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"I'll be happy when ________ . . ."

new snow, 2019

How many times have you found yourself announcing internally, “I’ll be happy when __________ . . .”? We are all experiencing the fresh feelings brought to us by spring. The sense of renewal and beginnings—a clean slate. I made this image a few months back of my oldest. The image transports me to a moment in time when I made the photograph, my family lighthearted in our front yard, and subsequently to the time, weeks following that day but still deep in winter, when I revisited the image to edit it.

Does this image spark any emotions for you? Do you notice anything in your life that relates? Can you distill that reaction down to either a positive or negative sensation?

Perhaps you feel nostalgia for your childhood or a sense of joy in the simple pleasure of snow. Others may find themselves in a place of dread, remembering how cold makes them feel in their bodies or what that time of year may signify personally. Perhaps your reaction has little to do with the content and more to do with the forms you see in the composition, conjuring references to other works of art, visual or otherwise (like a song or a poem). Whatever you feel, that is right for you.

Now, sit with your feelings and, without judgment, see if you can allow them to be what they are without attempting to alter, improve, bury, or eradicate them. Be aware of your feelings or reactions and don’t do anything more. You are implementing a yogic practice.

The overriding sense that I get from this photo is guilt that I don’t like snow as much as I think I should or need to for my kids. See those troublesome words I used—should and need? Words of comparison or striving have the potential to arouse us unnecessarily or exacerbate a state of emotional turbulence. When it snows where I live, I enjoy the quietness it offers as it slows and dampens my surroundings. But I also go further inward, struggling with how the cold makes me feel in my body and how the climate and decreased sunshine pose intense challenges to my mental well being. I know that this emotional state is apparent to my children as I struggle to suit up and enter into the snow with them. Recognizing this emotional state in myself, without judgment, is a part of my yoga practice.

In yoga we are instructed to become aware of our attachments and aversions, to observe them as they act in our lives, and to simply be present with them in space. Patanjali, the ancient sage who wrote The Yoga Sutras (a collection of aphorisms outlining the path of raja yoga) wrote that “attachment is that which follows identification with pleasurable experiences” and “aversion is that which follows identification with painful experiences” (Book II: 7-8). Attachments and aversions can range from experiences, physical objects, money, food, possessions, relationships, positions of power, roles, future plans, ideas, identity, social media likes, our looks or our body, etc. This isn’t to say that any of those things I list are bad in and of themselves. It is when we allow our minds to constantly fluctuate between attachments and aversions that we experience the disquiet of emotional turbulence.

If we grasp at our attachments as the only means to happiness and if we reject our aversions as the only way to prevent unhappiness, we allow our happiness to depend upon whether our attachments and aversions are playing out in the present moment. Happiness through the model of attachment and aversion is a fleeting entity, marked by an unsteadiness of highs and lows. However, if we can begin to recognize that our happiness is truly always present inside us and not dependent on the time of year, your geographic location, the day of the week, our job, car, bank account or relationships, we can gradually begin the practice of acknowledging and observing our attachments and aversions without allowing them to dictate our emotional state.

The next time you find yourself thinking, “I’ll be happy when _________ . . .”, perhaps you will observe yourself in that moment and, without judgment, try to identify the attachment or aversion causing this thought. Perhaps, you will be able to pause and close your eyes, deepen your breath, and locate the light inside you—your true source of happiness—before coming back to the world with a steadier idea of where contentment resides.

Namaste and love to all. ~ginger

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