Updated: Sep 30, 2020
"It's a balance between light and dark, doing and undoing, holding on and letting go. The magic is found in the in-between, the stillness before we go round again." SH
I write this a day or two after the Autumn Equinox, where the hours of light and dark are equal. A time for celebration where traditionally people pause to gather harvests and make provisions for the winter. In general society is very disconnected from this event. In current times our food is generally available 24hrs a day 365 days a year. (with the exception of lockdown obviously) We rarely get to experience how the weather affects our harvest, how the seasons affect what is sourced locally let alone considering ways to preserve harvested food to last through winter when food is scarcer. Abundance in the lighter months of the year and scarcity in the darker months. If we were present with this cycle we would naturally feel like pausing at the Equinox, to celebrate. That's the magic of the gap; awareness of the cycle between light and dark, between abundance and scarcity. Trusting in the ebb and flow of the natural cycles and learning to work with them. Learning to trust that the light isn't better than the dark, it's just one side of the cycle of life. Each can be as rich and valuable as the other if we allow it to be, to accept what 'is', knowing it too will change.
I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels predisposed to light or dark, naturally gravitating to the positive or negatives in life. Are you a glass half full or half empty person? Our perception is what is at work here rather than how much water is actually in the glass. It's generally regarded in society that it's better to be positive, negativity and depression still have stigma surrounding them. I know I experience a sense of failure if I fall into a negative mindset, but this doesn't serve me well either.
Our thoughts and feelings ebb and flow, happiness, sadness, anger and patience; the cycle of abundance and scarcity is present here too. We have been conditioned to believe that happiness is only found when in abundance, in the light side of the cycle. Yet I have found in recent months that when challenged or faced with scarcity I actually found unexpected resilience and joy and a much richer perspective of gratitude for the things I used to take for granted as well as a comfortable ability to let go of what was familiar but unnecessary.
The ancient sages taught that detachment was the key, finding equanimity in all things.
Patanjali's Yoga Sutra I.12 “Abhyasa Vairagyabhyam Tannirodhah – Practice and detachment are the means to still the movements of consciousness.”
Patanjali's Yoga Sutra 1.33: "maitri karuna muditopeksanam sukha duhkha punyapunya visayanam bhavanatas citta prasadanam - By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard toward the wicked, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness.”
In the past I interpreted this as not fully engaging in life, but I have learnt since to understand it as neither clinging to the enjoyable or avoiding the challenges.
Patanjali's Yoga Sutra 2.3: "avidya asmita raga dvesa abhinivesha klesha - The five afflictions which disturb the equilibrium of consciousness are: ignorance or lack of wisdom, ego, pride of the ego or sense of 'I', attachment to pleasure, aversion to pain, fear of death and clinging to life"
Simply being present with it all whilst accepting the fluidity of everything. Joy can be found in both happiness and sadness if we free our minds from prior conditioning.
'Mind the gap' is a phrase we're familiar with when travelling the underground, something to be fearful of and a reminder to be careful. Why do we need reminding of the danger? Because we're distracted and disconnected from our surroundings, not mindfully present and not aware. We're also surrounded by swathes of people equally distracted and disconnected.
When I'm not mindful or calm, my mind is 'crazy' busy like London in rush hour. Thoughts crammed into my brain like commuters struggling to breathe on the tube, cloudy unclear thoughts, feeling tense and rushing to conclusions like commuters rushing to get the train. Often running multiple thought scenarios like tube lines crossing at stations, going off in another direction only to change again at the next stop and return to the original station ......and so it goes on.
On the one hand my mind can be relaxed and focused; mindfully engaged with whatever I'm doing or it can be frantic, mindless chaos; much like my experiences on the underground.
What lies between these two contrasting experiences is the 'gap'. For a lot of us that gap is so fleeting that we don't ever notice it. To increase the gap, creating space between thoughts, takes practice, practice practice. Practice of awareness, mindfulness, slowing down and patience.
Thoughts and emotions collect like dust, so lets consider the 'practice' like we might consider housework. We can ignore it and distract ourselves with other things but the dust wont go away. It starts to leave a thick covering, dulling the presence of everything it rests on. Our thoughts and feeling, like dust, cover up our radiant true nature. As the dust is disturbed it lifts and resettles somewhere else, the longer we leave it the more work it takes to clean up. Personal practices that work for me are paying attention to my breath, getting my body moving (yoga, dancing, walking, cycling), spending time in nature, making time to meditate, to craft and to do nothing, clearing and getting my energy flowing better.
The 'practice' prepares me for when the thoughts start piling in, when the imposter voice storms in like an aggressive passenger or when my train of thought keeps going round in circles.
Freeing the mind from all this stuff makes more space for embracing the ebb and flow of life, the fun times and the challenges. If we mind the gap we can celebrate how far we've come and prepare ourselves for what's to come without clinging to what was or being fearful of what is yet to be.
Acceptance is like swimming in the waves, we have a choice with each wave; to ride it, dive into it or get crashed by it. We can't avoid it or keep it, it will take it's course and disappear only for another to come along. A fresh wave and a fresh opportunity to ride, dive or crash.
If our mind is distracted, fearful or complacent we may crash more often than surf. If we free the mind from distraction and fear, we become mindfully aware. Accepting each ride, dive and crash with equanimity, no expectation or judgement, just as it is. This is the magic in the gap, within the ebb and flow of thoughts, feelings and all of life.
If we cling to the positive, light side of life avoiding discomfort, we miss out on growth from overcoming challenges or breaking bad habits. However if we cling to the dark side, fearful that we'll ever have the strength or the good fortune to be happy, we miss out on celebrating our potential and our capacity for joy.
The Summer never lasts forever but neither does the Winter. For me, Spring and Autumn, symbolise the gaps, a time for reflection and an opportunity to witness the natural cycle of inevitable change, the only thing thats constant throughout our lives.
So breath, pause, slow down and find the gap between your thoughts, between the items on your to do list and savour the moment whatever it brings.
“Health is a state of complete harmony of the body, mind and spirit. When one is free from physical disabilities and mental distractions, the gates of the soul open.” BKS Iyengar
For those of you joining me for a yoga practice this month, whether that's inside, outside or online, we will explore 'minding the gaps' mentally and physically as each affects the other.
Classes will be inspired by Patanjali's sutras and follow circular patterns of activity and stillness, flow and balance, sound and silence.
As always we will work with the most personal reminder of ebb and flow we have; our breath, exploring retentions again is a great way to increase the gaps in both breath and mind.
We will sync our practice with the cycle of the moon each week, as it gives us a natural, visual reminder of the ebb and flow between light, dark.
Paying attention to the quality of our energy and emotions, accepting whatever arises with equanimity and acceptance to make space for joy within the support of like minded souls. Community is an important part of our well being, how and who we choose to spend our time with, whether that's in person or online, influences our energy and emotions; in the gaps notice if that community supports or drains you. Surrounding ourselves with like minded souls who are doing the same work builds our ability to see and be seen beneath the dust.
So until next time.....
'The light in me sees and honours the light in you'
For some the light and the dark can be far scarier and support is needed to help value both sides.
If this speaks to you please know you're not alone, reach out for support.