Stillness Between Breaths

Yesterday I began reflecting on some recent challenges in my relationship with Harel, and it’s a topic I’d like to return to. I feel it’s worth mentioning that although I can’t describe exactly what’s going on without breaching Harel’s trust and confidence in me (he has not said if I may share what’s going on), the general motion is that the circumstances within which our lives are suspended have shifted, and despite no change in our love for each other, it’s unclear if a long-distance relationship can be sustained in the way these new situations would require.

It is, ultimately, an ongoing process we’re both trying to figure out.

So while this post won’t, and can’t, address the details of what we’re going through (and ultimately, I’m not sure I’ll discuss those details publicly, even with Harel’s consent), what I wish to return to is a discussion the strategies I’m using to get through it all.

Because after two years of being engaged, news like this isn’t easy to digest.

The five yamas of yogic life are the obligations we have toward others, and as I discussed yesterday, the last is aparigraha, or non-attachment. I mentioned how the greatest loss I presently fear isn’t losing Harel, but losing my expectations for the future we had/have planned to share together, despite the fact I would still feel sadness if things cannot work out. I concluded with the statement that this doesn’t mean I must detach myself from Harel, but rather recognize too much attachment can be hurtful.

Except now, with some further thought, I feel as though that isn’t enough–I didn’t fully express myself yesterday, or explain–to you or to me–what that non-attachment looks like. In many ways, I’m not sure I can put into words the glowing strings and relations I see in my head as I imagine this tightrope, but if it’s possible to say anything, I would say that what I must detach myself from is not Harel–as he is now, in this moment–but the dreams we’ve shared of the future. No matter how our relationship moves forward, tomorrow and the day after and the day after that will be no different than today or yesterday or the day before that except for the fact our future plans are different.

So the problem isn’t my attachment to Harel (although recognizing when that attachment turns into possession, which is destructive and unethical, is important), but rather my attachment to ideas and aspirations that haven’t come to fruition yet, and may never.

This is similar to the sense of mourning parents express after their children come out, a process that often involves realizing that the same hopes are still there, but how they look will differ. So too is this: the things we wish to share–living together, raising kids, traveling the world–may still happen, but they might not look like we had imagined them.

Or, if this strain does become too much to bear, they won’t happen at all, but if neither of us is attached to those expectations, then their loss cannot cause us any pain.

It’s like saying, maybe, well, it’s like saying just that. There is no doubt in my mind, if that were to happen, we would both be sorely hurt, but to recognize the genuine pain of losing a partner against the false suffering of losing ideas that have no corporeal presence, well, that’s an important distinction to be made in any situation.

Regardless, I want to turn my attention now to the five niyamas, the obligations of conduct toward the self. I can speak endlessly on how I interact with and accommodate others, but until I address how I act toward myself, I can never be wholly aware.

Sauca cleanliness

These principals were formulated in a spiritual sense, but cleanliness can be understood is so many more ways than preserving some sense of spiritual purity that varies from person to person and faith to faith. And yet, when I think of sauca, I literally think of cleanliness: I have a bad habit of allowing things to pile up, files to clutter my desktop (physical and digital), and dishes to linger in the sink when I’m feeling depressed or anxious, but taking the time to clean these things makes me feel better, makes the space I move in feel more wholesome and peaceful.

Cleanliness can be seen as a psychological construct, too: Sometimes I need to clear out the clutter in my head, let go of all those stored away thoughts and feelings that no longer serve me or others in a positive way. Throwing out the trash is cathartic.

Santosha contentment

This may be the most challenging of the niyamas, because when life is whirling around and the heart is crying out in anguish, it’s hard to feel content. Yet if I’m honest with myself, it’s easy to realize that in any given moment, life is pretty good to me. I have food to eat, clothes to wear, shelter from the rain (and today, there’s plenty), not to mention friends and family and others I can rely on for support. I also have literally all the material goods I could ever want to make life engaging and enjoyable.

So, yes, while I could complain about what’s hurting, I can also accept it.

Acceptance is hard, especially accepting the things that hurt us. But “hurt” is such a strange word, and ambiguous, too: the “hurt” inflicted continues to “hurt,” but the moment in which the damage occurs is not the lingering pain it causes. In fact, in the moment, we never feel that first sting of pain, but only what follows, and by then that original hurt is gone, and all we have left is the echo of what was there–these small sounds and reverberations the same song of healing that begins after every bruise.

If I focus on this moment, this one moment, I am content. No matter what is going on, that contentment in the present always persists. All that matters is to continually draw my mind back to this moment, and this one, and this one, until contentment is habit.

Tapas discipline

When I begin to wander off into the realms of rumination, when I lose focus of the present moment, when my patience falls to pieces, I must bring myself back together. The word tapas shares a root with the word meaning “to burn,” and I like to think of self-discipline as the process of watching a wildfire, trying to keep it contained. Sometimes we break free and erupt, but when we can hold tight to the embers and star-stuffs igniting us, we can forever be a steady candle flame shining in the dark.

Svadhyaya self-study

This entire essay has been an exercise in self-study, but it’s not only reflection on thoughts, but also on feelings: yes, that tightness in my stomach is the physical manifestation of fear, or perhaps, for a moment, I will allow myself to feel nothing but the earth on my feet and the wind filling my lungs and then slowly blowing away.

Ishvara Pranidhana surrender

In the spiritual sense, this surrender is unto some higher power–God, you might say, or whomever you believe in. But in practice, anything beyond ourselves is a power to which we can surrender. In this case, my surrender is unto Harel: I must have trust in him, and faith in him, and that is all I can do. There is no other action I can take.

And recognizing that, and surrendering, saves me from fighting a battle that isn’t here.

I will come back to these principals, time and time again, and from one day to the next they might not look the same, but here is where I am today, and only in recognizing that and affirming that am I able to stay mindful and keep walking forward.

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