Isvara-Pranidhana

“Our faith conforms to our nature,
Arjuna. The living personality is the embodiment of faith.
One is identified by whatever faith one has.”
Bhagavad Gita 17:3

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There is something so beautiful about watching snow tiptoe its way to the earth from the comfort of a yoga mat. This weekend I was scheduled to work overnight shifts at the hospital both on Friday and Saturday, and I’d left my car outside during the snowstorm the previous day. I allotted half an hour to clean off my car but had only an ice scraper to clean it with and hadn’t realized how much snow had actually accumulated on the windshield and at the back. By the time I’d swept the snow off the back of the car, my body was covered with a dusting of snow. I was finding that cleaning all the snow wasn’t so bad after all. I then moved around to the front of the car and discovered that the ice had frozen solid in a thick layer to the windshield. Hacking or scraping at the ice didn’t work. I started to become really frustrated and took a deep breath, then turned the ice scraper over and started to use it like a shovel. A huge piece of ice immediately broke off and slid off the car. This way, I was done in no time.

I got into my car and expected smooth sailing — or driving — from there. There was a significant pile of snow in front of my car that hadn’t been cleared away, but I thought my car would be able to drive over it. Turns out I couldn’t. My wheels made endless stationary circles in the snow, churning furiously. I began to panic and my mind started presenting a million possibilities to me at once: Should I call my friend and ask for a ride? Should I call my supervisor and tell her I was having car trouble (though this was hardly really car trouble)? Should I just sit in my car and cry? I let those superficial thoughts come and ebb.

And finally, I relinquished all sense of personal control I had over the situation, and I felt serenity wash over me. 

At that very moment, two young men walked up to me. “Do you need help? Is your car stuck?” one of them asked. He immediately began giving me tips on how to get the car out. I reversed and used the space to try to get over the snow bump, but it wasn’t enough speed for the car. So finally they got behind my car and helped push it over the heap of snow. They must have spent at least 10-15 minutes of their time helping a total stranger out of the goodness of their hearts. Many would call this a coincidence but I like to think of it as an event of  “synchronicity” – one brought about by awareness of thought.

I learned this weekend:

From cleaning off my car – Wherever you go there you are. The same patterns of thinking will not fix every problem that appears, since every problem is different. I think it was Einstein who said, “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity” 

From being helped – Don’t underestimate the prevalence or extent of human kindness. We often make our own “problems.” Agitation and sorrow arise when we relent to the vicissitudes of the ever-clamoring mind. 

These experiences showed me why isvara-pranidhana is essential to maintaining a sattvic mindset throughout “tough times,” of whatever magnitude. It’s all too easy, when we’ve accomplished something, to take full acknowledgement for the success and become complacent. When I finished cleaning off my car, for example, I was expecting not to have any more problems. That’s a recipe for disaster! And so is thinking that I am somehow completely responsible for the success of getting my car over that snow bump. We often use the phrase “things that are beyond our control,” because we like to think that we can control most events in our lives, but realistically the situation is the opposite.

Offering up our successes and failures to an awareness that is larger than ourselves (not necessarily an entity, a deity, or a being, but more of a collective consciousness), we can come to understand how, as we move through this life, our impermanent thoughts and actions make impressions on the shifting sands of the vast universe.

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