Taking a step back isn’t the same thing as going backwards; sometimes we’re too close to what’s right in front of us and just need to gain a clearer perspective, a broader view of what lies ahead. Sometimes we forget ourselves, getting lost in the idea of a different kind of life, moving too quickly toward an ambition that doesn’t fit quite right, like a well-laid plan to move into a new camp that instead takes us deep into the wilderness.
I’ve always had a compulsion to continue moving forward and I often find myself fumbling over my own two feet; I accelerate too quickly and have to slam on the brakes to avoid getting myself into a massive wreck.
But the thing is, I’m trusting myself more and more these days, getting clearer messages from the heart and using that direction to follow my internal compass.
Losing something is not the same as total failure.
A setback is also an opportunity to reorient yourself.
And no matter how many steps backward you need to take to get back on track, the things and people you meet along the path will always make the journey worthwhile.
I’m keeping my heart open, my mind clear and my spine strong, trusting that every step is the right one, not getting lost in the disappointment of what is versus what could have been. And with this unwavering faith in the universe to set me right, I know I’ll always end up where I need to be; the adventure is never over unless we decide to stop travelling, and it’s not so much about where we’re headed but how we choose to get there.
And so it is.
Ram Dass (born Richard Alpert; April 6, 1931 - December 22, 2019) passed away peacefully in his Hawaii home yesterday, surrounded by his loved ones. I never had the good fortune of personally meeting him, though his teachings influenced my life in a way that will forever impact the nature of my heart in this lifetime. When asked who my teachers are, Ram Dass is the first person I mention: my "love guru"; he was a Bhakti yogi who taught me innumerable lessons about truly living a path of love.
He taught me how to see people as souls.
My heart is bursting with gratitude for being blessed by his divine love and yet I can't stop the tears from flowing; between gasping for breath and clenching my chest there is laughter, because one of his greatest lessons was on how to live blissfully in the temporality of existence:
As long as you identify with that which dies, there is always fear of death, because it's the fear of cessation of existence."
And he will never really be gone because he lives in the hearts of so many others who will continue to pass on his teachings to those around them. If you've been to one of my yoga classes or guided meditations in recent years, it's very likely that you've heard me speak about him, directly quote him, or play one of the songs he collaborated on with East Forest. I will forever love him and share this love with anyone who will listen.
Beginning his life as Richard Alpert and finding great success in academia, Ram Dass went through his own transformation in the 60s, having pursued power and prestige in the earlier years of his life and then coming to understand (originally through the potency of a profound first psilocybin experience) that the radiant and incomparable power of love lived inside of him. He subsequently travelled to India and met his guru, Maharaji, who gave him the name Ram Dass and ushered in his next great spiritual awakening. It was the unconditional love of his guru that set him on the path of Bhakti yoga, himself becoming the embodiment of pure love and undertaking a total devotion to sharing these lessons for the remainder of his beautiful life.
Ram Dass has taught thousands of us how to free our hearts from the anxieties of living and the trap of eternal seeking. He taught me how to uplift my own heart and elevate my consciousness through simple mantras and reminders of the gift of life - I am loving awareness / love everyone and tell the truth / be here now.
From the ego, death is a stopping point - it's the end of the ego. Death is a ceremony. The ego sees death as suffering, and the soul sees death as the awakening of a new world, a new perspective."
Welcome to a new world, dear one. You will never be forgotten.
Sarasponda Yoga has gone quiet in recent months as I’ve moved through some major changes in my life. I’ve been focused on making this transition with patience and grace and have been sharing my experience primarily through my personal page on Instagram.
It’s been a time of massive growth and transformation, and I wanted to wait until I felt solid ground under my feet before sharing more on the yoga side of things. I started this business over three years ago in a hopeless time in my life and it grew into something so much more dynamic and fulfilling than I ever could’ve imagined. Sarasponda Yoga was born of love and hope and a deep trust in the universe, and I’ve always been conscious of honouring and respecting this business that has become such a beautiful blessing in my life. But, I've been neglecting this blog and I feel now like this is the perfect time to return to it.
