"If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, 'thank you', that would suffice."
I remember clearly having a conversation with one of my first yoga teachers about suffering.
I was getting impatient with, what seemed to me at the time, my snail-like progress.
I was frustrated because I could see that all the things that were holding me back from being who I wanted to be were mental constructs. In other words, they did not actually exist. I had my money on the wrong horse. My negative thought patterns had created an external persona that wasn't really who I was on the inside. (I understand the analogy of the word 'hologram' now). I had become a pale reflection of my true self.
As Craig Hamilton said in a recent interview, "The thoughts that we identify with create reality because we act on them."
In addition, I was giving myself the obligatory hard time about all the children in Africa whose basic needs like food, shoes and a roof over their heads, were not even met. How could my suffering even remotely compare to theirs? When was I going to get real?
But, as Laura said to me, you can't compare suffering.
The conflict of restraint that I was experiencing was not less valid than a hard floor to sleep on or only one meal a day. As far as I was concerned, these imaginary negatives were my reality.
One of my early inklings that the contents of my mind were the cause of my pain came one morning. It was early and my then boyfriend got up and threw a little purple book at me. "Read that", he said. "I don't know what you're worried about. Everyone can see that you're gonna be fine except you."
I was at Oxford doing my PGCE and coming up against a fear and a lack of confidence which was to govern the course of my life.
He left me to it...
In under an hour I had read Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, my first spiritual book, from cover to cover.
"So, what do you think?" he said, hopefully, toast and tea in hand.
"I know all of this already" I said rather haughtily. I chucked the book on the floor in frustration.
"I mean I know that the only thing that is holding me back is myself, but there are no tools in here of how to get free. All it does is describe the human dilemma."
He gave me a 'well, aren't you the clever one' glance and moved on.
The desire to find the answer to this question, posed over 20 years ago now, finally led me to yoga. Here I found a very specific instruction booklet on how to break free from the negative mind patterns that haunt us all, whether English or African.
Travelling in Rwanda certainly puts things into perspective.
In Kigali, the capital, life is basic....
Water is available only at a central tap for some..
....but everything is swept clean and organised.
Children have few toys. A rubber tyre and a stick is one of the major forms of entertainment....
It is very easy to get the violins out in our own lives, isn't it, especially when our mental patterns glue us to victim mode.
But aren't we fortunate to even have the head-space to consider the possibility of freedom? And is it not a responsibility to do something useful with the answers that we find?
In the mornings, just as we wake up, we come into contact with some of the thoughts that we have pushed down during our waking hours. Negativity can begin in our consciousness before we even open our eyes.
I feel it is so important to stem this feeling so that it doesn't stunt the creative potential of a new day.
So much so, that I have taken to pausing as my feet hit the floor for the first time, bringing my hands into prayer position, and saying to myself 'thank you'.