Getting Back Up From the Mat, Equanimity, & Following My North Star

I recently celebrated a birthday and, as I have been reflecting on my 57th revolution around the sun, I’ve come to a few conclusions about what I want from life going forward, in spite of hiccups that I might encounter.  For one thing, life is way too short to beat myself up for mistakes I might have made in the past and time that I feel I’ve wasted.  And, really, were they really mistakes or a waste of time?  Perhaps, they were transformative moments that helped me to make quantum leaps forward toward my dreams or, perhaps, they were clarifying moments, helping me to better define what it is that I truly want.  These are then neither mistakes nor time wasted, that is, if I can use them to propel myself in the direction of joy and passion, helping others along the way, and ultimately becoming a change agent in the world. 

I know this sounds very lofty, but as I sit here in reflection, I see that we all have that ability, if we take the opportunities that we’re given.  Even pain we experience along the way is such an opportunity.  It’s one of the greatest opportunities, in fact, for growth and change.  “Real transformation begins when you embrace your problems as agents for growth,” writes Michael A. Singer, in The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself. 

It seems that, whenever I’m cruising along, feeling really excited about the direction that I’m going, truly energized and filled with joy, something will happen to knock me off course and, then, it takes me quite a bit of time to readjust my internal navigator in order to reorient myself. It’s somewhat ironic, since, I’ve found over and over again that, following my passion has been my North Star through the ups and downs of life, even during the darkest of moments following my dad’s death four years ago.  In fact, Patanjali, the yogi credited for creating the path of yoga, is quoted as saying, “When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds.  Your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great, and wonderful world.  Dormant forces, faculties, and talents become alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be.”  But, when life stresses or distractions become overwhelming, as I’ve experienced, it’s easy to lose our footing and to become lost.  We’re certainly living in a challenging time and there are many distractions, as well as many obstacles that can, and do, cause us to lose our way.  This is a common theme among many who are attempting to journey this path.  Some feel stunted by personal illness, losses, financial strain, illness of loved ones, overwhelming work tasks, tremendous caregiver or family-related responsibilities, feeling helpless in the face of what we see on the nightly news, or just plain hitting a creative wall.  At one time or another, I’ve experienced every one of these obstacles, often several of them simultaneously. Each time I’ve gotten myself back up, when knocked down and off-course, I’ve ended up feeling stronger and more determined, the scars acting as fodder to propel me forward with greater force and determination.  “My grandmother always told me,” said a co-worker on one of my graduate student placements many years ago, “it’s not how many times you get knocked down that counts, but how long it takes you to get back up off the mat.”  This piece of wisdom imparted at a critical time in my life has stuck with me throughout the years.  I always get back up off the mat, even if it sometimes take longer than I would have liked.

My recent focus has been working on developing what, in Buddhism, is referred to as equanimity.  That is, having an open heart no matter what happens, even embracing the problems, as Michael Singer suggests, as a way to keep from losing sight of the track, even when I’ve slipped off of it.  “Challenging situations create the force needed to bring about change,” Singer writes in his latest book, The Surrender Experiment: My Journey Into Life’s Perfection.   “The problem is that we generally use all the stirred up energy intended to bring about change, to resist change.”  In fact, resisting what is, aka reality, is the most sure-fire way to knock us down for the count.

One little known fact is that those who are truly successful at following their calling and realizing their dreams have failed and been knocked off their path more than most people because they take more risks and keep getting back up when they fall, rather than giving up.  “I’ve missed more than nine thousand shots in my career,” said one of the greatest basketball players of all time, Michael Jordan.  “I’ve lost almost three hundred games.  Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed.  I’ve failed over and over again in my life.  And that is why I succeed.”  So, then, rather than asking ourselves if it’s time to give up on a dream, the better question might be how to ride the emotional roller coaster of life, with all of it’s ups and downs, and to take it all in as an exciting adventure, rather than allowing it to cause us to lose our way. 

Obviously, not every day will feel like a “good” day, when we wake up in the morning.  But, one of the conclusions I’ve come to in moving forward past the 57th year marker is that I really want to find a way to find the grains of joy, so that I can string enough joyful moments together to find passion even in pain.  Pain is unavoidable, but suffering is a choice. 

It’s not always easy to open our hearts in the face of obstacles or when a point of pain from the past has been triggered.  But, the intention to practice an open heart, in itself, brings about the awareness needed to heal that pain so that we can keep moving forward with vitality and joy.  Giving ourselves permission to take moments away from our busy-ness to just be is one of the greatest gifts we can give to ourselves, resulting in more open-heartedness and equanimity, greater energy, and more joy.  Furthermore, allowing ourselves to let go of what no longer serves us in our lives, tasks and obligations that we are only engaging in out of habit or because of the expectations of others, as well as letting go of pain that we no longer need to hold onto, will free us from the chains that restrain us from our passionate journey.  (For more about letting go, check out my blog, What Can You Let Go Of?

I could write a whole book made up of the criticisms and unsolicited questioning from others about the path that I’ve been on and, even more, the denigrations that I’ve subjected myself to perpetrated by myself, wondering if I was really good enough or asking the paralyzing question of who would really be interested in what I have to say anyway.  By letting those negative comments and questions become just background noise as we walk the walk, they begin to drift off on the breeze to just blend in with the sound of the wind in the trees. (Check out my blogs, You Will Be Criticized For Following Your Passion: Don’t Let It Stop You From Living Out Loud, 9 Tips to Detox From a Toxic Person: How to Transform the Venom & Expand Your Mind, and Taming Our Inner Troll.)  Finding support from like-minded friends, mentors, and coaches is invaluable in helping us to experience the joy and excitement of this path of passion, as well as get us through the rough spots and the criticisms.  I’ve worked hard to build my own “dream” team and it’s been well worth the effort.  My team doesn’t let me stay down on the mat for too long.  Finally, I’ve concluded to never give up on my calling, although I’m willing to go with the flow if my calling or passion changes, inspiring me to reinvent myself once again. And, most importantly, I will never give up on myself.  I know that, even with pain of loss and grief, joy can co-exist in my heart as long as I keep getting back up and realigning myself with my North Star.  And I’m worth doing that for.  Aren’t you?

In Peace & Joy,

Dr. Mara

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