I left my home in Southern Alberta about a month ago to begin a new chapter in my life, having accepted an incredible offer to join the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise as their yoga instructor. I’m living steps away from Lake Louise and the energy here is so palpable - this stunning landscape has breathed new life into my soul; this feels like a total rebirth, in the best possible way.
After having some difficult experiences working with small businesses over the past year or so, I was seeking a mutually supportive work placement that would encourage me in continued personal and professional growth. And the Fairmont has definitely delivered on this; I feel fully supported by my team and really the entire hotel staff. There is so much opportunity here, and I'm just getting started.
I’ve been truly blown away by the kindness and heartfelt generosity of the community within the hotel; the people here seem so uplifted by this experience and opportunity that there’s just a general sense of joy and liveliness everywhere you go. This is such an incredible group of humans and I often find myself asking how I got so lucky to become a part of it. Coming to Lake Louise has felt like being adopted into a big, beautiful, loving family; I have so many new brothers and sisters, and I love them with all of my heart.
The title of this post is the answer to the question I've been crying out to the universe in desperation for the past few months.
The question is, WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO?
Now, "do nothing" is not the answer I wanted, but it is undeniably the answer I continue to receive.
I've gone through some major upheaval in my life recently, and this is essentially a euphemistic way of saying that I have blown it all to shreds over the past couple of months. I was beginning to notice that the structure of my experience was taking on all of the meaning and purpose that should have been comfortably tucked away in my heart; I was identifying too strongly with my ego and not serving my soul, and I also noticed that I was keeping myself comfortable but limited by remaining where I was. So, in typical Sarah fashion, I made some drastic changes. I started to (*truly*, dedicatedly) listen to my heart/intuition/gut/dreams/guides, and I could not escape the resounding message that I simply was not living in alignment with my heart's purpose -- this accounted for the inescapable dissonance that had become the soundtrack to my life.
In the spring, I left the yoga studio I was working at because of ongoing issues within the industry that I felt no longer able to accept. I quickly found what appeared to be a great job - a Coordinator position for a local no-profit - but I ended up leaving after four days because of inexcusable treatment from the Director. That entire experience was intense and very difficult for me, but the way I handled it was incredibly empowering and helped to remind me of my inherent personal power.
At this point, my love and home life had been suffering for some time and I was really struggling to make any improvements in these areas. Cam and I had some big fights and long discussions and ultimately determined it was time to split. I still have so much love for him as a person, a friend, and essentially family, and I have no intention of making him a villain here; our experience will forever be ours, between only us, and I'm so grateful that he was a part of my life in this way.
Certain relationships began to take on new energy and help me navigate this difficult path: my dearest friends and family stepped up with incredible love and strength and clarity when I felt lacking in these areas myself. A year ago, I would have told you I had nothing and no one supporting me. But a year ago, I was kind of an asshole stuck in a victim mentality. My relationship with Self has also taken on an entirely new dimension, and I've been doing the serious, gritty, challenging internal work with more vigour and determination than ever.
This was the stuff that really scared me, facing all of the shit that kept me in a low-level version of my life. But I knew there was work to be done, and this was absolutely the time to do it. So I started breaking everything down and cutting out anything that just didn't feel like me.
After a little while, the most beautiful thing happened: I became reacquainted with my Self. And I remembered how to properly love her.
Now, I'm done hiding. I'm done playing it safe. And I am done minimizing my power to suit my fear.
If I sound empowered and inspired to take action and start seriously changing my life, it's because I really, really am. But, here's the problem (ie. solution): everything right now is telling me to slow down, even to stop moving completely:
Maybe this sounds counterintuitive to you - it certainly did to me - but over and over again, this is the answer I've received to my constant badgering of the Universe ('what do I do now???').
I've been particularly in tune with my intuition lately and have felt more connected to Source energy than ever before in my life. Prior to asking this one big question, I had been asking many smaller ones and receiving the answers with clarity and acceptance. But with this one, the big, important one, I resisted so hard, convincing myself that I was simply not getting anything back - not receiving any transmission at all - when in reality I was rejecting the message because it didn't offer any direction: it was not what I wanted to hear.
