A lesson from the Ganges River about Stress

In pursuit of deepening my spiritual life and practice, I headed to Rishikesh, India, one of the most spiritual places in the world. I stayed at an ashram I heard much about from others, yet did little of my own research about the place. I stay at ashrams to reconnect before the new year, to make room for my creative flow, and to write and read to soothe my soul.

On my second day at this particular ashram,  I sat by the bank of the Ganges River. Suddenly, I had an epiphany about something I had been struggling with. Since I came to the ashram, I struggled with the lack of guidance, structure and connection I previously experienced at other ashrams. At this ashram, there was construction, arguing and loud conversations. There was not the peaceful quiet and contemplative air I experienced before.

As I sat at the bank during the morning, listening to the soothing sounds of water moving, watching how water actually moved and shifted to adjust to obstacles in its way, it sudden struck me.

This dissatisfaction I struggled with was based on a mind activity of comparing my present to the past. This is the mind's way of seducing me out of the present moment (with no suffering), and into the past or future (which induces suffering). Being in that moment of "aha", that moment of the present, I realized I was not being present. Rather, I was allowing my mind to condition my experience and shift my focus elsewhere. At the moment of this epiphany (and it was more like a split moment), I noticed I was tearing and wanted to cry.

And then, everything transformed. I explored the ashram with more of an open mind, a welcoming embrace to what was present. And because of this, I realized the ashram offered things I was interested in, which I had not seen before. The opportunity was there, my eyes and mind were just not able to see it, as I was focused on past experiences rather than what was in front of me.

That moment by the Ganges River allowed my soul to reclaim a little more space in the present and let go of the conditions of the past. I was able to gently "nudge" myself mind to the edge and go into a different space. And this allowed me to see more options. I explored volunteer work, visiting a spa, leaving the ashram earlier to stay at another place, and other things. And since my mind was no longer trapped, neither was I.

Mind traps and the stress it produced kept me closed off to the possibilities. It created a tunnel vision, limiting my view and experience. Sitting by the bank of the Ganges River, I realized staying present focused opened my mind, heart, and soul.

And with 2017 just a few hours away, I realized being present, not comparing or expecting things to be as I had previously experienced something,  will allow me to see many more possibilities, solutions and joy.

Here's to staying open and present in the New Year. No matter where you are.

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