Chasm: Through the Abyss into the Light Or Why I do Yoga
Updated: Apr 26, 2019
I am currently enrolled in a Yoga Teacher Training that is changing my life on many levels. This training at Laughing Lotus NYC is exactly what I could have ever asked for in a yoga school — it is spiritually based, yet grounded and challenging. I am learning more about myself than I ever thought I would. Recently we were given an assignment with the Yoga Sutras. Each of us got a sutra which we were supposed to research and prepare as a presentation for the whole group by personalizing it and finding out how it comes alive in our own lives.
The sutra that I picked (randomly with my eyes closed from an envelope) was ‘tamas’ which is one of the ‘gunas’ or qualities of Prana or universal life force. The concept of tamas can be interpreted as heaviness, inertia, dullness or darkness. The other two gunas are ‘rajas’ - action, activity, a dynamic force of movement and ‘sattva’ - tranquility, purity, light and perception. The play of all three gunas gives rise to and maintains all of Creation.
When I went home and looked up what my sutra meant, I initially burst into tears. Heaviness, inertia, dullness, darkness, impurity — qualities that I was all too familiar with. I struggled with depression and anxiety all my life. ‘Tamas’ I learned, can show up as a challenge in many ways when one is out of balance. A physical body can be tamastic (heavy, lethargic, low energy), and one’s thoughts can also be tamastic (negativity). I thought about how I would feel during my bouts of depression and how hard it was to get out of bed. When thoughts get tamastic or heavy or dark, they can pull us further and further into unconsciousness.
Meditating on this sutra made me reflect on my lifelong struggles with depression, anxiety and addictions such as eating disorders and toxic attachments in relationships. My internal battles had always propelled me further into my spirituality as I was searching for answers and looking for a way to help myself. And I did find help and guidance, and teachers and I was able to heal my depression, find more light and clarity and happiness. I thought I was good.
Then in a not so distant past, I found myself hitting a rock bottom that I didn’t even know existed. My life was in complete chaos. I lost my health, several jobs and my apartment. I also lost people — my best friend from childhood left my life, my relationship with mentor fell apart, most of the people I considered close to me cut off ties with me because I was too much to deal with and I was left clinging to an extremely toxic relationship that was slowly but surely making me sink even deeper into an abyss. And eventually, even that was gone. I had a few friends who tried to be there for me as I was drowning, and only one who could tolerate being around me on a regular basis and I barely heard his voice of reason even though I dearly appreciated his support.
In my darkest hours, I really wanted to end my life. I wanted the pain to stop and I wanted a way out. And I came pretty close to it too. I wrote this poem that expresses the process I went through and I want to share it here with the encouragement of one of my wonderful yoga teachers in the hope that it might speak to someone out there going through their own process and journey.
As I stand with my hands on my windowsill, looking down,
The space between me and the ground seems like a chasm
My pain and the darkness feels so powerful
There is nothing I want more than to be free
I want to dive into the chasm and disappear into nothingness
The voices in my head telling me to jump get louder
Futility consumes me, and in that moment,
I know I am empty, there is not a drop of love within me
The voices give many good reasons — you’re a burden, nobody loves you, you will never be enough, everybody has left you
Yet there is something within me that holds me back from taking my own life
I see my mother’s face before my eyes
And I think about the pain she went through in labor
So that I could take my first breath and come into this body
And I think about her pain if I were to leave it
Deep down, I know death is a lie anyway,
Anything I leave incomplete, my soul will find a way to come back to complete
The voices in my head are whispers now
And I feel something deep inside my heart, a desire to live
I cannot jump, I decide
My story does not end in this way.
The last line of this poem is what I worked with every day after I stepped away from the chasm. It enabled me to step into the life I have now and the direction of the path I am walking on. It took a lot of work to get myself back from the point of that darkness, and it took conscious choice to take responsibility for what I experienced that got me there. That’s the thing though, we always have choice over how we experience something, and for me, my choices did not just involve how I was experiencing my life circumstances, but what thoughts and actions had actually gotten me to a place where nothing made sense.
It was and still is hard to look at how tamas manifests through me and in my life. It is hard to look at the darkness and the fears, but I believe that the only way out is through. Once I started accepting my life, my choices, my actions and behavior, everything started to shift. I asked for, sought and got help. People started showing up and things started to happen that opened me up to a very deep and personal experience of the loving force of the universe, i.e. God. I finally found my path revealing itself and I was able to tap into an inner well of happiness I had never experienced before. Yoga helped me tremendously in this journey, I cried for three months straight in every yoga class I attended. The asanas helped me release so much of the heaviness I was holding on to and the energy of the community at Laughing Lotus made me feel safe and gave me space to deal with my process. Hence the decision to join the yoga teacher training there.
Studying this yoga sutra also brought something else to light for me; which is that at this stage in my life, it is time to let go of the heaviness of my story that I’ve been carrying around with me like a badge of honor. It is time to rise above the tamas and invite in light and allow that to be all that is. So I encourage you, if you’re reading this, you weren’t brought to it by coincidence (unless I personally sent this to you, in which case, thank you for reading it). Ask yourself where tamas is showing up in a way that creates imbalance in your life. Interestingly enough, tamas also happened to be part of the mantra I picked to chant as part of my practice, much before the sutra assignment. So I leave you with this mantra which for me is a daily reminder to connect to the ever present presence, our true essence.
Om Asato Maa Sad-Gamaya Tamaso Maa Jyotir-Gamaya Mrtyor-Maa Amrtam Gamaya Om Shaanti Shaanti Shaanti
Lead me from untruth to Truth
From darkness to Light
From death to Immortality
Om Peace, Peace, Peace.