This past Monday, I finished a cross-country adventure with my dog, Shakti, in a very solid 6 days, 5 nights.
The decision was only slightly less of a shock to me than it was to close friends and family. I needed a change. I saw myself slipping into unhealthy patterns. Following the nurturing replenishment of family and friends in my hometown, I allowed myself to consider and prioritize my own needs. To do this, my ego needs to step aside. Sadly, this has meant leaving behind relationships that I had come to cherish, that nourished me. Sacrifices are made when we endure change. And, I’ve learned, we can’t always know that the outcome is worth the struggle. But when we make a decision with our own best interests at heart, I believe you can’t go wrong. With this blind trust, with myself and Shakti in mind, we have arrived in Florida. We are home.
Packing up my apartment in Los Angeles and venturing across the country has reminded me of an important and enduring aspect of yoga tradition that I have found useful in my own life. When everything is turbulent and it’s impossible to see to the other side, or during a period of calm, in the eye of the storm, consistency of practice – or rituals – endure and cultivate grounding. Despite the whirling winds and monsoon rains that welcomed us on the final stint of our journey, breath stilled my mind and subtle reminders kept me present and grounded.
I mean this literally, that deep breaths seemed to arise from my chest and mouth even before I consciously recognized a potential threat. Breathing through it in this way, occasionally glancing down at the mala wrapped around my wrist, or switching over to mantra music when I felt my nerves were creeping too high, I strived to maintain balance and equilibrium (mentally and physiologically) with effortless intention.
I think of these as “passive rituals,” material items or bodily techniques (i.e. asana, pranayama) that are consistent and instigate a particular notion of familiarity, grounding, contentment, or peace. Like psychological triggers using symbolism, mundane objects or physical techniques can have a positive affect on our mental and physiological being regardless of personal perceived connotation. Assimilating traditional Eastern symbolism into my daily life – or whenever I choose to refer to the item or repeat the task – has proven to maintain contentment, calm and determined vigor whenever needed, even and especially in moments of crisis. As I told my parents while gripping my mala in post-hurricane storms in Florida, “I’ll be there soon, come hell or high water!”
As I settle in to my new temporary home at my parent’s house, I am also reminded of deliberate or “active rituals.” The day following my arrival, a process of settling in began. Unpacking the first items from my car, I hung Tibetan prayer flags reading “Om mani padme om,” a traditional mantra honoring and emphasizing the importance of devotional practice, along the top of a hutch in the kitchen. A subtle but poignant reminder of my intention to cultivate peace and tranquility any place I reside.
That evening, I burned sage stored inside my brass singing bowl from India, atop the nightstand in my new room. I stored my mala, recently bought from a holistic yoga studio in Berkeley, where a great friend from school now works, in a dish by the door along with several gems and other jewelry to remind me of the beauty in stillness and the strength of my roots. I keep an affirmation card from my dear cousin reading, “I am wise. I seek answers within myself,” in a visible place in the corner of the room. Running out in the rain to steal back my bolster (large pillow) from the car, I look forward to re-kindling a daily mediation practice with the help and encouragement of these symbolic reminders. I sit atop my bolster during my morning coffee and bring it into a quiet space to sit comfortably in meditation, allowing my knees to fall below my hips supporting my lower back. All of these are either active or passive rituals representing my intentions and motivating my endurance in an effort of blind trust that everything will be okay.
While “passive rituals” include objects we might see or activate with subtle or sub-conscious awareness, “active rituals” encompass any process during which we set a conscious intention. This may be as simple as lighting a candle, burning incense, lighting sage, sitting in silence, listening to mantra music, or even writing thank you note’s or calling a dear friend who may benefit from your active attention. There are no limits to what can be conceived in these moments, cultivating creativity, focus, compassion and peace.
For the first time in my life, I’m not sure where I’m headed. But I whole-heartedly know (despite my nagging ego) that the journey is worth enduring, that it is worth the sacrifice, and that all I have to gain is more than I can presently imagine.
I’ve learned in truth that if you can imagine it, you can have it. Doors open when we set genuine intentions for ourselves. I never bought into this psychological logic more than now. Anyone can have anything they can put their mind to, because anything we can dream has the power to be gradually cultivated through conscious awareness, endurance and self-compassion. With the creation and proliferation of new thought patterns, it becomes easy to see how the object(s) of our desires are attainable through opportunities and options we may not have considered before.
I know there are many I cherish in my life right now who are enduring a process of healing from loss, betrayal, deception, or hurt. I besiege us all to remember that everything is impermanent. Nothing is forever. Periods of pain will subside, and ultimately the only guarantee is that our lives are what we make them.
So much love to those enduring loss. I send daily love your way. Slowly, slowly I too am recovering through ritual.
In the future, I plan to share a post on “yoga for healing” encompassing the physiological significance of specific asana and pranayama practices that provide a tangible method for processing and relinquishing grief, loss, and other forms of residual trauma.
Enduring love. Namaste,
Mantra Music to inspire: