I have often experienced periods that feel like an uphill battle while meditating. I may be distracted by an outside life challenge, or just subconscious circuitry, that seems to go round and round, as if on a hamster wheel.  A loving message from an old story I knew as a child called The Little Engine that Could has helped me during these, and other times in my life. It tells of a little train, humble in scale, who was begged by teary-eyed dolls and toys, (including colorful giraffes, rotund teddy bears and a baby elephant) to carry them on a journey up a steep mountain.

All the other trains, whether more shiny, experienced, or ne’er-do-well, refused to help.  Although she had never gone up the mountain before, the Little Engine reluctantly agreed after reflecting on the children waiting in the town on the other side. 

As a tiny tot, I recall being held in suspense by how much exertion it took for the small blue Engine – puffing and chugging – as she slowly edged up the steep mountain. Yet, no matter how difficult the climb was, the good-natured choo-choo train never quit! With a cheerful smile, she faithfully kept repeating, like a mantra, “I think I can- I think I can- I think I can.”  

Willingness

The yoga master Paramhansa Yogananda said: “an easy life is not a victorious one.” The great yogis have given us powerful techniques to ignite, sustain, and reboot an inner blaze of vitality. When we practice them with persistence and faith, they allow us to move ever upwards in higher awareness. In addition, masters teach the essential part that our own willingness plays in oiling mental and emotional gears necessary to keep us moving along. The sustained effort brought to each meditation and prayer, and the positive energy we bring to each little fork in the road of life requires self-honesty and patience. 

The Little Engine that Could has given countless children, and grownups, an example of cultivating a “can-do” attitude, regardless of self-doubt.  We may get rusty, stall periodically, and even get derailed! However, we have a choice repeatedly to get the engine-power recharged and back on track. 

Powered by Grace 

Staying in the game of spiritual transformation over a long distance is not easy. Continuing inner purification requires going beyond the gravity of our own will-power and yogic techniques alone. When my own meditations, or overall capacity to feel joyful in life, get dry, I do my best to surrender more deeply to the Self-realized yoga masters, those who were once where I am now and have joyfully transcended, as Yogananda called “the mountain tops of ego.”  To the degree I open my heart, with childlike faith, the more divine love and joy lift me up. As yogis and yoginis, we keep learning that everything we do is powered by grace. Yet, as with the unlikely little locomotive, we also need to keep offering our own humble best, however quickly or slowly, to keep moving forward and upwards!  

What little child could forget the relief and elation, when the Little Engine finally reached the mountain summit, then effortlessly rode down to the grateful children below? This story is a gentle reminder that seemingly insurmountable obstacles also contain hidden opportunities. Met with willingness and faith, challenges can reveal the power of Spirit within us that we may not have known existed by any other way.