My mother tells me that from the time I could walk and talk, I always wanted to do things myself. As I grew up, I was stubbornly independent; I never asked for help and rarely did I accept it willingly if offered. I see these traits starting in my young children as they grow in body and mind. I see them as they progress through this stage and know that it is a natural part of learning how to do things themselves, and about the boundaries of their independence.
Being independent can be a strong trait and is one that I have been proud of for all of my life; and part of that I will happily pass down to my children. However, somewhere along the line, I missed the part about balancing it out with asking for help, leaning on others, sharing your burdens – and understanding that those things are okay too. That it was okay to trust that someone else will be there for you, and that this is not a burden for them but an act of kindness, and love, and support. And so, many years later, I am toeing the edge of discovering a world where I don’t have to do it alone. A life where I don’t have to carry all of the weight of the world (or even just my world) on my shoulders.
This message about allowing yourself to stop struggling, and to just be, and to be able to take refuge in the Sangha (which in the generalist of terms is a sanskrit word for community of like practice) is weaved throughout the text of The Path of Emancipation, a record of Thich Nhat Hanh’s first North American mindfulness retreat, held in 1998. In the opening remarks, he says, “It is so common to struggle in daily life. We are rarely at ease in the here and now, always struggling, always trying to attain something.”
“The Sangha is like a flowing river. Allow yourself to be a drop of water in the river, and just flow together with that river. If you can’t let go of your anxieties, you won’t be able to do that. Taking refuge in the Sangha is not a declaration of faith. It is a practice. It means you allow yourself to be held by the Sangha. You have confidence in the Sangha. When you allow yourself to be in a Sangha the way a drop of water allows itself to be in a river, the energy of the Sangha can penetrate you, and transformation and healing become possible.”
If only I would stop struggling so much, and just allow myself to find a Sangha, to find my tribe, to build one around me. The way is clear. It is only me and my stubborn independence that stand in my way. The study and practice of yoga has opened the door to this possibility, if only I am brave enough to step through it. I see you, my tribe, offering your smile and your love. I ache to receive it. Perhaps you do too. Shall we step through that door together?