For some of us, there is a desire to do something when things get tough – the need to Act! Taking action gives us purpose, a sense of control, and agency. Instead of feeling like divorce is ‘happening to you’, you can feel a sense of empowerment in making your own choices/actions. Now of course, this can spin one into a frenzy of trying to figure out ALL the things that you can or should be doing. (Caution: be careful of asking too many friends what their experiences are with divorce, because you may find yourself with an even longer task list of things you think you need to accomplish.) The cautionary tale in taking an Action path is doing too much. Take the time to sit down, and know when you have done enough, at least for the time being. Case in point: By the time I had – talked with several close friends and family about the separation, reached out to those that have been divorced, looked into my small retirement plan, figured out which attorneys to call, decided my next longer term career ideas, and applied for a new job – my soon to be ex spouse had not even told his family about the pending divorce!
In Yoga, there are four main branches, or paths of yoga. The Karma Yoga branch of our Yoga ‘tree’ is Action, usually service to others and without attachment to the outcomes. (And note that choosing not to act is still a form of action – the choice is still there to not act.) Typically, Karma Yoga is aligned with serving others, and the essence of it is to act with the best intentions and to the best of one’s ability. Yet, also letting go of the outcome, and remaining open to what fruits come from the process of action itself. (E.g. I volunteer for the food pantry so that I can support others and give service to my community. I am not doing this so that I can write in my college resume or professional resume.)
In the case of divorce, if your plate is not too full, you could continue these forms of service in the Karma path, and it would be important to do so. However, I found my plate was so full of divorce appointments, managing the new household, and trying to show up with the right survival techniques, that my ability to give to anyone outside of my circle of immediate family was really really small. But even in this environment, you can still take Action, even for yourself, without attachment to the outcome. For example, I just kept doing my ‘divorce task list’ without a lot of stake in the outcome or its affects. Taking the actions were helpful in themselves. I applied for jobs while also applying for graduate school, seeing which would pan out. Again, always keeping in mind when to lay down the sword of action to get some good rest and recovery.
During the divorce process, I kept myself focused on the forward motion, on Action, on carving out my path and tapping into the wisdom within. Once the decision was made to divorce, I didn’t really look back. I was never in denial about the need for this divorce. I found the importance of moving forward (not freezing up), empowering. But many of us get frozen, we even get downright stuck in the murky muddiness that can feel like quicksand. We may need some time to accept the circumstances, the lack of control, and what direction to go. We may need to process our pain, move through the pain, and see that there IS light on the other side.
What I found most recently, is the grief crept in just when I thought I had everything handled. I had just completed my graduate class (with flying colors thankfully). Things were calm, we were moving through the divorce process, I was handling doing most of the day to day parenting on my own. Then, things were not calm – one kid broke her foot (no weight bearing and on crutches which meant helping with bathing and everything else for 6 weeks); another kid broke his hand (on Mothers Day) and began dealing with some mental health issues; both kids team activities took a weird turn, where I realized some coaches were not on pedestals and can be real a-holes; and of course my ex was intermittently MIA. Frankly, I just suddenly felt down, depressed, and wanted to curl up and do nothing. I felt frozen.
Normally I could handle this but there was something deep rolling in – like I wanted some gosh darn support – someone to talk with about the kids issues, someone to cry on their shoulder, someone to share in my misery and in my gratitude, all at once. But there really was no one that fit all the check marks. I found solace in some friends and piecemealed my way through feeling more sane. I tried, as one friend said, to find the grace in all I was doing. But I truly felt like I was just surviving. I truly wished I could drink away my worries. But alas I couldn’t. I was stuck knee deep, ok, maybe waist deep in the tamasic (inertia, sticky) muck. But then the idea of Action kicked in. I reached out – to my family, to my friends, to my faith – and just asked for some support. I did this each day for a week. I reached out to one person each day, or prayed, a lot. It made all the difference on those tough weeks. It reminded me to be compassionate with myself, even when taking Action seemed like the very last thing I wanted to do at the moment.
