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Fighting The River is No Way to Live, Suzanne!

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Fighting The River is No Way to Live, Suzanne!
Photo credit: Chaoss/123RF

Photo credit: Chaoss/123RF

“Stop swimming, stop fighting.” These words rang loud and clear in the ears of my beloved teacher, Swami Kripalvanand, as he was swept away by the monsoon-swollen river Yamuna in India more than a half century ago. These same words, which came to him in the voice of his beloved teacher Dadaji, have lately come to me, if only from the old, familiar voice in my head.

“Stop swimming, stop fighting.” This simple admonition, which may have saved Bapuji’s life because he listened and let the water carry him safely to shore, might also save mine.

I am not, of course, about to drown in any literal sense. But boy am I at serious risk of going under in the mire of my own muddy mind. No question I am still struggling, mightily at times, to stop swimming and home in on the shoreline of freedom that Bapuji embodied and imbued.

I yearn for freedom from the fear fueling all those pesky likes and dislikes of mine. For as long as I’m in fear, I’m not in love, not living from the wellspring of the heart, the sole abiding source of our happiness and peace. I want freedom for my sake and I want it for yours. Because what I do for me, dear reader, I do for you. For better or worse, we are all in this sloppy soup together.

Somewhere in the depths of my aging being, I know the truth of Bapuji’s—and all spiritual masters’—greatest teaching: that I am, and you are, already free, bound only by the limits of our restless, greedy minds. A terrific idea, but sadly only that, until we come to realize it.

I am aging quickly and, so, perhaps a little slower in my ways these days. That may explain why the words Bapuji heard while he was nearly drowning, words I have known about for years, have taken on new significance for me. It feels more urgent to listen up, but there’s something else.

As I sit more often in the stillness of my own being (now in peaceful Nova Scotia), I have extra opportunity to watch the workings of that monkey mind of mine. And what I’m seeing is that, in my unconsciousness, I have been fighting and swimming against the ebb and flow of life far more frequently—and in more subtle, ridiculous and damaging ways—than I had realized.

When I am willing really to look (and, despite increased commitment, that is not as often as I’d like), I am shocked at what I see. The depth and breadth of my preferences—to have this little thing and not that, or wanting some minor experience to happen my way and not yours—is pretty disturbing. Honestly, I am hardly ever okay with things exactly the way they are. Thinking about it now, I am laughing out loud. And, yes, laughing at—or with—ourselves is a good thing.

In fairness to myself and to yoga, my once “spiritual path,” I have made progress in accepting life as it manifests. The weather used to utterly undo me when it didn’t cooperate with my desire for constant sunshine. (Okay, I could have but didn’t move to Palm Desert). Instead, I’ve learned to stop fighting the reality—and necessity—of rain. Also, there are people I had trouble being across a room from whom I can now talk to pleasantly without ruffled feathers. A significant victory, I promise you. No doubt yoga and meditation helped soften and open me to what is.

Weather and relationships are big, noticeable arenas of likes and dislikes, and while it’s great I am easier with their unpredictability, that’s not enough. It’s the miniscule, moment-to-moment stuff I see I still sweat, fret about and need to get a handle on. Trond doesn’t like the non-gluten cookies I bought him? Instead of saying “So what?” and letting it go, I feel annoyed and express it. He’s sad. The neighbor’s dog goes on another barking jag and I go on a rant. My writing isn’t going well (like now), and instead of stepping away, taking a walk or meditating, I push on, swimming against the stream of feedback from my body-mind that—however much I may want to finish another blog post—it’s a fight to write right now. Give it up, Suzanne, give it up.

If I decide to pay attention, I can feel the hit in my heart every single time I don’t like something that is going down. Freedom from fear and my capacity to live from my heart fly out the window the second I resist what is, however small the thing or level of resistance. Fighting the river is no way to live, Suzanne. So what is? Thanks to Bapuji’s inspiration, I have a thought or two.

The trick, I think, is simple if not easy. It’s to stop and take the time to look, to see and to feel.

Transforming fight into surrender, fear back to source love, begins, Bapuji suggested, with observing what happens in our lives with keen awareness. “Like a scientist,” he adds, meaning without judging what we find. If we can look closely enough to see, and then be willing to feel the physical hit, the painful tightening of our heart when we start to resist something, we have a leg up on letting go more gracefully into whatever happens next, whether or not we like it.

Accepting life as it manifests, we are freer to love and be loved.

I have a chance to practice now. Trond is about to come up from the boatyard, interrupting this writing time that hasn’t felt quite right. Although I can’t yet see him approaching, I already feel myself gearing up to fight the idea of stopping so I can visit with him. Since he’s been gone a while, that’s what he will want, what I want too, and what’s in the natural flow if I stop fighting.

Okay, out the window, out the corner of my eye, I see Trond walking toward the house. I stop typing and notice the expected contraction of my chest as the door opens and he comes in behind me. I am taking a minute to observe myself resisting, to feel the heart-rending physical sensation of fighting against what is—my dear husband home again and wanting me to join him.

Of course it doesn’t feel good to have my heart contract! But if I let myself stay with the tight, unpleasant feeling, if I close my eyes and breathe deeply into the left side of into my chest, I feel the blocked energy around the heart start to release, creating the space to make a choice. It’s a bit of a struggle still, but I am able to let go and choose to go with the flow of what’s calling me. Slowly, still somewhat reluctantly, I get up from the keyboard to be with my returned beloved.

