Hold onto the Light – Finding Joy in the Turmoil of Life

Focus of the Month: May 2022

written by Amanda Day Vance

We are wired to be caring and generous to one another. When we find joy within, our light shines brightly to others. Shine brightly. Find joy amidst turmoil. Learn from others. Quiet the mind. Tend the heart. Sit in stillness. Be the light for someone else. Namaste. I think of these reminders daily, especially when things appear dim.

“Be brave, be strong. Let everything you do be done with love.” – 1 Corinthians 16:13-14

Recently, I wanted to share on Facebook about my daughter’s first gymnastics meet. However, the Ukraine war had just begun and the horrific footage and death was not only all over the news, but also deep in my heart. I felt guilty sharing my joy for Vera Louise’s hard work or boasting about her wonderful job. I felt, how was I to be happy in these harrowing times we are going through?

Deep down I feel, and I know, if we share our light, others can be uplifted. This is how we make our world a better place. In yoga, we say, “the light in me honors the light in you”. Often used as a greeting, “namaste” reminds us of the light within and all the positive intentions we have set forth in our practices. We learn to let go, to release, and to give, so that we can shine brighter and give more to others. We learn to acknowledge and honor the light, love, truth, beauty and peace in ourselves and others.

Yoga is a practice and a journey regardless of where we are in life. The practice of yoga begins within the heart, and it is the heart where the divine dwells. This is essentially what the gesture of namaste is honoring: each and every person is endowed with a divine spark deep inside their soul. As my palms touch and my head bows, I honor this divine spark inside of you, knowing that same divine spark lives inside of me. We recognize that no matter what we have experienced in the past, or what our future holds, each of us carries inside ourselves a connection to eternity.

One of the first things we can do when attempting to navigate any bumpy crossroad in life is to build an inner place of peace. Taking time to cultivate a practice of quiet breathing and sitting still for long enough to feel a sense of sacred space within can offer significant benefit in times of turmoil and stress. Our subtle energies are just as essential to our wellbeing as activities such as eating, sleeping, and exercising. Find ways to have pleasant patterns through your day, something that makes you feel grounded and calm. It might be meditation, a cup of your favorite tea, cooking for your family, or a bedtime story with your children. Repetition is a powerful tool to create a sense of calm and inner peace as it helps us to feel grounded and in the moment. Moving with your breath through an asana practice is powerful too, as it takes you out of your head, anchoring you in the here and now.

“Love and peace of mind do protect us. They allow us to overcome the problems that life hands us. They teach us to survive… to live now… to have the courage to confront each day.” — Bernie Siegel

Sometimes, in our world, we tend to be blind to our connection, until times of great disaster. We find we start caring about people whom we have never met and will probably never meet. We give resources to help others because we realize that we are bound together and can be human only together. Living here in New Orleans, we know this well.

“The darkness will try to overtake you, but just turn on the light. Focus on the light. Hold onto the light.” – Jon Batiste

What does our happiness have to do with addressing the suffering of the world? The more we heal our own pain, the more we can turn to the pain of others. The more we turn towards others, the more joy we experience. The more joy we experience, the more we can bring joy to others. Joy is contagious.

How do we overcome our sadness for those who are hurting? We can learn to sit with pain and uncomfortable feelings. The more you sit, the more will be revealed. Feel what you feel. There are many ways we can connect with others to share our light of love, honor, trust, peace, giving, and commitment. Many times, in asana practice, the teacher invites you to set an intention or a prayer. This is a beautiful time to share an intention for those who are in need.

“Live in joy, in love, even among those who hate. Live in joy, in health, even among the afflicted. Live in joy, in peace, even among the troubled. Look within, be still. Free from fear and attachment, know the sweet joy of the way.” —Buddha

Everything comes from the mind.

If one of the fundamental secrets of joy is going beyond our own self-centeredness, then is it foolish selfishness – as the Dalai Lama would say – and self-defeating to focus on our own joy and happiness? Researchers suggest that cultivating your own joy and happiness has benefits not just for you, but also for others in your life. When we are able to move beyond our own pain and suffering, we are more available to others. Pain causes us to be extremely self-focused. It seems to consume all of our focus and leave very little attention for others. So, can you move through your own pain?

Find joy even among hatred, illness, trouble or conflict.

Mudita, “sympathetic joy” or “appreciative joy”, invites us to open a channel to joy, light and creativity. It arises from following the heart’s silent source. There is a beauty that grows in each of us when we find joy. Mudita is one of the brahma-viharas or divine abodes, along with loving kindness, compassion, and equanimity. These are practices that soften the heart. Mudita is “taking joy in the joy of others.”

The possibility of having a joyful heart is there in every moment and is possible to see joy everywhere.

“The darks and lights of life, man – strap in.” – Jon Batiste

When Jon Batiste’s wife was battling cancer for the second time, she was in utter isolation going through chemotherapy where he could not be there for her. Can you imagine not being able to care for and hold your loved one’s hand while they are suffering and going through so much pain? Many of us went through something similar during the pandemic. As Jon Batiste, knows, music is healing. Although gut wrenching not to be by Suleika Jaouad’s side, he “filled the room with healing properties”. He wrote and played her a new lullaby daily. She was able to listen to these healing notes of music; she shares that “It felt like he was right there, you know, sleeping by my bedside.”

Music can shape the world, music can heal with world, it can change the world.

