“Or this could be Hell.”

Awareness Ishvarapranidhana Living Yoga Meditation Yoga

I attended a yoga class 10-or-so-years ago that was themed around this line from the Eagles’ Hotel California:

“This could be Heaven or this could be Hell.”

The intention behind the theme was to emphasize the idea that we can influence our experience of things. An experience, in this case, a set of challenging asana (yoga postures), could be heaven or hell depending on how we respond to it.

Wisdom has a way of weaving itself through our lives, and I recently had this lesson come back to me in a powerful way. I was sitting in my meditation practice, and I was feeling strong urges to get things done. My mind kept wandering to things I wanted to get done, and physically, I felt like my body was a firework about to explode. Sitting still felt out of line with everything my body wanted to do in that moment.

About midway through my practice, the lyrics popped into my head:

“This could be Heaven or this could be Hell.”

And with that thought, my body softened and my mind settled. I wasn’t going to cut my practice short to try and get more things done, so I could either sit and agonize over not being able to do other things in this moment or I could meet myself where I had committed to be.

Recalling the song lyrics reminded me that there was choice in this moment. There are many things that I can’t control, but my thoughts are not one of those things. It was completely within my power to engage differently with this experience, and so I did.

I accepted that I wasn’t going anywhere until my practice was complete. And, in accepting where I was, I found significantly more ease and even some enjoyment in the moment. I reconnected with my commitment to the practice and the powerful change it has facilitated in my life. I remembered that – for better or for worse – I chose this.

But life can throw things at us that are much more challenging than yoga. Things we didn’t choose. Things no one would choose. Things that are hard and heartbreaking.

It is still worth considering that there is wisdom in reflecting upon how we respond to things, but perhaps it might be better to say something along the lines of:

“This could be [hard and heartbreaking] or this could be Hell.”

This experience could be a challenging one that pushes me beyond what I thought were my limits, or it could be a horrible catastrophe that I can’t see myself moving through. We are not born with a fixed amount of resilience. We can improve our ability to cope. The ego may not love the idea that we could make changes to bring more ease into our challenging experiences, but paradoxically, we tend to feel rather proud of ourselves when we do.

Lean into Change

Ishvarapranidhana Yamas Yoga

Sarah Jamieson Yoga

“All we know about the future is that it will be different.
Perhaps, what we fear is that it will be the same.
So we must celebrate the changes.”
– Judi Dench, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

We’ve all heard people say it, and we’ve maybe even said it a few times ourselves: “I don’t like change.”

But, I want to challenge anyone who simply says they don’t like change. How many people wouldn’t like to suddenly have an extra $10,000? Do you know any one who doesn’t like getting an extra hour of sleep at Daylight Savings time? Would you ever turn down an extra week of vacation time?

We like change – we sometimes even love change – when it brings us things that we want. But sometimes change brings us misfortune, pain and suffering, so avoiding change feels like playing it safe. We feel like we can trust the status quo.

But the truth is that there really isn’t a status quo. The future is unknown, as Judi Dench’s character in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel says: “All we know about the future is that it will be different.” Even if our circumstances don’t change much, we change in them. We start to look older and, as a result, the world around us changes how it responds to us. Being in the same job for 5-years is a very different experience than having been in the same job for 25-years, and we are different as a result of having that experience.

Most of us know this already. We know that change is inevitable. We know that change can bring wonderful things and that change can bring heartache. Change is certain. When we say, “I don’t like change,” what I believe we are really expressing is the very common human experience of struggling with the uncertainty that the certainty of change brings to our lives.

I struggle with uncertainty. I love you and the thought of losing you feels unbearable. The thought of that pain makes me want to freeze time and hold onto this moment as hard as I can. Because you might not be in the next one.

I struggle with uncertainty. I cannot feel at peace with the amount of money that I have because the future might bring a tragedy that prevents me from supporting myself. I need more money to protect myself and my family.

I struggle with the uncertainty of it all. It overwhelms me. I am afraid of being hurt. I am afraid of being alone. I am afraid of seeing the people I love suffer. I am afraid of losing the people I love.

I struggle with uncertainty.

There is a part of the classical yoga practice called ishvarapranidhana; this practice asks us to trust in what we cannot see or know. Most simply, it asks us to trust in the future, to loosen our grip on the attachment we have to our actions leading to specific outcomes. The practice of ishvarapranidhana requires that we give up the illusion that we can control what will happen to us and to the people around us.

Our struggle with uncertainty and our desire to protect ourselves and the people we love from pain sometimes leads us to live life with a cautious rigidity that shuts us off from the wholehearted human experience. We have an endless stream of catch phrases with which we endeavour to knock ourselves out of this gripping place: “Dance as if no one was watching, sing as if no one was listening,” “Live as if you were to die tomorrow,” and “What would you do if you knew that you could not fail?”

Brené Brown, one of my favourite writers and speakers, powerfully reframes the question above about failing, and asks: “What’s worth doing even if you fail?” The value of failure aside (perhaps for another post), the fear that our actions won’t lead to our desired outcome keeps many of us frozen. But our actions don’t predictably determine the future. The truth is that terrible things might happen no matter what you do, so lean into change. Explore it. Trust it. Take advantage of it.

Feel it when it breaks your heart – so you can feel it when it fills your heart with joy.

Photo Credit: Chris Yakimov