a traveler who was on a long, exhausting, and pressing journey. The traveler walked for a long time on this journey, and as night fell, the traveler lost their way in the dark of the thick forest. Confused, frustrated and on the verge of despair, the traveler saw a light flickering in the distance. Making their way toward the light, the traveler found a hut in a small clearing.
When the traveler knocked at the door, an old yogi answered and said, “What is it, my friend?” “I’ve lost my way,” said the traveler, “It is a chilly, moonless night and the path I am following is hard to see.”
“Come in and pass the night with me. Although my hut is humble, it is warm and I have food to share,” answered the yogi. “Thank you,” said the traveler, “but I must arrive at my destination by morning. Can you help me?”
The yogi went into his hut momentarily and came back to the door smiling. “I cannot go with you, but take this lantern. It will illumine your way”. Feeling a bit hopeless, the traveler looked at the lantern, held it up and said, “But I cannot find my way with this lantern. Its light shines only ten feet ahead, and I have a journey of many miles to complete.” The yogi replied, “Walk ten feet, and you will be able to see another ten. And when you have walked ten more feet, yet another ten will be illumined. So ten feet by ten feet, you will reach your destination.”
In this story, swami Kripalu teaches us that each and every one of us is a pilgrim, a traveler on a spiritual journey that is to be completed in the span of our lifetime. On this journey, it's inevitable we'll lose our way and experience moments of pain, hardship, despair and confusion. But no one can complete this journey for us. No one can shelter from the challenges we will face along the way that are there to help us learn, grow and evolve. The most anyone can do for us, is to offer us a lantern that will light our way as we walk step-by-step from the known of the past, into the unknown of the future. When we are in the present moment, we have the ability to see and experience all we need to in order to keep moving forwards.
As I read and re-read this story, something deep inside reminded me of just how easy it is to fill our minds with “what if” questions about the future. Questions filled with anxiety, worries and scenarios that may never happen. I was also reminded how it’s just as easy to wonder back into the past and be filled with grief, regret, shame, guilt, judgement and criticism. Which I realized I had been doing a lot of over the past 34 months.
Unintentionally living like a gypsy with the effects of this TBI/PTSD, all in an effort to create a safe space for me to heal, has made life extra challenging. Add in all the factors of what is happening in our world now on top of the symptoms, the lack of routine, the lack of stability or a place to call home and you can understand why I would feel unsafe, ungrounded and overwhelmed in every way. I need to remember that I am just like that wondering traveler. Even though I am on unfamiliar terrain, I do have a lantern. I can get where I am going if I stay in the moment ten feet by ten feet.
Instead of criticizing or judging myself for things that happened in the past, or letting my mind wonder to "what if" scenarios of the future, with compassion, appreciation, respect and encouragement for my authentic Self, I can train the mind to be with the present moment, with each new experience- and begin to soften the hold those anxious or guilt filled thoughts may have on me. Because those thoughts only create road blocks and boulders on my journey of genuine healing.
Mindfulness teaches us to be in this moment, the present moment. To be within each inhale and each exhale... free from judgement or criticism. With each individual breath we can experience all of life right now, however it shows up. Ten feet by ten feet.
(I invite you to play with this yourself right now- inhale and simply follow your breath, feel it fill your lungs. Notice what happens in your mind. Hold, now exhale with an open mouthed sigh and notice the release in your body, your mind).
Living with high levels of anxiety, hypervigilance, worry and fear can often lead us far into the future. It can fill us with thoughts of scenarios that may never play out, and yet there we are, traveling into the future, missing out on what is going on right now, where our lantern is shining its light. We may miss out on joy, laughter, a genuine connection with others, nourishment for our soul or nurturing for our hearts. (I have been noticing this myself lately). The mind can also travel back into the past, filling us with sorrow for things we did or didn't do, things we did or didn't say, judging our choices over and over -even knowing we can 't change the past. Again, causing us to miss out on where our lantern is shining its light-on what is real and true right now (yes, I've been going down that path too).
Instead of missing out what is in the light of my lantern, I've decided to do my best to BE with the present moment and receive it as the gift it is. No matter how it shows up. Because one way or another, it only will help me on my journey.
By choosing to mindfully experience my life ten-feet-by-ten-feet, I am learning to unfold the gifts each new moment has to offer. Sometimes it’s teaching me (like when I have days that are incredibly challenging, painful and difficult to get through), sometimes it’s comforting me (like when I am in nature and animals just come to me- the white dove that wouldn't leave my side, the hawks that keep showing up, the dogs that just walk right up to me and let me pet them, the deer that slowly and gradually let themselves be seen...), sometimes it’s empowering me (like when I get through something difficult and I can immediately feel the satisfaction of achievement). Ten feet by ten feet I am moving forwards along this genuine healing journey into the unknown. Trusting my intuition. Honoring my unique needs. Respecting my boundaries. Which after a while feels like a great relief from all the pushing, fighting, struggling, running and hiding I’ve been doing daily just to survive the day.
Mindful & Restorative Yoga Can Be Your Lantern.
Mindful & Restorative Yoga is a reminder of how we can be in, and with, the present moment both on and off the mat. Yoga doesn't have to be a practice of just physical poses that turn you into a pretzel. Sure it looks good on the cover of magazines, but it isn't the part of yoga. Yoga is a lifestyle, a philosophy, a way of connecting (unifying) the body-mind with a Higher Universal Wisdom. Yoga can simply be sitting and connecting to your experience with this moment, within the bodymind, which I’ve found to be especially helpful in challenging times.
Here’s a Basic Mindful & Restorative Practice with The Breath:
With consistent practice, this Mindful & Restorative Yogic Breathing practice can be second nature. With practice living Ten Feet by Ten Feet and Trusting your intuition, Honoring your unique needs and Respecting your boundaries as you move along your own genuine healing journey will be easier as well.
Information contained within this site does not take the place of professional medical care. It is for educational purposes only and created with the intention of offering support and empowerment to women struggling to find wholistic and natural answers to their challenges. Every individual is responsible for their own actions, choices and behavior.