Pausing to re-awaken joy, the gift of presence. By Lauren Bloxham
So much of our living subjects us to stress and trauma, whether this is experienced directly, or indirectly, through the news we consume. The challenges we collectively face can be disheartening, distressing, and depressing to the degree that we disengage, or feel consumed. At times, life’s challenges make it impossible to feel joyful, to find peace, or to be compassionate.
When we spend time living in our heads and embodying our pain, whether because of the programmed narratives of our upbringing or our social conditioning, or the stories that run on repeat through our minds…whether those stories are about what’s been said or done, or should have been said or done, or they’re about the state of humanity and the world we live in, they can cause us chronic stress.
A mindful space
It's at these times especially, that our yoga practice counts. Our practice can become an interruption to ruminative thinking and a return to feeling. A return to heart-centred living. The interruption can provide a physical change of focus as we carve out time to attend a class, and that physical interruption can lead to a fresh mindset. We all know how hard it can be to motivate ourselves to go to class sometimes, even when we know it’s what we need, but if we’ve developed the habit, then we do it anyway and we nearly always feel better afterwards. The same is true of shifting our mindsets, it’s hard to do, but once we’ve done it, we feel better. But what can we do daily when thoughts become overwhelming? It’s at these times that we need to internalise a mental practice; we need tools to shift us regularly throughout the day.
When we’re stuck in a cul-de-sac of stressful thinking, making the shift can powerfully alter our mood and state of wellbeing, offering us a fresh perspective on what is keeping us stuck. Recognising not just the practices, but the people, activities, thoughts, and situations which guide that shift is important. Whether it’s a regular restorative class, a power flow class, going for a walk, gardening, knitting, art, or just about anything else which brings us back to ourselves physically.
Or perhaps it’s a mental mantra, small habits of thought or checking in with the breath that keep us connected in between times. Whatever it is, it’s essential that we develop habits of what brings us home to our hearts, because it’s in that state that we find and can reconnect with joy, cultivate peace, and find compassion through life’s challenges.
“When we’re stuck in a cul-de-sac of stressful thinking, making the shift can powerfully alter our mood and state of wellbeing, offering us a fresh perspective on what is keeping us stuck.”
Pause for a moment
Pause for a moment. Take a breath. Place your hands on your heart space. Close your eyes and say to yourself: “I am here for you”. Notice how you feel. Affirming your presence is one of th greatest gifts you can offer yourself. It’s in this very presence that all challenges can be felt, worked through, resolved, diffused, and uplifted. The yoga sutras teach us that the mind becomes clear when the conditions of the heart are cultivated (Sutra 1.33). When we offer ourselves presence, we create a mental interruption to stressful thinking.
We’re subtly practicing shifting from thinking to feeling, where we can cultivate the conditions of the heart. Here we can invite the uprising of compassion in the face of our own suffering, friendliness towards our joy, joy towards what is pure within us an equanimity towards that which we would prefer not to experience. That is, we face what causes us fear or shame without moving from this clear space of present awareness, without giving it the power of our denial, overwhelm or disconnection.
This is the practice we can offer to ourselves whenever and wherever we are, creating softness where there is hardening against the injustices of the world. This is the respite we can bring to our suffering, where our sorrows can be lightened, and our shame understood. The pause brings us perspective on those times where joy feels elusive or where the guilt of being human is overwhelming. The pause can bring clarity when we can’t see the wood for the trees, and we don’t know what to do to help, overcome, or contribute positively to a situation.
Try it again now
Affirm to yourself: “I am here for you”. We may be no wiser as to how to help the world, but we may be softer with ourselves and have powerfully shifted out of a stressful thinking loop, which is a positive foundation for living a gentler and more joyful life.
If we can make a practice of pausing and offering ourselves presence, either through noticing the activities, situations and relationships which guide us to presence, or through making a habit of stopping to connect with ourselves, we can begin to embody a more spacious and gentler approach to living through life’s challenges.
It’s in the softness and spaciousness that we can more easily access joy, thankfulness, and compassion. Practicing the pause is the conditioning which strengthens us to remain soft and spacious when we witness the worst of humanity. The pause empowers us to stand in the middle of crisis, take a deep breath and feel ourselves flood with love, simply by offering ourselves presence.
Through presence we can watch the days pass and the seasons turn and trust that each crisis will pass too. Embodying this soft spaciousness gives rise to the simple joy of being, which enables our peace to remain undisturbed in the face of challenging situations. This is the soft power that pulls us through, that enables us to notice the humanity in others, and the power that makes us beacons of love and pillars of strength, for ourselves first, and then for those around us. The pause reminds us that whatever challenges we face, collectively or individually, we can always find space to reconnect us to our hearts.
Practice yoga with Lauren Bloxham online at: blackdogliving.com or in person in West Cornwall. You can also join her on retreat next year: ‘Embodying the Elements’ at Bala Brook retreat centre, Dartmoor National Park, April 20-23, 2023. Connect on Instagram @blackdogliving