What do you do when the world gets heavy? What do you do when simply turning on the news or looking at your phone in the morning leaves you nearly overwhelmed with feelings of worry and fear and sorrow? How do you bounce back and make the most of your day in the face of so much pain and suffering – whether at the hands of Mother Nature or a mad gunman?
For years, I have had one answer to questions like this.
I do my practice.
I get up early. I unroll my mat. I say a prayer. I spend an hour or more moving, breathing, sweating and trying my level best to draw my awareness away from my runaway thoughts (worries, fears and sorrows included). I lay down and hold still for a few minutes. I sit up, say a prayer, roll up my mat and head out into the day.
As clear as it is what we’re drawing our thoughts from, it’s often confusing what we’re drawing our awareness toward. Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, the father of Ashtanga yoga, was known for saying that yoga is looking for God. He didn’t try to put God in the box of religion. He simply asked each of his students to look for God as they understood God.
How do we do this? As we move, breathe, sweat, and try not to think, we choose (over and over again some days … days like these in particular) to focus our awareness on sensing, feeling and even seeing God around us and within us. I believe that God is light and love. I believe that, as a part of God’s Creation, I can serve (in my own small way) as a photon of that light and a tiny bit of that love to make this world a teensy bit better. An hour or more of breathing and focusing on this can be a powerful antidote for the heavy weight of fear, worry, helplessness and sorrow that I may have carried with me to my mat.
Only some days, doing my practice does not seem like enough. Some days, taking the time and mustering the energy to do my practice feels useless. On really tough days, such as this past Monday, it even feels flat-out stupid.
What do I do then?
I do my practice.
I pretend like I think it’s going to help and I unroll my mat and I breathe and I move and I sweat and I try not to think. Most importantly, while I do all this, I allow myself to feel. Yes, I feel my body as it stretches. But I also feel my heavy heart.
Sometimes I have to pause to cry. Sometimes I have to retreat to child’s pose. But I do my practice. Because even when I’m faking it, even when things look so bleak that it would be easy to convince myself that my faith is a folly, the intention to look for God is enough. While I may not roll my mat back up feeling “all better,” my heart has begun the long, slow process of healing. I feel re-centered. I feel somewhat restored. And, most importantly, I feel at least a little more ready to shine my small light into the world around me.
What can we do when the world feels heavy? We can acknowledge and honor our feelings. We can take a few minutes or more to turn inward and to “look for God.” Once we have done so, we’ll be better able to give of ourselves in ways great and small to help this world of ours begin to heal.