In this modern world where pressure to be perfect is high and new heights of sadness are displayed through our media on a daily basis, we need to share our experiences of suffering and the tools that help us to manage and even move through suffering.

 A friend of mine recently lost a dear friend to suicide and while I didn’t know the person, I feel deep sadness for the people affected and the person. To have taken such a final step suggests deep suffering, and a feeling of utter hopelessness and isolation; a desolate emptiness that seems to be reaching epidemic proportions in our society and leaves behind it the same devastation.

I have intimately experienced mental illness in my life, both in my family and in myself, and there have been many times in my life when I have wanted to walk out of my life and emerge into a new life somewhere else – my favourite image as a teenager was walking into the ocean and emerging in the dessert, walking into my new life where no one knew me and I could start again. This image continued into my adult life, sometimes replaced with the image of being in a fatal car accident or having a terminal disease.

I didn’t want to hurt anyone else I just wanted the suffering to stop. The thing is that suicide always hurts the people left behind, it always leaves a deep sadness that settles over a community like  dark, silent smog that takes years to lift, if ever. There is no way of checking out of life without hurting the people around you and this knowledge has always protected me.

In the worst moments of my depression I felt completely powerless and lost, the depths of my self-loathing seemed infinite and I felt completely disconnected with my life; no future, no joy, not even anger…no thing. I saw no light, anywhere. It was a big, black hole.

I have been in this hole several times in my life and each time my path out has started with a sincerely felt random act of kindness, often from a complete stranger. When I reflect on these moments it was like a hand was reaching down into my hole and offering to help me out; some reassurance from life that love does exist in the world. Sometimes these ‘hands’ were art, natural beauty, a child’s love, a teacher’s encouragement, an electric wheelchair, free underwear – small glimmers of light and love in the darkness.

I have regularly experienced lesser moments of anxiety and existential tiredness, seemingly overcome with the relentlessness of life and the depth of sadness in the world, and my own limited capacity to act. I say lesser because I am lucky, I have learnt tools to connect me with life when disconnection is begging, and most importantly I have learnt love, something I had long felt alluded me. Now when I start to feel the pull of the descending spiral I reach out to love.

What does this look like?

Sometimes it’s asana (physical yoga postures), sometimes a yoga Nidra or a relaxation, sometimes deep stillness of meditation, sometimes I sit in a café amidst the hustle and bustle of life, sometimes I walk or think of one or all of my children, sometimes I remember the sensation of love (that warmth and radiance), sometimes it happens spontaneously while I teach a class (I look out into the class and see the highest in my students and the light comes back into my eyes or let light flow through into the person in front of me), sometimes doing a random act of kindness for someone else and sometimes it’s as simple as looking up and out. Whatever it looks like on the outside, it’s all about connecting with life on the inside.

Here is one of the tools I use for connecting with life.

The practice

Here is a practice to lift your spirits in difficult moments. You can do it or visualise it anywhere and it can be particularly potent outside, where you can look into the sky or trees.

If you have shoulder issues you can raise your arms just above the level of your eyes and look up or simply raise your eyes.

Looking up and out

  • Stand or sit in a relaxed and upright position
  • Feel your arms resting beside your legs with your fingers relaxed
  • Allow your gaze to soften and look down toward your finger tips.
  • As you breathe in raise your arms above your head, keeping your elbows, shoulders and fingers soft and following your fingertips with your eyes
  • Hold your hands above your head, palms facing each other and fingers pointing upward, still keeping your eyes gently on your fingertips
  • Maintain this posture for a few breaths and then gently allow your arms to return to your sides
  • Take a few moments to be still before returning to your life
  • Quick options –      go outside or go to a window and look out as far as you can, then raise your gaze for a few moments
  • Or simply raise your gaze and breathe softly