“So there he is at last. Man on the moon. The poor magnificent bungler! He can’t even get to the office without undergoing the agonies of the damned, but give him a little metal, a few chemicals, some wire and twenty or thirty billion dollars and, vroom! There he is, up on a rock a quarter of a million miles up in the sky.” ~Russell (Wayne) Baker
When I clipped this cartoon from the New Yorker, I didn’t know what a rough patch really was. I’d had some days that were more difficult than others. I almost failed Macro Economics (really) and that felt pretty awful. But now, I don’t just chuckle at this, I guffaw from some deep and injured and yet mightily resilient place from deep inside. It’s the place where the magic of yoga really touches.
How do we make peace with the fact of the Four Noble Truths that tell us that our lot as humans in life is to suffer—victims of desire and want and dissatisfaction—and the idea that our true nature is joy and happiness? Philosophically, it is an interesting problem. On the ground, it can be a pretty miserable conundrum. As I am emerging from what I would like to fondly refer to as a three-year “rough patch”, I see that the play of shadow and light has always been at work. Just as Leo Tolstoy writes in Anna Karenina, “All the variety, all the charm, all the beauty of life is made up of light and shadow.” What I know now is that the shadows can dominate for long periods of time, but the light lingers even in those darkest places.
Yoga is for humans. Sometimes, in a time of shadows, yoga is the thread that keeps us connected to the small rays of light that can peek up through the narrow slats of wood in the kitchen floor, to some feeling in our toes, to memories or dreams or even just a remembering of a time when imagination was possible. When our breath is caught in some invisible net at the base of our throat and the breathing diaphragm feels permanently fixed in space, then we can explore the corners of our nostrils and the sensation of breath on the lips, however light. That’s yoga. When our back is in knots and our head pounds, we can sip water and feel that wash over our tongue and enjoy the cool sensation. That’s yoga. Then, when the shadows dance to the corners and the light fills our subtle spaces again, and it will, then our yoga is still with us.
So, if it turns out that your life is a rough patch, find something precious and small that you can sense and breathe into that moment. You never know what will tip the scales.
Practice for Shadow Dwelling
Are you in a rough patch? Please try this practice. It is unlikely to solve your problems, but it can shift your awareness in this moment so that you can experience a brief peace and clarity of mind.
#1: Fill a glass (and please do use glass if it is available) with fresh water
#2: Have a seat in a chair and place both of your feet on the ground.
#3: Take five breaths as slowly and deeply as possible. If you feel tight in your chest or throat, like you can’t take a deep breath, then focus on taking as long as possible to exhale.
#4: Drink the glass of water and visualize the water washing your cells of stress and tension. Feel connected to the oceans and lakes and rivers and streams of the world and all the living beings that rely on these waters.