Many of you have heard of the significance of 40 days. Jesus Christ, Buddha, Muhammad, Noah, and other spiritual leaders have as part of their life narrative a journey into the wilderness, the desert, or the heart of darkness. In this time, they face their demons and persevere by making a life-altering decision, the Bodhi tree moment, whereby they emerge triumphant, self-determined and enlightened.
Successful business women are known for their perseverance, and so are good mothers. We have all had to “dig deep” at one time or another, and many of us will admit that the trying times are the ones where we see the most growth. But, how do we know when to draw the line between beneficial perseverance and detrimental obsession? Success is not just about overcoming obstacles, but how you do it, and to what end.
Know How to Dig
One year I was on the Microsoft committee for volunteer events. We opted to remove blackberry bramble, a plant not indigenous to the Pacific Northwest. As we stood tarped in rainproof hoods and ankle deep in mud soaked wellies, the resident weed puller warned us that the sugary bulb at the base of the blackberry must be completely dug up to starve the plant; otherwise, it would continue to take over and smother all the other native plants.
So we dug, thorns and all. No superficial cutting back, no playing it safe with this horrible stuff. Blackberry bramble is stiff and sturdy like medieval spikes forged to chains that grow from an iron ball. Although the thickest garden glove is immune to its tacking, sticking and pricking, the bulb is always a bit deeper than you’d like. You cannot really extract it with your hands, even when the soil is moist. It takes time, tools and some elbow grease, and that applies to most goals in life.
The good news? Eventually, the plant comes out and the cloying, burdensome bramble recedes. This allows the native plant, the true self or “atman”, to access the sunlight, drink in the rain and have a chance to grow.
Adjust Your Breath
When I was younger, part of my San Francisco experience included falling in love with a man who I thought would be ‘the one’. I was in my youth and madly in love, with an incredible job, money flowing in, a ten-minute drive to my best friend, and daily yoga. It was all about the yoga and love, love, love.
Then the boyfriend and I split up. Enter the waterworks, the uncertainty, and the nights of laying like a wet stone in bed, with the room so silent you could hear the audible sound of my heart breaking in two. I just wanted to stay in bed with the blankets over my head. Would this sadness come to pass and could I ever hope to move on? Eventually, with perseverance, the answers were yes and yes.
As I mourned, I went to all the classes, did the poses, took the evenly-metered breath, and for one hour and twenty minutes forgot the Kleenex. Your mind cannot wander when you are holding a perfectly aligned triangle for four f***ing minutes, can it? You cannot help but feel more grounded and balanced in padmasana, trying to catch the toes behind your back, right?
My hard work filled up the coffers of my physical and energetic bodies, but my emotional state was still an absolute mess. Savasana and closing meditation became the longest ten minutes of my life. I learned pranayama, from the teachings of BKS Iyengar (one of a handful of Krishnamacharya lineage bearers, our pathway into modern yoga), and practiced eka grata (single pointed concentration) one inhale and exhale at a time. But as I lay on my back, staying wholly connected to the breath during corpse pose, I found that this was the one asana that could not outpace my heartache.
Until one day it did. Yes, the boy left and my girlish innocence did, too. But yoga stayed. I lived the gift of yoga through that experience and it was a cornerstone moment in my life. Yoga helped re-craft the trajectory of my life by expanding my perspective. It is the primary expression of my faith, service in the world and belief in God.
Yoga and I are still going strong. We haven’t broken up, and we never will.
Let Go of False Expectations
May of 2013 was an exciting month, as we hosted sixteen guests in mystical Peru. The trip absolutely lived up to the hype, but in ways that I had not anticipated. To make the trip successful, I had to let go of some expectations.
Preparing for over a year to go to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley leaves one’s imagination to dance in the realm of the Samyamas, to be gently kissed by angels of inspiration, and then return with the next big thing. I knew my retreat was going to be all about internal practices. How could it not, coming from the lineage of the maha siddhis, and being on such a potent piece of Earth? When I got to Machu Picchu, there was a shocking thud. Instead, the retreat was all about getting back to basics.
I tried to maintain my agenda during the retreat, but it just did not mesh with everything else that was happening. This retreat was not about flying off, but about getting grounded, and authentically connecting with this material plane of existence. When you spread your toes in tree pose, the analogy is often like roots grounding and securing you into the Earth. From there, you can draw energy up through the body. But before I could do that, I had to let go of my expectations for the trip, for the practitioners and for my own experience. Once I was able to do that, I blossomed and I am still feeling the effects of this powerful connection.
Remove the Obstacles Within You
May is my birth month and also Mothers’ Day. A lot of introspection goes into this time of year, as I get tremendously honest about my shortcomings, aspire to new goals, and of course, assess how I can improve as a mother. This svadhyaya is not an annual phenomenon, but tends to be the time when I lay it all out on the table. On the other hand, I don’t want to waste too much time and energy ‘evaluating’ my performance as a human being.
While in Peru, this work was not in vain. I had to do it off hours, in the early mornings and nights, and even skipped a few amazing side trips so I could just be seated, silent and breathe. I found that I had been operating in a more masculine way. This is not a wrong way, but I am not a man and the theme of the trip was about finding the proper balance, something I did not have at the time.
The trip to Peru revealed a lot of patterns that were so deeply rooted in my way of operating, they had blinded me to higher spiritual insights. I needed to do the Earth time and get some things right inside my heart. When I let go of traits that were more entanglements of principle than facilitators, I found myself able to grow as a human being.