When is the last time you faced challenge? I mean a real deal, in your face challenge? Often I come across this word when reading about 5k race training or when someone discusses the pursuit of higher education – both wonderful ideas. But to talk about challenge as if it only encompasses extraordinary circumstances misses a lot of the beauty in challenge.
Yes. Challenges can be beautiful. To see this requires a change in perspective.
As my husband and I began our parenting journey in 2016 we found ourselves using the word fairly often, and I came to realize that the term was less weighted than it was in the past. In other words, saying, our baby “was a challenge today because he did not want to take a nap” was actually a freeing statement that came with multiple emotions: frustration at a baby’s ignorance of a “schedule,” hilarity at the absurd day we just experienced, and also joyfulness at remembering the smiles of our little one because he would rather spend time with Mama than sleep! “Challenges” became the small hurdles of every day instead of broad planned pursuits on the long-term timeline.
I began looking for challenges in my routine. Please do not get me wrong, I did not try to create unnecessary difficulties. I simply looked closer at my daily life. As I developed a new relationship with struggle, I realized facing everyday “mini challenges” created more introspection and perceptible evidence of growth in my life that I could really appreciate.
Today was one such experience.
Lately I have been experimenting with different forms of yoga and decided to really settle into Kundalini. It speaks to my heart right now and it opened a door for a new meditative encounter. One key aspect of Kundalini yoga is holding or repeating movements for periods of time: two, five, or even eleven minutes. The result is a remarkable focus that prepares the body, mind, and spirit to really settle in to meditation.
Remember: the purpose of asana yoga is to prepare the mind for meditation!
Today’s class was led by the delightful Kia Miller and she asked us to hold archer pose for five minutes and find the drishti (the focus or gaze) over the tip of the thumb on our extended hand.
I was sore from a pretty intense yoga session last night and wondered if my body could stay in such a dynamic pose for that long. As such, I already doubted my ability to do it. But Kia explained that a pose and focus like this creates in us the skill of being “one pointed,” or super single-mindedness. “Do not even allow the question of coming out of the posture to come into your mind,” she says. “You are cultivating stability.” “Really stand in the posture at full strength. It really takes this level of determination to rise above the old ways of being, to rise above negativity and doubt.”
“Stand in the light of your truth,” Kia says.
This was difficult. But as I focused on the point just past my thumb I thought about how the intensity of this moment does not actually reflect its level of challenge accurately. I should not avoid the aching in my arms because this is a very small challenge with huge benefits: cultivating a focused mind.
I also recognized its relatedness to other small challenges. It is easy to let everyday difficulties build up, one on top of another. Eventually we feel overwhelmed and unable to comprehend it because all is muddled. Standing in archer I had to separate my mind from the situation, as if I was standing outside of it, in order to remain in the pose. In yoga and meditation we call this “observing” the situation. We can claim this exact same mental position in everyday challenges.
Perhaps this is the same as surrendering to God, a concept that is too often repeated, but not very well understood. I heard the phrase “Let go and let God” so often in my 34 years that it sounds weightless, containing little or no real meaning.
I will not give a list of what challenges could be, because everyone has a different experience facing them. In order to deal with them, try mentally stepping aside to observe emotions and your physical state to see what you can learn. Small challenges feel enormous when we let them take over both these aspects of our body. But I guarantee that if you learn to observe instead of react, you start to feel like you are accomplishing instead of suffering.
Challenges are HARD. Tonight is case in point. My dear, sweet boy is having a rough week: major teething, twelve month immunizations, and he has a cold. Nothing is going well, from his perspective. All I want for him to do is eat, because that will be the sign that he is feeling better. Alas, tonight’s dinner did not go well for the two of us. Then it morphed into the highly unusual bath time struggle – normally his favorite part of the day. I nursed and tried to calm him with quiet songs, I settled my own mind. These moments will not last forever. Like the five minutes of archer, I try my best to breath through the intensity.
Please do not think that once I did this all things changed. My husband walked through the door tonight and saw a frustrated look on my face as I cleaned up the kitchen from dinner. But as the evening goes on, I settle in. This is a learning experience.
Life moves. Time continues to flow. We must grow and change and adapt.