There are four main branches of yoga that are important on your Yoga journey. Karma (Action) Yoga is described above. Note that these branches or paths do not have anything to do with how well you can do your downdog or tree pose or headstand! This is yoga philosophy here, folks, that we are delving into. The other branches (in addition to Karma/Action) on our Yoga Tree are:
Bhakti Yoga is the branch of devotion, and the heart. This is when having a spiritual or religious affiliation can really carry you through the turbulent waters. It gives you faith in times when things look impossible. It can also guide you when you are not sure what your next step should be – Action or Non-action – Rise Up or Rest – Pray or Meditate. When you are feeling low or high, bhakti supports you. This can also be the branch of something you are devoted to – such as climate change, equity for others, etc. This is not to say, it has to be something big or divine. It also doesn’t mean it will always be a happy go lucky path…er, no. It just means when you are really depressed, regretful or resentful, that you don’t let those temporary feelings get the best of you and instead devote yourself back to the task at hand, or the divine spirit that guides you. (This takes tapas/discipline too but that we can explore later.) For me, I would sometimes listen to chants or songs, even songs from other religions, to remind me what faith felt like in others, and to draw out that faith in myself.
Jnana Yoga is the branch of wisdom, knowledge, intellect and self inquiry. This can include books, yogic history and philosophy, scholarly pursuit. This is the path of svadhyaya for me. Svadhyaya is reflection. A reflective nature helps us to be less reactive, and instead more inquisitive and curious. This is a glorious branch to swing on exploring the samskaras too (samskaras are past conditionings, and discussed in another chapter). For me, this is where viveka shows up. Viveka (my 2nd favorite yoga philosophy subject) means discernment, acumen, wisdom. Viveka is such a beautiful place to check out the soil, see what is showing up for feelings, what weeds are there, what flowers to grow, what is calling your attention. Nicolai Bachman says Viveka is ‘choosing wisely to come to truth’. This has seriously been my go to word for the past decade of my life. I consider myself a truth seeker and viveka is my lens.
Raja Yoga is the royal branch, meditation as its ruler. Meditation is where there is space to let go, and go in. There are many tools to gain access to meditation and its benefits physically and mentally. When you envelope yourself in meditation, the world you know has a bit more light shining through it, if only for those moments of space, or gap, in your day through meditation. Raja yoga is also the path where we see the 8 Limbs of Yoga show up. (Yes, the 8 Limbs of Yoga includes asana – which are the physical postures of yoga.) I must remind us all, dig deep into the 8 Limbs of Yoga! The 8 Limbs of Yoga holds the tangible playbook on how to incorporate the physical and energetic aspects, the values and beliefs that can guide us, and the methods for slowing down and really seeing all parts of the world around us and within us. A reminder that meditation does not need to be sitting still – there are tons of ways to bring meditative qualities, and the 8 Limbs of Yoga, into your life. (Take a walk in nature and you will see how the trees breathe with you.)
There is something to be said about Kriya Yoga here. (Not to be confused with kriyas which are cleansing and purifying techniques.) Kriya Yoga (Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 2.1) reminds us to have a plan when it comes to our Actions and to stay anchored in equanimity. The three main parts are: Tapas includes self discipline, perseverance, moving out of inertia, and enduring the initial discomfort so that one can create next steps and supportive habits. Svadhyaya as mentioned before is honest reflection and contemplation which provides a direction alongside discernment for our actions. Ishvara Pranidhana can include a surrendering, maintaining faith, devotion, trusting the now of the present, releasing our need for specific outcomes.
If you get stuck in the worry, resentment, fear, grief, or even the guilt of feeling good to be divorcing, I implore you to take a step back for a moment, and see where Action and the Branches of Yoga might support your trajectory. When you feel stuck in the muck, these Branches of Yoga can help you grow and transform.