A childhood memory: It’s 3am, pitch black and freezing outside. A few of us huddle together in my aunt’s barn, blankets around our shoulders and holding cups of no-longer-hot cocoa. The lanterns hanging off the dark wooden beams frame our eyes to the main event; our attention is fixed to the hay-lined corner where a mare is outstretched and lying on her side. It’s her newborn foal, though, whom has captured our every breath; disoriented, bloodied and wrestling off the fluid sac which has left her wet and sticky. It is my first birth experience, I’m nine years old.
Despite the decades that have separated my memory from the event itself, I will never forget the awkward determination of the foal to try to stand herself up once her mother had given her a good cleaning. It may have taken a few hours of trial and error, but eventually animal instinct overcame her initial clumsiness and she pulled herself up to find exactly what she needed – nourishment.
Whilst being knocked down doesn’t feel very good, there is tremendous good that can come from being knocked down. For the foal, she learned how to stand on her own legs which led to her building up the strength she would need to become fully independent. For us humans, losing our sense of ground affords us the opportunity to reevaluate how we live and to refine our sense of priority and purpose. Are we working to live, or living to work for example? Are we doing things because of assumptions we have about ourselves and others, or because our actions serve a greater good?
Many of us learn to stay in circumstances where we are not breathing or living fully, but just enough to sustain ourselves for another day without rocking the boat. Then something comes along and blows the proverbial boat out of the water, and we are forced to look at our habits. We have an opportunity to look, and the looking may be the catalyst we need to make radical decisions about how to live more efficiently, spending our energy on reinforcing positive experiences and relationships, rather than hemorrhaging our life force to hold mediocrity together. Why would we stick with the latter? There is really only one answer: fear.
There have been *so many times* in my life when I have thought of that foal — and even felt like her whilst trying to find my legs after one of life’s many unexpected blows.
This time around, as I regain my footing after a several years of life not quite going to plan, I have come to better understand three key ingredients to standing in the face of change. These are the key elements that have helped me find my footing in unknown territory.
1. Humility. There is an acceptance in humility that means the ego has let go of its preferences and assumptions; the expectations dwindle and with it, a hefty chunk of suffering. Whilst humility creates an opening for new encounters, the word’s origins literally mean ‘low’. It goes without saying that there can be a grieving for the loss of the ego and its assumed story for the years or even decades the story has served a purpose. This sense of loss, though, could also be for the sense of the ‘known’, for inherent in the change process is getting comfortable with unchartered territory. Humility gives way to surrender, which is necessary to cultivate trust and faith, two other important ingredients for moving through change.
2. Curiosity. Having an interest in the world and an understanding of how to ask questions to arrive at answers fosters self-reliance. It instills confidence and creates an atmosphere of playfulness, for curiosity is based on imagination and exploration. Curiosity leads to creative intelligence, the ability to bring information together and arrive at the next step. It is pivotal in finding solutions.
3. Perseverance (if at first you don’t succeed, try try again) Perseverance is made of patience and determination. Sometimes we ask questions and are given answers that don’t seem fair. It is a sad truth that as a society we have been conditioned to take whatever the ‘higher ups’ decide. We have done this for thousands of years, which has brought us into the state of disrepair our governments, healthcare, education and environmental policies are in today. Perseverance is what we all need a strong dose of to find our footing to rise up above the mundane to make positive changes, not only in our own lives, but in our shared, global need for sustainability.
Of course, a sense of humor can lessen the burden of any situation, but when it comes to getting knocked down, the moment at rock-bottom is in some ways the pivotal factor in ‘righting the ship’. It is the moment full of potential for honesty. It is a moment to strip away at the things that are not serving us, to simplify and prioritize as we re-orient and redirect our intention to getting back up on our feet, while all around us there is change.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I learned a lot from that evening back in 1981. I had no idea then, just how many times I would need to learn to stand up again, nor do I have any idea of what is coming in my direction in the days and years to come. The good news is that each time there is a knock-down, there is chance to strip away another layer of the unnecessary; another chance to reassess relationships and life’s purpose.
When there is a chance, go and watch Nature. She holds all of the lessons we will ever need.
Join my retreat October 4-8. Strip away the unnecessary, bathe in nature and re-align yourself with your yoga practice. Not included: foal birthing.