Music heals. It can change the world. Whether or not you have a musical ear or not, the beats, the rhythms, the words, stories, feelings, even the rustling of the leaves in nature, the ocean waves, the softness of a stream or a brook, that is music. Leonard Cohen, one of my favorite poets and musicians was a guide to learning how to express your joy in music or words. In dark times, poetry and music often become more important to us, providing the kind of transcendence we need to interpret painful events in a wider context. Cohen wrote “Anthem,” one of his most beautiful and hopeful songs, in a tumultuous global period. Cohen was known for a habit of seeing things in a “darker” way than others. Even the fall of the wall wasn’t exactly a sign of hope for him. He said later.

“Ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering, there is a crack, a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in” – The Anthem, Leonard Cohen

Everything is not perfect, we have many cracks in us, our perfect imperfections. When the light get in the cracks, that is where the resurrection is. The light.

“Once in a while, you get shone the light, in the strangest places if you look at it right.” – Robert Hunter/Jerry Garcia

So, how are we able to change these feelings of sadness into calmness and tranquility? First, accepting that we are all living in this situation, we have to come together and be there for each other, to help each other. Second, take a step back and ask yourself what can I do differently, how can I change my energy to radiate positivity?

At Kripalu, I took a meditation and mindfulness class with the most loving, Bhavani Lorraine Nelson, working on the power of loving-kindness and the power of the voice. She teaches the Loving Kindness Blessing that can be spoken for oneself and for others. This blessing creates a sense of tranquility, acceptance and peace and speeds healing and love to the world. This blessing generates compassion and understanding.

I invite you to take a moment each day to create space within your Self, to be able to give to those around you to bring peace within all.

Find a moment of stillness, close the eyes, take a few breaths in and out calming the mind.

Breathing in and out of your heart, repeat:

May I be at peace.
May my heart remain open.
May I realize the beauty of my own true nature.
May I be healed.
May I be a source of healing for this world.
May you be at peace.
May your heart remain open.
May you realize the beauty of your own true nature.
May you be healed.
May you be a source of healing for this world.
Find the light. Hold on to the light. Share the light.
Come together and heal the world.

A beautiful perspective:
A study once had children in a classroom observe an orange. Each child held their own orange, they observed and studied it, all the dimples, the bruises, the softness, the smell, they saw what they really saw in that orange. The oranges were then collected in a big bowl and each child had to go find their orange. When the child found their orange, they were so happy, like they found their friend in a group of people. They knew that small orange, that they had grown to know so well was theirs. Something joyful about being present about everything small in life.

Another perspective on happiness. What makes a child happy? Balloons make a child happy, right? Every single time, no matter what age. It because of the color and how it blows up with air and their little eyes get so big as if they have never seen this before. Then once the balloon is let go and it blows away… It’s the most exciting thing to see, their eyes follow the balloon all the way to the heavens until they can’t see it anymore. It’s the simpleness of observations of a child, the happiness, the pureness. We all have this spirit of joy and happiness within us. It is born within each of us.


Teacher Tools

“It’s precisely because there’s so much suffering in the world that I’ve needed to make the effort to turn toward non-suffering, toward gladness or joy, in order to restore myself so that I can face life’s challenges.” – Jill Shepherd

“Do not sit long with sadness, my friends, when you go to a garden do you see thorns or flowers? Spend more time with roses and jasmine. Yes, there are thorns in this world, yet the garden needs to be tended.” – Rumi

“The wound is the place where the light enters you.” – Rumi

“Music changes the world..” – Jon Batiste

Life comes in duality
Where you find joy, there is sorrow
Where you find triumph, there is defeat
Where you find order, there is chaos
Where you find love, there is hate

Life comes in two
Positive and negative
Good and bad
Light and dark
Yin and yang

Life comes with happiness
As much as it comes with pain
No one is greater than the other
So smile when you have a reason to
And cry when grief visits you

But whatever you do
Do it with all your heart
Do it with all your soul
That one day you could say
“Give my all”…

“Create one tiny beautiful thing each day.” – Suleika Jaouad

A Story That Could Be True
by William Stafford
If you were exchanged in the cradle and
your real mother died
without ever telling the story
then no one knows your name,
and somewhere in the world
your father is lost and needs you
but you are far away.
He can never find
how true you are, how ready.
When the great wind comes
and the robberies of the rain
you stand on the corner shivering.
The people who go by—
you wonder at their calm.
They miss the whisper that runs
any day in your mind,
“Who are you really, wanderer?”—
and the answer you have to give
no matter how dark and cold
the world around you is:
“Maybe I’m a king.”

Asana poses to practice getting out of the head, focusing on breath and grounding

Try balancing poses like Tree Pose – it’s very hard to think about anything else when you’re standing on one leg.

It is so easy to feel disempowered by everything that is going on – any of the Warrior Poses will help you cultivate a sense of strength.

Chest Openers will also open your lungs and side ribs and help keep things moving.

Heart Openers to grow your love, to open up for others.
Different perspectives

Music Heals

Play with your setlists for class, feel the rhythm of the music as you move through your practice, create a meditation of movement through the music and the breath.

I invite you to Spotify Florence Price, play her music throughout the day. Feel what she may have been feeling to create such beautiful music at such an early age. Feel what she may have been feeling through the ups and downs of life, the anxiousness, the pain, the joy. Additional suggested playlists can be found by looking me up on Spotify.

Familiarize yourself with the MS Delta Blues (where I am from). Listen to and feel the joy, the happiness, loneliness and of course the sadness. Think and feel all the emotions expressed in the music.

Tie this into you class, learning to listen and feel.

May 2022