I was desperate, flailing, screaming and begging for a lifesaver from the Universe. (You don't need to be religious to have had this moment at some point in your life - and if not yet, you will - of begging some higher power for help...)
I kept asking, praying, begging for an answer, and the Universe gently whispered, "do nothing."
So I protested: "NO! I NEED TO DO SOMETHING!! WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO???"
I picked up Miriam, Toews' beautiful novel, All My Puny Sorrows, at the Vancouver airport while waiting for my return flight home. I looked around for quite some time before I chose a book (this is actually one of my favourite mildly guilty pleasures: the airport book purchase; it feels important... chosen... sacred... ) and I'd read (and loved) A Complicated Kindness years ago, plus I'm into supporting Canadian female authors, so it just felt like the right choice.
The sisters in this novel could easily be two sides of my own personality (the relationship is not so trite as the simple contrast between darkness and light - it's more like a lesson in loving all of these parts of ourselves through chaos and grief and uncertainty), and in seeing myself through this story, I began to speak to my own shadow sides, bringing them back into the light, and asking them to forgive me for their banishment. (And you know what, those shady bitches always come back home, despite the attitude.)
At one point in the book, Yoli recounts a dream she had in which everything is falling apart around her (literally) and she's filled with deafening anxiety and gut-wrenching despair, and in a moment of perfect peace and clarity, she hears (or thinks, or whatever): DO NOTHING.
I put the book down, closed my eyes, and took some slow, deep breaths. And of course, being the sensitive flower that I am, I began to cry.
I've been crying a lot over the past couple of months, because I'd been feeling sorry for myself. I'd taken some time to feel what I felt and grieve and heal, and I figured enough was enough: time to get shit done. But these tears were different: they were soft and full and fell off of my cheeks like perfect droplets of grace and love. Like an offering. Like a blessing. Not rushed, fully welcomed, and just perfect in their existence.
So much has changed in the past month - I keep changing, becoming more and more like myself - and while I'm remaining open to direction and ideas and inspiration, I'm not overwhelmed with anxiety about the future anymore. I don't feel like I need to have everything figured out right now, or tomorrow, or next week. I'm staying present, saying yes to things that feel expansive and no to anything that gives me the bad juuj; I'm carefully cultivating my experience without becoming rigid in trying to control everything.
I need a new job. And I need a new home. And yes, these are basic requirements for stability and produce an incredible amount of stress when not properly met. However, I executed what I needed to at a critical time - I focused my energy on something that I could do - and the settlement agreement (that we completed in under a month) ensures I'm supported in this transition and equipped to take on a brand new life, as soon as it's ready for me (or when I'm ready for it, or however this works). I continue to apply for work that seems really well-suited to who I am, and not necessarily based on what I've achieved.
And I feel really confident that I'm going to find my way through this, coming out the other side of it much better than before. This is not arrogance or laziness or expecting things to perfectly fall into place; it's putting complete trust in something bigger than myself, and then in myself. It's a deep knowing that I'm precisely where I need to be in every moment.
I'm not angry at anyone or about anything. I've spent so much time working through my suffering and my baggage, and I've found a new lightness and optimism from this beautiful opportunity to begin again. After all, when it comes down to it, that's what this really is: a new beginning, a chance to dream more wildly and listen better and connect more deeply and follow my heart.
I've been using two particular mantras during this period, when I start to feel down or anxious about my circumstances:
The first is pretty self-explanatory. The latter, of course, required a blog post for me to properly digest and express.
"DO NOTHING" doesn't mean you're giving up: it means you're not fighting against the natural flow of life.
"DO NOTHING" doesn't make you lazy; it creates space for your dharmic path to unfold.
"DO NOTHING" is complete trust and acceptance - and this is how we liberate the spirit.
When you stop scurrying to fix everything you deem to be wrong and trying to address every thought that crosses your mind, you become reminded of that endless well of compassion and peace that exists at the centre of yourself:
It's safe here, and everything is perfect, exactly as it is. There is nothing to do.
We are not given enough time here to accept a life that is less than what we deserve. And we all deserve to live an extraordinary life.
