"None of us knows what might happen even the next minute, yet still we go forward. Because we trust. Because we have Faith.”
― Paulo Coelho
Confession: I still believe in Santa. Not literally, but… like… I can close my eyes and call up the FEELING of believing in Santa VERY easily. And holiday lights and music take me back to being 7 years old, and the anticipation of the night before Christmas. I think the main reason is amidst chaotic famiy dynamics, the holidays were the one time all sides got their shit together. There was always a tree. There was always amazing food and joyful music, and somehow everyone toned their brand of dysfunction down. I loved the ritual of decorating, cooking, and storytelling. I loved that everyone tried their best for the kids this time of year. And so into adulthood, it has continued to carry a magical energy for me.
Faith is like that. It isn’t about whether something is true or not: does God exist? This is the question for the ages: but the real power of its answer lies in what we believe.
What we believe, the choices we make based on these beliefs, which thoughts we give power to, and what gets us through when things are hard. This is the realm of faith.
The Yoga Sutras classifies faith under the Niyamas, as Ishvara Pranidhana. Loosely translated it means “surrender to the divine”. It is the last of the Niyamas, the “ethical observances”, which come after the Yamas “the restraints”, I think appropriately because the idea is: do all the things, all the practices, do your best and then LET GO. Trust and believe it is enough. Have faith. That’s the last of these “practices”, because if we didn’t believe, what would be the point of any of them?
Faith is the voice inside of ourselves that says: keep going.
I’ve struggled with anxiety and low grade depression most of my life, with some deep dives into dark holes courtesy of this thing called life. When I reflect back to how I got through those times that felt utterly hopeless and sometimes completely empty and just devoid: it was through the practice of faith. Putting one foot in front of the other. Seeking help even when it felt pointless. Praying when I felt deeply disconnected, meditating and getting on my mat in intense resistance and often amidst boredom. Faith has always helped me piece myself back together, sometimes excruciatingly, peeling myself off a floor or a bed and just following that gentle command: keep going.
True story: the last couple of years, I haven’t felt that connection to the magic of the holidays and Christmas. When I closed my eyes, when I listened to the music, there was numbness. I hit a rough patch with my mental and emotional health which was extra challenging because I thought all the yoga and meditation and “wellness” stuff would be enough to keep me from ever feeling anxious or depressed again. And there was a reality check waiting for me in that this is not true. No man, no child, no friend, no family member, no job, no practice, no dress, no shoes, no apartment, no trip, no goal, no teacher…nothing outside of myself, will ever be the thing that finally fills me up with so much joy and happiness and security and peace that I will never feel anxious or sad again. And this time, the depression manifested as numbness, apathy, a sense of being disinterested. It was brutal and scary for a while.
The way out is always through, and I’ve learned that cultivating faith in ourselves, even in the face of despair, is the only ticket.
I kept getting on my mat. On my cushion. I prayed. I journaled. I asked for help. I sought out the support of spiritual teachers who I trust. I went to acupuncture. I went to therapy again for a while. I took CBD and supplements. I was open to medication but it didn’t come to that this time for me. I went to study with my teacher at yoga intensives. I fed myself. I rested. I practiced self care. As things got clearer, I changed the things I could control and accepted the ones I couldn’t. And then I surrendered.
I’m happy to report that I am feeling much better this year and as the holiday season approaches, when I close my eyes, I can once again see through the twinkling eyes of that 7 year old kid in me.
I think this is what faith practice looks like. It is hardest when we are in struggle, but this is what Ishvara Pranidhana is asking us to practice and observe. We do the things, and then we say: I’ve done what I can, I now let go and trust. And the doing of the things carries us through to the clarity and the outcome. It carries us through the dark time, to the light.
We do the things with faith, and trust the outcome will be as it should be.
It’s true on our mats. It’s true off our mats.
I recently had nature back me up, as she is wont to do.
One of my teachers, my first one, gifted me a plant two years ago without much information regarding the plant itself. It was large and leafy green and she instructed me to water it every other day, which I’ve done, more or less for two years. Last month, this plant, which I now know is called Dracaena or Song of India, started blooming the most rare, lush, sweetly fragrant white flowers I’ve seen outside of Honeysuckle. When I spotted the flowers, it felt like Christmas morning: I was like that 7 year old kid who believed in Santa again, delighted and giddy with surprise and wonder. I had this plant for two years, doing nothing other than what I was instructed to do to keep it healthy and support its growth, watering it everyday like a ritual, and without any expectation of it ever blooming: and yet, here it was, two years later, in its fragrant blossomed glory.
From my observation, halfway into this living thing, life’s like that too.
We go through joyful cycles, we go through dark cycles and we go through static cycles when not much seems to be happening. But if we keep practicing the things that water our hearts and souls, that nourish our bodies and minds, even when everything feels doubtful, and when obstacles keep arising, if we keep going, choosing to believe, we not only get through, but we can reconnect to our inner magic and wonder, and in time, we can even bloom too.