In North America, we are in the season of darkness. The hours of darkness continue to grow longer, and the hours of light decrease as we move toward the winter solstice, the longest day of the year on Dec. 22. Tuning in to the outer seasons provides opportunity to tune in to our inner seasons, our internal emotional climate in response to what is happening in this moment.
This week in Lorrie’s yoga class at Organic Yoga, she encouraged us to find our inner light in this season of darkness. As she beautifully wove this theme throughout the class, I felt a sense of my own inner light in the region of my heart and saw an image of a light there, so that I saw my heart illuminated. My aspiration in my daily practice of mindfulness is to cultivate the heart to be present to whatever arises. This aspiration keeps me steady internally in times of external confusion or difficulty. It has become my rock of resilience, reminding me that I am continually cultivating the capacity to be present to whatever arises. Fifteen minutes into the yoga class, I had an opportunity to practice this. Salamba Sirsasana—supported headstand.
I don’t like being upside down. For some reason, I lose spatial orientation when I’m upside down. In 1992, I bought a whitewater kayak, and every Wednesday at roll practice, I felt afraid as the instructor turned me upside down in the water. I heard him yell from above, “Put the paddle on your right side and cock your left hip” (or was it paddle on the left and cock my right hip?). Each time, I struggled in fear and confusion, unable to discern which side was my left and which side was my right, until I nearly ran out of air and began to feel panic, at which time I either pulled off the spray skirt and pushed myself out of the boat, or the instructor rolled me back over.
I was unwilling to attempt a headstand until I completed yoga teacher training several years ago, and I never really worked through my fear then. My first reaction when Lorrie said, “Salamba Sirsasana” was resistance. I paused, took a deep breath, and remembered that much of our suffering comes from wanting things to be other than they are. My suffering in that moment was not caused by my circumstances but by my thoughts in reaction to the circumstances.
There is nothing harmful about a headstand unless one has a medical condition for which it is contraindicated (neck or back injury, detached retinas, headache, high or low blood pressure, etc). I took a moment to check in with myself, decided I wanted to do this pose, and decided that I wanted to do it from a place of centeredness this time, not from a place of fear.
I steadied my breath, held the image of my illuminated heart, and reminded myself that I do have the capacity to be present to whatever arises. I recalled all that I have been present to throughout my life, and the idea of being upside down paled in comparison, so up I went. Instead of focusing on how scary it felt to be upside down, I used my mindfulness practice to keep myself calm and centered. I used my breath as the focus of my awareness, and instead of becoming the upsidedownness of my experience, I observed it objectively.
Watching my breath, feeling it move in and out of my body, using it as my anchor, and holding myself in my own illuminated heart, I objectively observed what the room looked like from an upside down perspective. For the first time, I remained calmly in this pose for the duration instead of coming out of it quickly and fearfully. When we were instructed to come out of the pose, I had a moment of fear, a moment of uncertainty about where my legs were in space and how to get them back onto the floor. I used my breath to breathe into my right leg and sense its position in space, then my left, and I slowly lowered first my right leg and then my left, landing softly and gracefully back onto the ground. I lowered my body into child’s pose and offered compassion to my fear, gratitude to my practice, gratitude for the connection to my inner light, and gratitude that I continue to grow my capacity to be present to whatever arises.
Take a moment today to find your own inner light. Can you sense it inside of you? What does it feel like? What does it look like? How can you call upon your own inner light in your next moment of darkness?
I would love it if you would share your experiences here regarding how you find and experience your own inner light in moments of darkness.