Feeling Stuck on the Path to Freedom
I have been feeling a bit stuck in my practice lately. Hence the lack of inspiration and forthcoming blog posts….
Things have shifted since I first started practicing yoga and incorporating mindfulness into my life. Like learning any new modality, the honeymoon phase wore off and the hard work began to set in. As my body started to become used to these practices, the effects became more subtle, less dramatic. A feeling of frustration and being stuck began to overtake my practice. I was putting all this work in, but it felt like nothing was shifting.
I decided to spend this past weekend at my place of work, Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. I spent two days in the mountains, surrounded by trees, eating nourishing food made with care, practicing mediation, pranayama (breath-work) and asana (yoga poses). I had placed myself strategically. Deep down, I was hoping this weekend of submersion would show a glimmer of my old practice. The excitement of newness. The intensity I used to feel.
Although the weekend facilitated many new learnings and a sense of calm, my wish for intensity, for eye-opening transformation, did not come true. I remained like a flat line. Steady, unwavering. There were moments I got deep. Moments I became emotional, touching deep samskaras (impressions of the mind). But I remained grounded, feeling essentially the same.
I was perplexed. Had my practice left me? Had I become lost? Why could I no longer feel as deeply as I used to when I first started mediating and healing?
I sat with this. Sat with this feeling of frustration, of loss. As I stared out at the clear blue sky, I realized a key mistake I had made…I became attached to the outcome of my practices.
I had created this idea that my practice was an invisible shield to suffering. I entrusted it as my protector. Deep down, I believed that by engaging in my practice, suffering would leave. That I would be forever happy, peaceful, undisturbed by thought patterns.
Like a good student, I obediently sat to mediate. I took yoga classes, journaled, studied. However, I did all of these actions with the idea that by engaging in them, THEY would remove the pain. Yes, change can occur by reading a book or sitting in the mountains, but the change has to come from WITHIN ourselves. By looking inward and becoming familiar with the unfamiliar sides of ourselves.
To make this more clear, the key disillusion I created was looking for these modalities to change me, instead of looking within myself for the change. Yes, my practice guides me inward and give me great peace, but it is a long time of looking in that will make the change. External powers can not magically change us.
We sit not because it will remove pain, but because it makes us familiar with pain. An equal to joy, to bliss. If we do not feel, there would be no need for practice. There would be no need to live. Yes mediation and yoga asana are beautiful ways to reduce stress and cultivate calmness, but that is not why I practice. I practice to become familiar with the unfamiliar (or uncomfortable) sides of myself. We practice to feel…because the unfamiliar sides of ourselves are the only things we take with us beyond this physical life.
Although the novelty of my practice had worn off, it proved it was becoming a part of me. A part of my journey inward. As I become more comfortable, it pushes me to dig deeper, work even harder. It is my job to persist. To continue with no expectation. As the road to mastery may not be a part of this lifetime...the little work I do now, may make it easier to attain down the line.
My advice, start now. Get to know the unfamiliar sides of yourself now. It wont be easy, and it may take you a lifetime(s). Only when we trustfully surrender with no expectations, will the flame from within ignite.
To close, I would like to share one of my favorite stories (paraphrased for your reading pleasure):
There was a great Hindu god-sage called Narada. One day he was passing through a forest, and saw a man who had been meditating for so long, that an army of ants built a mound around his body.
As Narada passed, the man asked “Oh, Narada, when shall I attain freedom? I have been obediently mediating for quite a long time.” Narada turned to him and said, “You have been very devoted. You will attain freedom in four more births.”
The man became enraged by Narada’s answer. He began to wail, frustrated by the outcome and his own impatience.
Narada continued to walk and passed by another man. This man was playfully jumping around. Singing and dancing under a tree. He saw Narada and asked the same question, “Oh, Narada, when shall I attain freedom?” Narada looked at the playful man and said, “Do you see this tree you stand under? As many leaves that are on this tree, that is how many lives you shall live before you attain freedom.”
The man was ecstatic. He began to dance for joy. “Oh thank you Narada! I am so please to hear I shall have freedom at a point in time."
At that moment, the playful man became free.
That was the reward for his perseverance. He was ready to work without attachment to the outcome. Perseverance and patience grant the highest result.