Imagine taking your last breath with the tension of a lifetime of regret; I don't want my final moments here to be tinged with that sort of longing.
There is a heaviness that builds up over time when you ignore the messages you receive about your dharma. (From the gut, intuition, from spirit guides - however you identify with those transmissions, it's all the same - when you feel something deeply, you just know.) And I'm telling you this now, because I've lived it and I don't want you to make that same mistake; I hope it can be a lesson for someone else who needs it.
The weight is manageable, at first; it feels like a duty but also kind of an honour to carry on with that burden. I think we sometimes take on a sort of martyr attitude when we make these concessions to live a life that's not truly in alignment with the heart's purpose, as though we're making this huge sacrifice of self for some greater design. As we keep moving along like this, the weight becomes too much and we must ask ourselves what we can afford to keep and what needs to go. We must also ask ourselves:
For whom (or what) are we really sacrificing our lightness?
Why are we rushing the spirit through the brevity of the human experience?
Why do we give up on ourselves so easily?
Who asked us to be less than we are?
Who convinced us that this is a normal (proper, even) way to live?
And for what purpose?
I learned (am learning) over time how to be close with change. I use this language because there is a friendliness, a warmth and an openness that is required to truly move through change (especially the really difficult types) with grace and love in your heart; you cannot just accept it: you must fully embrace it and actually learn to love it.
When you begin to strip away the fear from uncertainty, you can see with clarity that some limitations and borders have dissolved, allowing you to move in so many different directions. And when this leads you into new territory, there is often a physiological survival response -- the brain searches for familiarity so it can problem-solve its way through whatever you're going through. I don't know how much we can truly train the body to be properly discerning in these moments of stress, and how much is a tempering; a constant practice of moving out of the mind and returning to the heart.
But, I have noticed, over time, that I have softened to change; I'm better now at gently welcoming it in when it turns up unexpectedly, and even inviting it into my life (knowing full well that it could make a huge mess) when I feel I'm veering from my right path. I have so much respect for my life and my time on this planet (*now*, after a lot of work) that I refuse to settle for a low-grade version of this grand experience that was not truly meant for me. I decided, a little while ago, that it was time to level up. Change came, made a big mess, and I'm cleaning house in the most beautiful ways; it's essentially become a full renovation.
I fully believe that you can (and should) be deeply in love with your life. And if you honestly cannot say that you are, perhaps it's time for some change.
Life isn't linear and it doesn't stick to a plan. Sometimes you're up, and sometimes you're down. And sometimes that, too, can change in an instant and you find your world irreparably altered (not for better, not for worse).
I think a common error we make as humans is to assume that if an intention is 'pure' and we've set it in place, the work is already done. While intention is necessary to develop the framework of a particular goal or aim, it simply doesn't end there: every single day, we have important choices to make. Every day, we're faced with numerous challenges, big and small, all threatening to throw us off our game at any point. Every day, we can give up or go on.
So this is why we practice yoga.
We meditate because the mind is immeasurably powerful and equally complex, and it takes consistent effort to still the constant chatter of consciousness:
You let something go.
You hold on to something else.
You remind yourself of the beauty of your humanity and the fierceness of your spirit.
Similarly, we move through asana so that we can create a safe and sacred space to encounter and explore our full experience in these bodies. We learn through this practice that not achieving something is not the same as failure, and sometimes the thing we truly need is in the process rather than the achievement. We fall, but we get back up--
We ALWAYS get back up.
I've been doing this practice for over a decade now, and there are still times when I find it exceptionally difficult to be positive, kind, determined or focused. The struggle doesn't disappear just because I practice:
I practice to cultivate more strength for the times when the struggle inevitably arrives.
Each day can feel different from the moment we open our eyes and step back into waking life, and it doesn't take a whole lot of awareness or intention to feed whatever energy we happen to be sitting with (especially if it lands somewhere on the nasty side of the spectrum). If I wake up moody for no good reason and don't check myself pretty quickly, I'm completely at risk of derailing my entire day with negativity and self-pity.
