Last summer I was very fortunate to join my friend in his two-seater plane on a flight over the many lakes surrounding our cottages including our own Pine Lake. From this unique aerial perspective, we had a very different vantage point to view the land that my parents had purchased and built a cottage on almost sixty years ago. The light was beautiful and the colours of the sky, trees and water were magnificent and calming. With a combination of awe and excitement, my eyes took in everything and I captured many beautiful images with my camera. Like in sirsasana or headstand, my perspective was changed and the view was quite spectacular.
When Mark dropped me off, I gave him a quick kiss and hurried down to my kayak. Drawn to be out on the water against the backdrop of the setting sun, I wanted to encounter my lake again in the intimate manner that I was familiar with. I reflected on the fact I had actually been in the water enjoying my early morning swim almost twelve hours earlier. I was excited to once more appreciate the lake by riding in my kayak, and thought it especially interesting to do so immediately after having just seen it from such a different perspective. The strong images from the flight endured and I carried these and my camera with me. As I kayaked around the bay suffused in the translucent early evening light, I was fully connected to the moment. I enjoyed the landscape and continued to photograph the stunning scenery. Eventually, when darkness came I returned to the cottage.
The next day I created a slideshow from the photos I had taken from the plane and from the kayak – two very different viewpoints. With a quick glance, I randomly selected a song from a playlist that my friend Annette had just given me. Interestingly, the song was absolutely perfect for the imagery even though I wasn’t familiar with it and had spontaneously chosen it. It was as if an inner sense functioned as a guide, like the needle of a compass. Deciding to present the slideshow as a gift to my parents, I invited them to watch it on our TV later that evening. Our cottage is situated at the entrance to a bay and there is a protruding rock on the shoreline that we call The Point. I called the slideshow “A natural point of view.” My parents watched it a few times and appeared to be intrigued and very happy from such a different perspective. I believe that there isn’t any object that I could have possibly purchased that would have provided them with as much pleasure as this presentation of imagery, music and meaning.
When my friend flies his plane or I ride in my kayak, we travel in a forward direction. Mark uses his simple and not so simple instruments, including a compass with its northward facing needle a true indicator of physical direction while I simply kayak towards whatever captures my interest. But in life, we are often challenged with many unexpected detours from the path we think we are safely traveling on. Very recently, I needed to ascertain and trust where my moral compass was guiding me. I also had to draw upon the strength of my convictions to remain connected to my compass and follow this particular course despite facing strong resistance from two others. At the same time, one of our daughters had been struggling with a decision about choosing between two top-ranked international graduate schools. Although I supported the process of gathering the facts to help make an informed decision, I strongly advocated for her to also access her inner compass so that she could ultimately be guided towards her intuition, feelings, and the right path. She wanted to know my husband’s and my opinion but we wouldn’t share these with her until she successfully navigated with her own compass towards the destination that is right for her.
One year ago, I was a chaperone on a two-week teen Holocaust education experience that took place in Poland and Israel. This experience was truly life transforming. Standing at the horrifying sites of mass graves in forests and at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Treblinka and several other death camps, I could not help but reflect upon the spiritual and moral questions raised by the events of the Holocaust and question how humanity had gone to such depths? Never has there been a rational answer to how this could have happened because there are no answers. Regarding the failure of institutions and nations and the consequences of personal choice and of indifference, Elie Weisel says that the Holocaust is a lesson about responsibility.
At the center of the unprecedented tragedy of the Holocaust is the murder of European Jews. In Lithuania, Latvia and Poland, nine out of ten Jews perished but in Denmark, nine out of ten Jews survived. What enabled the Danish government and its people to express public outcry and uphold human values? What allowed other non-Jews elsewhere to risk their lives during to Holocaust to save Jews from extermination by the Nazis? These individuals followed their moral compass at immense personal risk and have been awarded the honor of the Righteous Among the Nations. They teach us that every person can make a difference. As I ponder how I would have acted in those times, I also dedicate myself to take responsibility today to never remain indifferent to injustice and to always try to be guided by my moral compass.
Where does mindfulness and yoga fit in with all of this? First of all, we can’t always be in perfect alignment in our asanas or postures, nor with our compass points. But we can check our selves, our course, and change direction when we know which way is the best to go. As we age, we physically move away from our center; however, in our practice, we can lie down over blocks or bolsters on the mat or sit on them in a meditation, encouraging the heart to naturally open thus enabling us to access our epicenter. We breathe in quietly and breathe out softly, and learn to listen. With closed eyes, we move inward and try to lessen the internal noise, distractions, defenses or external influences. Then the inner compass may be illuminated and clarity arises; at other times we can just simply enjoy the practice. Ultimately, yoga practice is an adventure that we go on bringing with us our courage but not any expectations. Then gems and pearls will come for something will surface from the depths like a scuba diver who slowly breathes her way back to the surface bringing with her the treasures and insights she has experienced.
My August day in flight and on the water provided me with incredible new perspectives on the land that has great meaning and history for my parents and family. Wherever we are we can always try to access our moral compass to guide us towards our true north and to enlighten us with new perspectives. Land the plane, disembark from the boat, lie, sit or stand steady on or off the yoga mat and explore your internal landscape to access and navigate life from your own inner guide. When you live in satya or truthfulness, you will live the life that you are meant to and live a life of love.