We got yoga homework from class last week — maybe that’s my teacher’s take on being more strict! On the theme of change: the challenge was to see if we could take a different route to work each day. Of course that’s just the ‘physical practice’, the real interest lies beneath. What might this change in a simple daily habit, deliberately disrupting the autopilot, reveal or suggest?
Changing my route to work is simple. It’s a short walk and I could endlessly vary the particular streets I take. So I committed to the homework challenge (don’t I always do as I’m told??!). It seemed to be too simple to be more than a game, but I’m always surprised by my teacher and what I find in his words. So I tried to embrace the potential of this simple practice and see what opened up.
I let the weather be my guide, to suggest something to me, or inspire me.
One foggy day I walked along the towpath. Grey waters of the river merged with the foggy air, the wintry skeletons of the trees looming up within the fog. My mind played with metaphors of the fog of obscurity when we feel lost or ignorant, the clarity of light when we feel sure what to do. So as I walked I chanted that beautiful prayer from the Upanishads:
asato mā sad gamaya
tamaso mā jyotir gamaya
mṛtyor māmṛtaṃ gamaya
Like closing your eyes in class allows you the pretence of invisibility, I let myself to believe the fog would muffle my words. Pratyāhāra in action maybe! In any case early morning dog-walkers seem to be friendly, tolerant folk, and they were the only people I encountered on this day.
On a sunnier day the beautiful changing colours of sunrise invited much more openness. I wanted to dive into all that the day might offer. So I just kept walking!! Past my usual turnoff towards the office, following along the river until I came to open meadowland. I twirled a few circles on the grass here, allowing my inner child some playtime, the pink horizon spinning round me, arms outstretched in an embrace of the world as a new day dawned rich with possibilities. Yep, I was late for work this day! But that’s OK once in a while.
When it rained I turned away from the towpath and walked the urban streets instead. Commuters hurrying along pavements full of puddles and an endless flow of cars alongside. Everything seemed drear, busy, tense. This grey cityscape doesn’t easily fill my heart with joy. So now earphones in, music pumping, a smile comes quickly to my lips. I tell myself: stop hunching the shoulders; the rain isn’t deadly, just wet. Plus it’s only temporary. The thought that the return journey at the end of the day might be dry, or even sunny, cheered me up. A lesson here: don’t get hung up on what you can’t change. Sometimes you just have to weather the storm!
So this homework challenge was far more interesting than I expected! This small choice at the start of the day just put me in a more positive mindset. What other choices can I make, what other autopilot moments can I wake up to? How can I create a better day for myself every day? The whole experience was curiously liberating — both in the choice I could make (which way to go) as well as in the acceptance I had to face (what the weather is like). Maybe it’s īśvarapraṇidhāna in action: a joyful and willing surrender to the weather gods.