disheartenment and maintaining our vision



It has been some weeks since I wrote. There is the constant sweet tether of time and heart-space held by my 9 month old daughter that is unlike any other commitment I've ever met. It is an incredible and revelatory thing to be a mother, but boy does it leave me feeling like a balloon that just farted its way to the floor from a slow but audible leak.

I hope to reestablish some rhythm to my words here. Last I shared consistently, we were heading down the Buddhist Noble Eightfold Path. And then I had an immersion. And then another. And then a trip to the states. And now... here I am in the aftermath of two days of travel and intense baby jet lag. It's day four and we still haven't found a way to fall asleep before midnight. 

I was just in Brooklyn for two weeks, showing my girl the grittier and more artisanal hipster-ish side of the world (although don't get me wrong we have that in microscopic amounts in Zürich). We made very few forays into Manhattan, but on one occasion I was able to wander into the city with Miya, meet my old teacher and friend Ethan Nichtern, have Papi meet us to take Miya home to bed, and I got to stay and take class at Shambhala with Ethan! How lucky am I?  

It was a mini course and discussion on working with difficult people, particularly during the holidays (but hey, when do we not have difficult people to work with?) Many topics were addressed but one thing stood out for me particularly, the way fleur de sel stands out on really good dark chocolate. But I digress. 

Ethan mentioned disheartenment as a thing that happens when we lose long-term vision and forget our aspirations. We get disheartened when we feel we are missing out in the short term or not getting what we want NOW. It's easy to do. It is something I have struggled with a lot in my life and still work with heavily as I will discuss later on. 

What is poignant also about disheartenment is that from a Buddhist standpoint it is seen as a form of laziness. Laziness has such a negative connotation for me that this was initially hard to swallow but it rings quite true. We give up on what we believe in when we get disheartened. We let short term feelings and outcomes affect our long-term vision. We allow ourselves to be lulled to sleep by whatever discourages us in the present. 

The antidote to disheartenment is maintaining aspiration and reminding ourselves of this aspiration. It is not the same as affirmations which often feel hollow and too goal oriented to me. Aspiration is our deepest conviction about relieving suffering for ourselves and others. When we get off track with our direction, our aspirations can serve as inspirations to remain steadfast. 

Since I have moved to Zürich, I have had a lot of disheartenment in many areas. This culture often feels foreign and unfriendly to me, and it jabs especially painfully when I return from the states (particularly NYC) where familiarity and friendship is seemingly in endless supply. After spending ten years successfully building my teaching career in New York, I have had to start from scratch in a place where I do not yet speak the native language. I have been fortunate to land in a respected and well-known studio and yet I feel at times that the things I wish most to convey in my work are often misunderstood or not wanted. Even when I try to use German words to share what is in my heart, it can feel like I am speaking in a tongue that is simply not heard. 

On top of that all of the communities and teachers I once depended on for inspiration are no longer here. I am not able to go take a class at Shambhala or The Interdependence Project or the Iyengar Institute or any hundred other options from which to choose in NYC. I am unable to keep feeding myself from the same wells that nourished me for so long. The main source of my inspiration has had to come almost solely from personal practice, inquiry and study I direct from myself for myself. It is a whole new level of discipline and it is not at all what I am used to.

There have been moments I have wanted to quit. There have been many of them. I tell my husband that perhaps I should try a different line of work. Perhaps what I offer is not what is needed or wanted here. Perhaps my American ways and outspoken tendencies are not compatible with the way things are done here, and maybe I need to direct my energy elsewhere. 

I don't really believe in my heart of hearts that this is at all true, but what is really happening is that I am looking for a way out of the feeling that I am somehow not enough or that my aspirations are lacking in some way. There is the laziness that arises when I am despondent and it tells me to give up. When this happens, when disheartenment is strong, I have lost sight of my vision, of what matters to me most in this world, which is to help people feel clear and connected and safe and strong in their bodies and minds. When I remind myself that even if only one person is affected or inspired or encouraged or helped by this aspiration along the way, that can be enough. 

All any of us can do is stay true to our convictions and pair those convictions with a willingness to stay curious and open hearted. Certainly there are times when we need to shift directions or accept defeat or decide that another way is a better way, but there are many other times when we must continue to face our fears and challenges and disappointments head-on. In those moments we must remind ourselves of our highest aspirations, lest disheartenment get the best of us and the world sadly miss out on our greatest gifts. 

See you soon on the mat, around the way, or in the surreal world of the internets.

Much love,