Ever prepare for a trip with the best intentions and the utmost care, and then, by no fault of your own, the plane, train or boat fails to take off or is diverted? (silent pause as images of the Titanic come to mind). Sometimes life is a little like that.
How many times have you heard that all it takes to be happy is a full heart and goodwill, and then things go so wrong that you want to crawl into a ball and wait for the next season to arrive? Somehow, ‘the road to hell was paved with good intention’ rings true for me too often to admit. But could it be that these two aspects of how we manage challenging times are more in our control than we think, and that both have something to do with the ability to see the forest through the trees?
I remember like it was yesterday the time I went into liver failure. We were in a car driving to meet friends to celebrate the new year. It was December 2012. We’d rented a sweet little thatched roof cottage, taken time to wrap gifts for the other family’s children, and packed our bags and provisions with care. But, en route, my stomach began to burn and by the time we arrived in Norfolk an ambulance was waiting at the house. After 5 days at the King’s Lynn hospital with ‘pancreatitis’ I was released, and the real ‘falling apart’ started to happen.
And you know what? What followed may have been the first time in my life that I had no choice but to let everything fall apart. My life had to change, effective immediately. I had to change. I had to change my priorities right away, and eventually I learned that I’d have to change the expectations of myself and others too, only this part didn’t happen overnight. In fact, even after the liver transplant my old habit patterns took over and all too quickly I was back to working and living in a way that was in line with what I expected of myself, but which was more than I could handle. I spent the first couple of years disgruntled whilst half-heartedly processing trauma without giving myself enough space or time to do so, without knowing how deeply I was suffering. Despite the huge waves of gratitude I had for the immense force of preservation in and around me which played out through many different people, I carried extreme amounts of guilt for not feeling as happy as I felt people expected me to be, even realising just how fortunate I was to be alive.
What I wasn’t allowing to sink in at that time, is the reality that life and people move at different rates, and neither can be rushed along. Like metronomes that are set at different beats but eventually sync up with each other, over time if we learn to listen very well with the right attitude, we might come to understand that a large part of happiness and acceptance is in learning to adapt ourselves to the timing of life and those around us as it all unfolds.
Santoṣa is the Sanskrit word for contentment or acceptance, which is found in the Niyamas of the Yoga Sutras. The Niyamas are observances or duties that have to do with cultivating one’s own inner happiness, but which are inextricably linked with how we perceive and connect with the world we live in.We are but one tree in a vast forest, and in a forest every tree relies on one another for nourishment and support. In daily life, our work and responsibilities can feel so overwhelming at times that when some aspect of life breaks down, it becomes challenging if not impossible to stop and reassess from a wider lens. Anger, frustration and victimisation are close at hand for those who manage life by wearing rigid blinders and this contributes to feeling, and being out of sync. The yoga practice is a chance and a choice made each day to help recalibrate ourselves with the bigger picture, to help see the forest through the trees.