Am I alone here, people? Or do some of you struggle with too often swimming against the stream and feeling your heart shut down? What’s that like for you? How do you deal with reclaiming your source from the grasp of your monkey mind? Please do us the honor of sharing your experience here and of sharing this post elsewhere if it moves you. Thank you, thank you!

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Categories: A Writer's Life, Self-Care, Surrender
  • Martha Metz

    Hi Suzanne,
    I’m grateful for your reflection on flow… I remember you sharing Bapuji’s river moment and how taken I was about how he flowed with the river. Oh my goodness, “listening in” and reacting in such a different way to a life-threatening moment!
    As you shared…..flow is challenging even in minute moments.

    I will share what has helped me to flow over the years.
    I am blessed to have and share more heart-time since my daily “do” lists have lessened over the years. Also, questioning…is this activity really time sensitive?… helps to calm my need to immediately complete a task when wanting to connect with self and others.
    Enjoying and participating in a child’s’ present moment joys, has helped me to center in heart and enjoy. During the past 6 years, I centered in on 16 precious, and present young spirits in teaching preschool children. When I was surrounded with such moment -to-moment exploration, I really learned to allow the flow!
    With much love, Martha

    • http://suzannegrenager.com/ Suzanne Grenager

      What a beautiful, thoughtful sharing, dear Martha! Amazing that you remember and were moved by the Bapuji “Stop swimming” story, shared with you so long ago. Your reminder to consider whether something really needs to be done now is a helpful one. I still struggle with that “false sense of urgency,” as I call it. And I love your observation about how children’s present moment awareness has helped you learn to better let life unfold. I am so glad for you and applaud you for working with such a large group of little ones. I can barely handle one four-year-old at a time but, like you, take heart from their usually joyful presence!

  • Jody Myers

    Hi Suzanne
    Jody Myers here!!!!!!!!!! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and feelings…I get it!

    Just wanted to let you know that there is a wonderful Satsanga happening 2PM Sunday Oct 30 at 16 Myra’s Road, East Dover NS in the yoga barn not far from Peggy’s Cove. by donation, followed by a vegetarian pot luck feast. It’s a rare event and is being hosted by Divya Prabha who is a devote of Bapuji’s and the creator of 6 chanting CD’s. She was around in the early years of the Kripalu ashram and was one of the early chanters in the west. http://www.divya.net/ . Pehaps I will see you there? blessings…Jody

    • http://suzannegrenager.com/ Suzanne Grenager

      Good to hear from you, Jody, and I am glad you “get it!” I remember Divya Prabha and appreciate the news about the gathering in October. You will see me *there* if I am *here*. Blessings to you and the Halifax Kripalutians. :)

  • aegiscoach

    Hello, summer Bluenoser, and thank you so, so much for sharing your wisdom in the way that you always do.. bare nakedly! I was especially struck by your sharing of the heart contraction related to Trond. I know that you would only share that becauase of the deep love that you know also resides in your heart. Re your question about swimming against the tide, I think I’ve… finally, after years of practice… learned the total futility of that. Life flows like the river. Truly. Having said that, I spent time with 5 horses yesterday with a wonderful woman who does equine therapy. Your question about “reclaiming your source from the grasp of your monkey mind” reminds me of phrases used in horse therapy lingo… circling and recircling. Horses (and all animals except us it seems) naturally withdraw (their hearts contract!) when faced with any threat. The whole group gets in a circle until they feel safe and will escape when they can. Once they calm themselves again, they reappear, seemingly forgetting the source of the threat (in this case, people) because they are willing to reconnect. I see this as “living in the moment”… acknowleding the contraction and doing what is appropriate to restore equilibrium or peace of mind. For me, it is about changing my mind. The ego belief system is the monkey mind. There is another bellief system; what I call the enlightened belief system. One calls forth monkey mind; the other, peaceful mind. I know you know which is which. Having said all that (whew!)… my coaching self sees a “should” or a “have to” in your decision to “be with my returned beloved.” Is that not what caused the contraction? The sense of duty and obligation even with your returned beloved? What could change that????

    • http://suzannegrenager.com/ Suzanne Grenager

      Thank you, dear Sheila, for your deep, thought-provoking comment about how horses — and people — can take care of themselves in the face of perceived threats or challenges in life as it manifests. Ego and the beliefs it foments are, of course, a big factor for most of us human beings. I am curious to hear more about what you call the (contrasting) “enlightened belief system,” though I can probably imagine what you mean by that.

      As for your suggestion that the contraction in my heart was because I felt a duty to be with Trond, I don’t think that was it. Perhaps because he is so self-sufficient, I almost never feel any “obligation” to Trond. Rather, I think I was stubbornly letting ego have its way with me. And that way is almost always is to have me *do* things — in that case, writing a blog post — that feel important, even when being with my honey again (and not incidentally then, getting away from a writing practice that hadn’t felt satisfying) was what my heart was calling me to. Make sense?

      • aegiscoach

        You always make sense, Suzanne. And thank you for being your curious self about the enlightened beliefs system. You already know all about it: The ego self operates from fear-based beliefs; the enlightened self, from love. The BIg YES is “Your Enlightened Self.” The small yes is “your ego self.” My turn to ask: Make sense?

        • http://suzannegrenager.com/ Suzanne Grenager

          Yes, indeed, it makes sense, Sheila. It’s always only fear or love, love or fear. If only one were as easy as the other. Sigh.

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