Being a light unto ourselves in cancer recovery

Yesterday was a really beautiful day, with a deep blue sky and warm sun shining down. The kind of sunshine that just warms your soul. And maybe I was feeling extra good because we had just gotten some good news on my nephew, who is going through a health situation. But as I was driving to the grocery and enjoying the beauty of the day, this George Harrison song came on, and it was like a scene out of a movie, when the soundtrack is just so perfectly on point. Here comes the sun, do do do, here comes the sun and I say, it’s all rightโ€ฆ. It also happens to be one of my favorite songs to start out a yoga playlist!

Anyway, it got me thinking about just how much some simple warm sunlight can change my mood. Especially during the winter, when cold dark days can be a little bit of a downer. I’m fortunate now, to live in a place that is really pretty warm and sunny all year. But I grew up in Indiana, where the winters are dreary and cold, and I definitely had a case of seasonal affective disorder as a kid. And boy, during some of those stretches of darkness, the warmth of the sun could do so much to lift my spirits. Even still, in Puerto Vallarta, sometimes we have weather patterns that bring days of cloudiness and more chilly air, and we had a bit of one of these recently, which is maybe another reason the sun felt so good yesterday.

But one thing I’ve learned is that you can’t control the weather. Duh, right? Sometimes we are just going to have stretches of cold or darkness, and periods of difficulty or challenge, that make us long for the light to come back in. The same is true in life, of course. We are all going to have periods of relative darkness, no matter how much we resist them….and no matter how much we go on vacation ๐Ÿ˜‰ So when those periods of darkness and difficulty come, we need to be able to light our own path. And the Buddha (or Krishnamurti depending on where u look) encouraged us to do so, saying “Be a light unto yourself”. This is one of the places where yoga and yoga philosophy can really help us, as we traverse these cold and dark periods in cancer treatment and recovery. We can learn to find our own light to warm and guide us through difficult times.

Yoga teaches us to turn inward, to connect with our bodies and our inner light. Yoga teaches us to find contentment and joy, despite external circumstances, to be less attached to whatever might be going on around us. Yoga trains us to remain peaceful and at ease, even in the midst of challenge (be it a long hold in boat pose or a life challenge off the mat). Yoga helps us find and strengthen that inner light, empowering us to find our own way out of the darkness. Of course it is awesome when a little sunshine joins in and gives us a boost. But just in case the sun in the sky is obscured today where you are, do what you can to find and fan that light of your own. Trust me. It is there and it is brilliant.


A flexible mind = a peaceful presence

Happy New Year yogis and friends! Are you a New Year’s Resolution type of person? I never really have been. But I do think the turn of the calendar year is a good time to take a little stock of where we are, how we are doing, and where we might like to see some change in the coming year. My preference is more for setting intentions for the new year. Not resolutions, like I want to accomplish X,Y,Z specific thing. This seems too rigid, and too much like attaching ideas of success to some specific outcome. I prefer rather setting an intention for more of a general way of being. How do I want to be in 2022? What qualities do I want to cultivate? What habits do I want to work more on, and which ones do I instead want to down-regulate? This could be so many things, like being more gentle with ourselves, being more compassionate with ourselves or others, showing a little more appreciation for and even celebration of our bodies and what they can do vs bemoaning our limitations, slowing down some, really paying attention to how different habits make us feel (ie How do I feel when I take time for self care, hold strong to my boundaries, or make sure to get my exercise in? vs How do I feel when I rush in the morning, work too much, or over-commit?).

For me, this year, I had been thinking about my biggest intention, and then I saw this quote from Kino MacGregor, one of my favorite modern day yoga teachers, and it just clicked. This is it for me. This year, I am going to be more open, more flexible (in mind), and more equanimous. Less rigid, less attached to my beliefs about how I think things should be. More unfuckwithable, if you will ;). So that I can be less tense, upset, or disappointed if things don’t unfold in the exact way I would like. This way, I’m open and accepting to whatever comes, taking each day as it is, able to maintain clarity, presence, and even joy, despite whatever my mind deems less-than-ideal circumstances. Because obviously things don’t always go the way we want them to in life. Life is unpredictable, and full of challenges, big and small (especially on a cancer journey). And no amount of being mad or sad or resisting things that happen is going to make them bend to our will. This doesn’t mean we have to like everything that happens in our lives, or be happy about it. I don’t like that a child very near to my heart is going through cancer treatment right now. I don’t like it one bit. But I realize that no amount of negativity in my mind is going to help the situation or make it go away. And in fact, it will instead create more suffering and anxiety for me and those around me, and also make me less capable of being a support to the kid and his family. So instead, I am trying to accept it, to recognize that this is the situation we are in, and then finding some clarity on what I can do to help.

And this flexibility of mind, or openness to the flow of things doesn’t just have to be in relation to big challenges. It is perhaps even more important in the context of the many small challenges, detours, and inconveniences that happen day in and day out throughout our lives. As a real time example, as I was initially writing this blog yesterday, the internet went down in all of central Mexico for several hours. At first, I was frustrated, thinking “dang it, I really wanted to get this blog done today, and now my whole plan is blown out of the water”, but then I took a breath, and realized it didn’t really matter if I got it done yesterday, or just got back to it when the internet came back on line. Sometimes I can get so caught up in my idea about what I wanted to accomplish at some certain time that I lose sight of whether it really matters or not. Does it really matter if I go to the grocery in the morning or the afternoon, or if I eat lunch at noon vs 1? Does it really matter if there is a traffic detour causing me to arrive at my destination 5, or even 30 minutes later than I would have? (OK, not the 24 hour snowstorm traffic disaster that happened recently in Virginia, that is different, geez). In most circumstances, learning to be more flexible, and just roll with the changes, adapting on the fly, helps me feel so much more peaceful, more equanimous, less disturbed by every little change. Paradoxically, learning to be more flexible and release my need to control every detail of my life allows me to feel so much more in control of my state of consciousness, rather than allowing external circumstances to dictate my mood and my happiness. So instead of freaking out yesterday, I took the downed internet as an opportunity to water my plants and enjoy the fresh air a little instead. Maybe that was what I really needed yesterday anyway?! As the Dalai Lama said, “Sometimes not getting what you want is a brilliant stroke of luck”. I’ll be practicing seeing this stroke of luck when things don’t go the way I planned this year.

All of this is svadhyaya, or self-study, from yoga philosophy, right? And it is so important that we put in a little effort to understand ourselves and how our choices impact how we feel and the quality of our consciousness. If we aren’t aware of ourselves, how will we know how we could improve our experience? So my advice as we embark on 2022 is to spend a little time thinking about how 2021 felt for you, whether you can notice any habits, behaviors, or thought patterns that aren’t in line with how you would like to be, or that don’t support you feeling your best. And then in the light of that awareness, you will begin to find yourself adjusting and adapting, growing into healthier habits and patterns for the coming year.

Of course, along with improving the flexibility in my mind, I’ll still be working on the flexibility in my spine as well. I hope you’ll come along with me. May 2022 bring us all growth, health, and happiness!