Most mornings during that quiet, liminal week between Christmas and New Year I got up early and took walks through Primrose Hill and Regent’s Park. The sun, breaking through the misty winter sky and revealing herself after so many hours of darkness, appeared more beautiful and precious than ever. As I walked, I contemplated the year that was almost at its end. For me, 2016 had plenty of wonderful moments and experiences. But it was not without its struggles. At the close of the year though, I simply felt full of joy and lightness.
In my own experience, the challenges I’ve experienced have, more often than not, ultimately expanded my love for life. I think it’s because whenever you have your roots shaken it strengthens your gratitude for all the millions of things that aren’t broken. And you realise nothing can be taken for granted; that each birdsong, each breath you take, each night you are lucky enough to sleep in a warm bed is in fact a miracle. If the sun were always shining, would we appreciate it as much?
What actually helps return me to that sweet place is letting myself feel and breathe into (with as much tenderness as I can) the so-called ‘darker’ emotions such as sadness, fear and anger. It’s tempting for us to push them away or numb them out with distractions like too much alcohol, or even over-working – anything not to have to meet them! I have to remind myself that they too, as much as joy or wonder, are an innate part of being human. Some fifteen years ago, during a particularly challenging time, I attended my first yin yoga workshop, taught by the incredible Sarah Powers. We’d spend five eternally long minutes in poses such as pigeon. The invitation was to stay present with and to breathe right into whatever sensations - pretty intense, for the beginner yoga student I was! - were arising. My initial reaction though was to either lock onto the story unfolding in my head (I wish she’d just get us out of here NOW), or to try and distract myself (Shall I buy that blue top I saw yesterday?). But what I learnt was that when I could stay present with what was unfolding, the deep feeling of release after was profound. It has been an invaluable teaching.
As the poet Robert Frost wrote, ‘the best way out is always through.’ Can we trust that behind those dark stormy clouds the sun is still there? And to reach it, we might just have to move right through those clouds.