In the new year of 2014 I initiated a practice of writing down on colorful bits of paper various things I am grateful for. To me, this had far weightier significance than a sweet little fun activity. Navigating my way through the span of several difficult months had been a seemingly treacherous and tough one, and this new venture was part of the ways I craved to cope in highlighting the good. In all honesty, there were certainly days in which I felt an overwhelming sense of despair. Sometimes I had to scour and sift through my gloom to uncover a morsel of motivation. Intending for this to be a daily exercise, I must also confess I let it go for a couple months. I'd leave and come back to it, more fickle than faithful. Somedays I would write as many as ten things down-- many other days, nothing. There were times I couldn't think of anything new, continually rerunning the top stars on my list. (Come 2015, I am curious to tally how many times "loving husband" or "cuddly puppies" appear...)
After some time of noting these little blips of blessing popping up in my life, I began to consider the other not-so-lovely things that began to change and transform. My world was beginning to shift and get a little brighter as I continued to hone my vision toward this morphing conversion. The very unlovely things of dread in my life were weirdly and miraculously unfolding as something healing and arguably lovely. As this continued, I recognized that I, too, was in the process of change and transformation. Somewhere in this muck meandering I began to both discover and recover parts of myself and my spirit.
Yoga sutra 2.1, Tapaḥ svādhyāyeśvarapraṇidhānāni kriyā yogaḥ, can be translated to read "Accepting pain as help for purification, study of spiritual books, and surrender to the Supreme Being constitute Yoga in practice."
The word tapaḥ refers to a sense of burning or creating heat. Sometimes situations in which we find ourselves can feel as though we are being put to the test and through the fire. Many spiritual texts speak of a refining fire for purification. Once the smoke clears the distinction between pre and post fire makes itself known. One of my favorite scriptures says that we can "glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope" (Romans 5:3,4). Difficult times expose for us the areas of opportunity for growth in our lives. This exposure can be gut-wrenching, the growing pains excruciating, but the balance of both steadfastness and calm surrender can create a path for us to exit with greater strength as a result.
A common pose where this shows up for me on the mat is that dear old friend utkatasana. To be honest, every time I enter into it, I have to actively choose to shed the dread. It's not a favorite because it points out to me the areas I am still developing strength, both physically and mentally in regards to my patience ("how much longer do I have to be here?"). No matter how many times I practice, I still experience what feels like a literal fire in my legs. When I can enter my utkatasana situation, recognizing I won't be there forever, but in the time that I am there take note of evidence that I am strengthening my legs, ankles, and upper body, I can consider this recognition which alleviates or a least redirects my attention from my "awkward chair."
Recognizing gratitude can be the panacea to our panic and burdens. In cultivating this sense of gratitude, it can be for us a seed of hope we then plant. As we nourish this habit of scattering seed, we can trust for it to eventually take root, strengthening its way through the dirt, and into the sunlight.