Sometimes I find myself questioning my progress with this practice on the days when emotional stability and kindness is a challenge; I ask myself what I'm doing wrong, why these feelings are showing up at all, and how I'm not automatically a more loving and balanced person. But this is totally unhelpful because it lacks context, as well as a basic sensitivity toward myself for all the many ways I experience my own humanity (it's not always pretty, but it's not supposed to be).
Regardless of the normal fluctuations of our inner landscape - or perhaps because of them - I think it's important to continue the work daily, never assuming we've reached some critical end point of growth or progress in our own yoga practice, nor abandoning the devotion that we've been building through intention and commitment all this time when fear and doubt come calling. We practice simply to weather storms, not to prevent them from blowing in.
“Sometimes gain comes from losing, and sometimes loss comes from gaining.”
Tao Te Ching
So, then, what is the best approach? For me, it's been not deciding how I feel in every moment, trying to spend more time in my body and less in my head, noticing the dance of my breath with the space around me and through the inner landscape of my respiratory system, truly tapping into the way that intermingling feels. It's been loving myself unconditionally through my emotional ups and downs. It's remembering who I am in the grand scheme of things when I experience setbacks or feel disappointed with myself. This is essentially the practice of centering -- like coming home to yourself when it's storming. Like offering your wounded heart a warm blanket and a cup of tea.
This is, ultimately, an act of love.
(an update, and a thank-you)
Do you know where it is that people often hurt themselves in a yoga practice?
It's in the transition.
We do this in our lives, too, but often without any awareness that it's happening (just as the physical injury is the result of a lack of awareness and/or proper self-care during yoga practice).
It's hard to stay open while we're healing, and while we're changing. And it's easy to become distracted by the pain we carry with us, the fear of uncertainty, or the constant call of the ego. In yoga practice, the mental chatter and fluctuations are highlighted, as though placed under a microscope and suddenly we become aware of all that we believe ourselves to be, and this can be heavy. All of the details of our lives - the daily interactions, the inner dialogues, the nagging of our future plans, the swirling of our thoughts and feelings - are tagging along, just waiting for an opportunity to steal us away.
And all of our duties and obligations and the demands of our relationships and roles in life do the same as we move from one phase to the next or make a major change. There is always a pulling at the heart and the mind, as long as we keep moving and breathing, and this is why it's so important to stay centered, in asana and in life.
A recurring theme of my life for a number of years now seems to be that everything changes. I've always struggled with letting go of things, especially the things I really love. But my practice has been to remind myself that I'm never actually losing anything by changing or moving on; life asks us to make space for new growth, and that often requires a release.
The past year or so has been full of change, sometimes by choice and other times not, and it's forced me to relax the grip I try to maintain on all corners of my life. It might have taken me a really long time, but I've come to understand what I most need to support myself and continue to grow, not just as a yoga teacher but also as a Soul.
When I was 22 and working in Vancouver I was interviewing for an exciting (non-yoga) job. I didn't end up getting it, but the experience was valuable, and the recruiter was a very kind woman who made sure to tell me, "You know exactly who you are, and that's so rare, especially at your age." I was shocked, because at that time I felt completely lost without any understanding of who I was or where I belonged. I still feel like that sometimes, a decade later, but the small, quiet voice inside gets louder by the day, and I don't feel like I'm forging ahead so blindly anymore.
I'm right in the middle of a pretty major life shift, and while I'll reserve some of those details for a future blog post (maybe?!), I want say that I'm so full of gratitude for all of the beautiful relationships and incredible opportunities in my life. I'm constantly reminded how much love surrounds me these days, and it carries me through those difficult transitions.
I'm stepping away from the work of full-time yoga instruction, as it hasn't provided the sort of consistency and stability that I need in my life. I gave it a really good shot, for nearly a decade, and I feel both proud of the things I've accomplished and blessed for all of the sweet experiences this role brought along with it. Fortunately, I have an amazing opportunity to continue working with the community in a meaningful way, and I can't wait to step into this next phase of my life. I've been emotional, because, let's face it: change is good, but change is hard. Of course I'm a little nervous about some of the uncertainty that lies ahead, but I'm also more excited about life than I have been in a very long time, if ever.
And I think this is truly what matters.