When my editor asked me if I’d be interested in writing this article, I laughed out loud. I laughed because the last year of my life has been a time of beautiful and sometimes very uncomfortable personal growth. Each day I fluctuate between feeling great and in my flow, to feeling insecure and confused, like I’m questioning everything in my life.
According to Western astrology, I’m smack dab in the middle of my Saturn Return. Symbolically, Saturn represents time, law, structure, limitations and authority. Saturn’s cycle, back to where it was located at the time of your birth, is roughly 29 years. So, when Saturn “returns,” between the ages of 28 and 31, we become conscious of the systems, commitments, patterns, rules and responsibilities we have created in our lives, and must face what’s working and what’s not. For me, this is showing up primarily in questioning my core values, my beliefs about relationships and searching for my purpose in life — you know, just the small stuff.
With the pressure of societal expectations, it often feels too loud inside my head to hear my inner voice. Even in the darkness, I find the sweet moments of peace and clarity through the continuous practices of self-compassion and surrender. In the following paragraphs, I will share some of the books, concepts and practices that have been supportive for me during this wonderful and messy process of finding myself.
(Read on here if you're also having trouble Listening to Your Inner Voice.)
Karma and Soul Contracts: I Signed Up for This?!
Eastern philosophy teaches us about karma, the spiritual principle of cause and effect where our actions and intentions in this life or a previous one, influence what unfolds for us in the future. Similarly, Caroline Myss, the world renowned medical intuitive and mystic, proposes in her work that before coming into our bodies in this life we have agreed to “soul contracts” that will play out over the course of our lives. Even if that may sound “out there” to some of us, I feel there is a beautiful nugget of wisdom in this way of looking at life. For a moment, visualize the spark of your soul before coming into this physical body. Imagine that your soul, whatever that looks and feels like for you, has already consciously consented to all the important people, relationships and events — both positive and challenging — that have happened thus far in your life. Notice the way that even the most difficult moments have been instrumental on your journey and have brought you to this exact moment right here.
What then becomes possible is a massive paradigm shift in consciousness. Rather than believing that we have no control and that the Universe is against us, in each moment of friction, we instead can ask, “Okay, what is here for me to learn? What is this showing me about myself, my patterns and how can I respond as my highest self in this situation?” When we can look at moments of crisis or difficulty as opportunities for immense growth, and stay anchored in our truths unconditionally throughout, we find empowerment simply by noticing the quality of our own self-presence as we overcome the seeming obstacles on our path.
Confront Discomfort With Help From the Breath
I invite you to find a comfortable seated position, and take a few moments to find stillness and connect to your conscious breathing. As you breathe, scan your awareness through your physical body, and notice any area where you feel resistance, tension, discomfort or pain. Rather than judging yourself or your body, send your attention even deeper into that spot, diving into the discomfort. See if you can send your breath right into the most concentrated place of resistance and breathe as deeply as you can. Expand into the contracted energy with your breath.
Take at least 12 breaths in this way and notice how you feel. All tension in the body is just densely concentrated unconscious emotional energy. Deep breathing helps emotions to get unstuck and rise up to the surface of our awareness to be seen, felt, worked with and released. By breathing into our pain, meeting the resistance head on with presence and awareness, we create much more space to unconditionally be with ourselves in our experience.
(More on the practice of using the breath for Exhaling Muscle Pain & Tension: 3 Benefits of Yogic Breathing (Plus a Sample Exercise).)
We Have to Let Go to Grow
It’s true that there is much in this life that is beyond our control. As much as we may like to, we simply can’t control nature, our environment or other people’s behavior. However, what we can control is how we show up, how we respond, and how we stay centered in ourselves on a moment-to-moment basis. When we are able to summon our inner courage to just give it up and surrender into the sometimes rocky and bumpy flow of our lives, even when every cell of our being is telling us to contract, shut down or run, we find our strength and we grow. If we can stay present with ourselves during moments of extreme discomfort, we can do just about anything.
(More on the process of Accepting Discomfort: 3 Steps to Better Handling Negative Experiences.)
The process of birthing ourselves in unfolding who we truly are usually isn’t comfortable. Friction creates dynamic energy, alchemy and transformation. As the caterpillar becomes the butterfly, she must experience the dynamic resistance of the limited container pushing back against her body as she emerges out of the chrysalis and opens her wings to fly, perhaps awkwardly at first, into the vast possibility of her new life. There is an element of death and letting go any time we step into the next level of our consciousness and being. The difficulties arise to shine the light of awareness on anything within or around us that is ready to be released into the past, and give us an opportunity to step into the next phase of our evolution.
No Mud, No Lotus
They say that in order for the lotus to blossom open and share its beauty with the world, it must first make the upward journey through depths of the mud. To be honest, I feel like the lotus right now, a few feet beneath the surface of the water. I know where I’m coming from, and I know there is light, opening and beauty before me; but in this moment, I can’t see what’s ahead. And deep down, I know that’s exactly where I’m meant to be — in full acceptance of this murky unknown, even if parts of me want to have it all figured out. All I can do is be present with where I am, and surrender to the flow.
The daily practices of yoga asana, breathing, dancing, contemplation and meditation have been my saving graces in this time as I navigate the muddy and rich waters of this beautiful and vulnerable human life. Each morning when I roll out my mat, I create the space to tune in and really listen to my body and soul. With each breath, I come back to the clarity and perfection of this moment, just as it is, and I remember that I have been and will always be whole, complete and loved — mess and all.