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Step Back and Reconnect

By Sacinandana Swami

Our lives are like canvases that we are meant to paint on. And just as with painting, from time to time, it helps to step back and return with a fresh perspective.

The great painter, thinker, and scientist Leonardo da Vinci expressed this in Renaissance Italy:

“Every now and then go away, have a little relaxation, for when you come back to your work, your judgement will be surer; since, to remain constantly at work will cause you to lose power of judgement.”

Answers to questions I personally struggle with, frequently appear when I take my mind away from them. When I am least concerned with the issue, solutions seem to come from somewhere else, like long awaited guests. I’ve often asked myself why this is so.
My experience is that when I come back to my life with a new outlook, I see things I was missing. Especially when I visit the “sacred dimension” and connect with Krishna, I “return” with a deep sense of inner security and relationship with the Lord – so much so that I lose all my fears of failure and I begin to look at life with new-found joy and confidence.

When I act and speak from that place, things which appeared to be discouragingly difficult seem to work out almost effortlessly. Then it feels like I’m stepping into a higher order in which Krishna guides my thoughts, my words, and my pen.

Yesterday, in a moment of great stress, I had an inspiring realization of this! I was stuck between deadlines – a new book project, preparation for two seminars, and a few public lectures. I felt constrained and overwhelmed.

In such situations, I sometimes open the Bhagavatam to get new perspective. What I read this time spoke to me with clarity:
"One should become like the ocean. The ocean is filled by many thousands of rivers, and millions of tons of its water evaporates into clouds, yet the ocean is the same unagitated ocean. The laws of nature may work, but if one is fixed in devotional service at the lotus feet of the Lord, he is not agitated, for he is introspective. He does not look outside to material nature, but he looks in to the spiritual nature of his existence; with a sober mind he simply engages in the service of the Lord. Thus, he realizes his own self without false identification with matter and without affection for material possessions." (Srimad Bhagavatam 3.24.44)

Wow, I thought, that´s really what I needed to hear. I decided to take further distance from the situation of my pressing deadlines accordingly. I did not allow the stress to get under my skin and disturb me. Instead, I took a long walk and read for an hour more from the Bhagavatam. Finally, after taking a well-deserved nap, I returned to my writing table - however not alone, but with reinforcements! Freshness and inner strength were my new, welcomed company. With them, and the new perspective, everything changed.

In a lecture on the Nectar of Devotion, Srila Prabhupada gives the same advice:

“If you are lacking enthusiasm then you should rest instead of making too much agitation within the mind. You cannot see things that were dropped in the water by agitating the water. Just stand still for some time. As soon as the water is settled you’ll see things as they are. Similarly, as long as our enthusiasm is agitated, it is better to sit down…and chant Hare Krishna.” (Calcutta, 27th January, 1973)

So, at the right time, step back from the painting. Leave it as it is and look again from the distance. Take an unbiased view, regain perspective, lightness, and joy. Then return afresh to correct the details with bold strokes, and remove unnecessary parts or whole sections as needed. After all, the painting should be only inspiring. When we step back and reconnect, we might discover all the pieces we have overlooked by being too steeped in the work itself.

Stuck in the mud

A while ago, I gave a retreat in England to about eighty school teachers. Learning from nature was one of our themes, so, as part of the retreat, we organized a walk around a beautiful lake.

Unfortunately, it rained without stop during the days leading up to the retreat, and our trail guide had no chance to check the path beforehand. The result was that we all had to wade at times through areas that were over-flooded and jump to find dryer parts. One teacher’s shoes got stuck in the mud. It was quite a challenge for some of us.

When we finally reached our destination of a lovely garden area, our guide excused himself for the rough path he led us on. Then he asked, “How did you like the lake? Did you notice the swan couple?”

The teachers looked at him quizzically as if to say, “How can you ask us such a question now?” One finally spoke up to express what they likely were feeling: “I only had eyes for the path ahead, and my concern was ‘will I make it?’“

“Exactly,” said our guide. And then he added, “This is how most of us walk through life. Our attention is rooted in where we are at present. We are so involved in the ‘here and now’ of daily life, that we lose the bigger picture and don’t notice the world of possibilities around us.”

Everyone laughed and agreed.

In closing, I want to offer some suggestions to help you step back and see new opportunities in life you might have missed:

1) Change your environment – you don’t need to take an airplane and visit a holy place. Sometimes a long walk in nature with inspiring thoughts is enough. Or simply change your perspective by creating mental distance. See things new!

2) This is a big one: Have an honest conversation with a deep spiritual friend who does not have the same problem you have. Good association always offers the right impulses to pave new and needed paths.

3) Leave the mental “noise” behind by chanting with deep absorption, and be together with Krishna.

4) Read every day from the holy scriptures and share what inspired you. Then apply your new insights.

5) Be creative in finding new ways to approach a challenging situation

Don’t forget - by resetting your life so much can be gained. Just by stepping away and then stepping in again more intentionally, our enthusiasm and creativity can return with double the force.

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