The little things in life that make you smile can slip by unnoticed if you're not paying attention. Practicing mindfulness can help. Mindfulness practices such as yoga teach us that, with practice, we can develop the ability to choose our focus, to choose what our mind is thinking or focusing on in any given moment.
Housekeeping is good for you! In yoga philosophy the first of five practices that support our intention to live a spiritual life (niyamas) is purity (sauca). Even 2500 years ago when these practices were codified, our ancient yoga teachers knew something profound – when you take care of the world around you, keeping it clean and orderly, you are also taking care of your inner landscape.
What if we each approached one another with the intention to connect? With the certainty that we could find a shared love if we looked closely enough? What if we reached out across fear and differences and even physical distance to meet one other with kindness and the wish to part ways each feeling better than when we met?
My new little sunflower garden has given me a glimpse of a future that feels hopeful and a little exciting. This is looking ahead that I think even our yoga teachers would sanction. It is a forward glance with an open heart and mind. It is looking to the future with curiosity rather than with a desire for a particular outcome. It is anticipation that doesn’t pull us out of the moment, but rather inspires us to savor each moment along the way. It turns out that I’m just as excited to go out and check on my little sunflower seedlings each morning as I am to (maybe ... hopefully) have their bright, happy faces smiling at me as I walk to my yoga studio later this summer.
The choice to practice social distancing is a lovely example of pure generosity. We are making a series of decisions, many that we may not like very much, to take care of people we do not or may not ever know. Each of us is choosing to make sacrifices for the greater good. For me, I am pausing the work I love to do. I am not seeing friends who light up my life. I am not seeing my parents or my two children who live in the city. Trivial, but still a blow, I am choosing not to go to my local pub to enjoy a craft beer. I am doing so not because I am afraid of contracting the virus. I am doing so because of the person who is in a high-risk demographic who may stay healthy because I didn’t touch as many door handles or parking meters or elevator buttons or whatever.
What are we contemplating or looking at when we practice yoga? We are looking at ourselves. As we move our body into the many odd shapes of yoga postures, we are teaching our minds to hold still so that we can look inward. Over time and with practice, we begin to see clearly our thoughts, our habits, our preferences, our fears, our joys, our worries and our hopes.
If you struggle with small choices such as “Do I want a salad or a sandwich for lunch?”, it is likely that you struggle even more with life's big decisions. Religious and spiritual disciplines teach that connecting with the desires of our hearts is key to understanding our “call” or “purpose in life” or even what makes us special and unique. Learning to tune into what we really want rather than what we think we should want helps us, in the end, to make the best choice of all - to be happy.
Yoga has made me certain that the differences I discover between myself and others can be life-giving. Each time I’m struggling to find something in common with someone else is a moment that could be filled with growth and mutual learning if I can stay open and curious about the differences between us.
A contemplative practice such as yoga provides quiet, respite from the stream of thoughts created by our mind by teaching us two skills. The first is the power to notice our thoughts. This awareness, in turn, gives us the power to disengage from them. In the quiet of my practice, it often seems as if my thoughts are bubbling away at the far away surface of my awareness while I’m peacefully resting in a deeper place where my thoughts are not at all important. This space from my mental chatter is, in essence, me shutting up and allowing myself to be loved.