A friend shared this poem on Facebook this morning. As we move into Spring, it reminds me how wonderful it is to spend more time outdoors and in the woods.
When I Am Among the Trees
By Mary Oliver
When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness,
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”
How do we stay committed to moving our lives in the direction we want to go?
From a yogic perspective, we begin with a practice of svadhyaya (self-study) – specifically, by attempting to clarify what we really want. This clarifying can be a challenging practice because as you probably already know: what you think you want isn’t always what you actually want.
In our lives, most of us are regularly bombarded with messages suggesting that we should want and value things like youth, thin bodies, fancy clothes, expensive cars, and electronic gadgets. If we aren’t consistently clarifying what we value, the primary messages we receive about values may be the suggested values around us. And, as a result, we might set goals based on these values – rather than ensuring they arise from our own values.
Facebook is ripe with opportunities to feel desire based on things you don’t actually value. I see people posting pictures and telling stories of glamorous lives, and sometimes I am overcome by a sense of inadequacy. I feel discouraged about my own life, and I think that I must have made mistakes in life because I don’t have what some of my Facebook friends have. A sense of scarcity and lack fuels my thoughts and my reactive desires.
In moments like these ones, I have to consistently remind myself of my own values.
I recently read the book Words Can Change Your Brain, and in this book, the authors encourage their readers to actively and regularly reflect on this question:
What is my deepest, innermost value?
Reflecting on your answers to this question is an example of how you might practice svadhyaya. When you take time to define your own values, the influence of suggested values begins to decrease, and the story of what your own heart desires begins to take shape. Clarifying your own values needs to be the foundation for setting your directional goals, so that your goals reflect what you actually want. When this is the case, suggested values are less distracting, and the perception that your Facebook friends have fancier lives becomes less distressing.
Staying committed to moving your life in the direction you want to go becomes less of an issue when your goals align with the way your heart desires to move. The times when you do struggle to move with your values are an opportunity to deepen your practice of svadhyaya. Some things you might consider include:
Are other values arising?
Goals are decisions you make, based on your values, to guide your life in certain direction. But life is not black and white, and different values might guide you in different directions. I might have a goal to lose weight to support my value for health and well-being. But I might also choose to indulge in a potluck with friends because I have a value for connecting over shared experiences. We practice yoga so that we can arrive presently in each moment and act according to what we believe and to what we value.
What am I feeling?
When we are too young to physically leave a situation that causes us pain, we often cope by shutting down our feelings or by turning to something that soothes us. For many of us, those patterns become deeply ingrained habits that we carry into adulthood. If you consistently find yourself engaging in behaviour that doesn’t align with your values or support your goals, consider that it is an attempt to soothe yourself. Time spent addressing and honouring your emotional landscape will help you move away from mindlessly and habitually engaging in coping behaviours.
What is my deepest, innermost value?
Values change and evolve in response to life experience. For example, life threatening experiences can profoundly shift the direction people want to move in their lives. If you are struggling to stay committed to a goal, consider the possibility that you have had a change of heart. Maybe what mattered to you when you originally set the goal isn’t as important to you any more; maybe the story of your heart has changed since you last sat down and listened.
As you explore these possible obstacles, bring compassion to the process and honour that svadhyaya (self-study) is a life long practice. Your obstacles are simply an opportunity to more deeply understand yourself.