Years ago, my mother lived in a house that was only a short walk away from the beach. The path began with an enchanting boardwalk, made of broken handrails and creaky steps, through a dark thicket of swampy woods, that led down a bluff to a bay, and then to a quaint, narrow beach. I often visited this place alone as a teenager and it was one of the very few places I could call a sanctuary. It was a place for comfort, introspection, and quiet contemplation not available to me at home, at school, or anywhere else in my life at that time.
I recently visited this beach for the first time in well over a decade. The boardwalk, as usual, gave me the chills; but this time, in an inviting and familiar kind of way. I finally reached the edge of the coast and sat down at the altar of the mother water. I touched the sand and felt the grains slip between the webs of my fingers. I took slow, deep breaths of the humid salt water air. I stared into the horizon. Into that place where the sky becomes ocean and the ocean becomes sky. Where everything else turns into nothing. I was home.
I picked up a small branch off the ground and drew a line in the sand. Placing the stick down next to me, I continued to gaze at the line I had drawn. This line was intentionally placed between myself and the people, places, and circumstances in my life that were preventing me from healing from the sudden, recent passing of my mother. The time had finally come. I had reached a point in my life, yet again, where my heart was deeply longing for a life-altering, cathartic shift in my perspective. I realized that the present way of life was no longer serving me the way it once did.
Perhaps you have shared a similar experience of self-realization before? The experience of deeply knowing, in every cell of your being, that the time has come for you to heal.
I have come to this place many times in my life, over and over and over again. And each time I come to it with a little more gentleness, more friendliness, and more curiosity – and a little less fear of the inevitable change that I know lies before me. The process of healing and transformation becomes slightly easier each time we begin a new chapter.
But, if this healing process is new to you or still feels uncomfortable after more than one attempt, how do you begin to lean into this gentleness and curiosity? How do you let go of the broken handrails that make you feel afraid of stepping onto the path of the dark and strange unknown - the same path that eventually leads you to a place of light?
The first step is the process of drawing your own lines in the sand. What is preventing you from beginning your own healing process? First, we must identify the kleshas, or obstacles, that hinder us from manifesting these necessary positive changes in our lives. In yoga philosophy, the kleshas are an inevitable and necessary part of our path to healing. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali says that these obstacles arise in order to “make us understand and express our own capacities.” One of the most difficult obstacles on my own personal path has been raga, or attachment. In order to fully heal, often there is something else in our lives that we must let go. But if our healing process is important to us, then sacrificing some part of ourselves becomes worth it when it means that we find ourselves whole and fulfilled in the end.
The next step in our healing process is tapas, the yogic practice of self-discipline. Once we have identified the obstacles on our path, then we know where to begin making slow, but steady positive changes. While instant, miraculous healing is found by some, for many of us our path to healing requires a daily, long-term commitment to taking better care of ourselves and our emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual needs. This kind of commitment is daunting to most, myself included. A daily yoga practice is not easy to commit to for many people. Even a small handful of dietary changes can throw a relatively healthy person for a loop in their daily lives. But the discipline that you develop during these early stages of change comes through creating new habits. Do something once, then a few times, and then a few more times. New habits become less of a “chore” and more like… a daily practice of healing self-care. A daily practice that requires your persistent focus and dedication. This is the yogic practice of tapas.
Finally, allow yourself to admit when you need help along the way and ask for the support you need to heal. Our ego will often tell us we don’t need help or that no one knows how or wants to help us. But it may be as simple as asking a friend to help you cook a healthy meal once a week. Or asking a loved one to try beginning a new meditation practice with you, and sitting quietly for 5-10 minutes together once a week. Taking small steps in the beginning can help prevent you from feeling overwhelmed and giving up on your journey of healing completely. Of course, at times we may require additional support and/or support from a qualified professional. But even the smallest doses of help and support can radically change the way we feel about ourselves and the quality and timeliness of our healing process.
I invite you to draw lines in the sand with me. Lean into the gentleness and curiosity of this process. And remember, these lines don’t have to last forever. We can erase them, and draw new ones any time we realize that they are no longer serving us. This journey will always be there for us, as long as we are willing to let go of our attachments, make a commitment to our practice, & ask for help along the way.