Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Living in Interesting Times

It seems like every day we’re greeted with more alarming news. People are losing their jobs, fuel prices are high, foreclosures are accelerating and the politicians continue to fling mud. In the past few months, people have arrived to yoga classes noticeably more stressed than usual. While Election Day promises to release some of this stress build-up, it seems other stressors will continue building for the foreseeable future. Short of going mad, what’s a Yogini to do?

The Yogic tradition gives us many tools to handle each and every thing that comes along. Yoga is a rich and powerful tool in helping us recognize that most events are out of our control, though our reaction to events is within our control. In these demanding times, I’d like to share my personal strategies for maintaining equanimity, or a peace of mind and abiding calmness.

Cut back on the barrage of information. While a healthy democracy is based on an informed electorate, many of us have become news junkies. Like most addictions, there’s a healthy (tolerable) consumption level; and like most addictions, there’s an unconscious numbing that can occur through overuse. I find checking in with the news two or three times per week keeps me informed; yet not in the adrenal-addled place the news providers (and their advertisers) would sooner see us occupy.

Get out into nature. Regardless the daily state of the world, the trees are reliable, the ground is steadying and the sky expansive. If you don’t feel like you’ve got time for this, you’re likely already overdue for some time out in nature.

Open your heart. During times of crises, our tendency is to contract into a more judgmental and fearful state. When individuals start to contract into this reaction-mode, it radiates outward and affects others around us. The result is often that we then subconsciously hunker into a defensive strategy that amplifies the atmosphere of fear and judgement! This reaction mode quickly cascades into a downward spiral for an entire population. Thankfully the antidote is far more powerful: see the best in each person you encounter. Behind every rude, angry or boorish act is fear. Can you see through another’s irksome behavior to see the fear inside? Once you’re able to see this soft-center in people, you’re well on the way to uplifting yourself and all those whom you encounter.

Stick to your mind-body-spirit practice. It goes without saying that my bias is Hatha Yoga, though there are as many Yogic paths as there are varieties of people. Whether you come to the Yogic state of union through gardening, skiing, chanting, meditating or cooking – stick to it! When you feel like there isn’t time for these activities, the proverbial horse is already out of the barn.

Give. It doesn’t matter how little you feel you have, you’ve got something to offer. Whether it’s a few dollars donation, driving an elderly neighbor to the store or holding the door open for someone five steps behind you, giving feeds everyone involved. The physicists tell us that in any interaction, energy cannot be created, but may only change form. In flagrant violation of this physical law, giving creates a whole that exceeds the sum of its ingredients. When you feel most agitated, worried, fearful or isolated – find an opportunity to give and all will be richer.

We live in an amazing time. Are we descending into a pit of recession, war and disorder, or rising to a new era of balance, generosity and prosperity? The choice is ours.



Ngawang Pema said...

One of the things I notice is that people have difficulty figuring out just how one "opens the heart" when they are experiencing stress. Often, the heart closes because of fear.

I found this statement helpful: Fear is living in the past and looking at the future. There is no fear when you are in the present moment.

It is clinically shown that Anxiety makes it difficult to think clearly and respond to important situations. Using techniques to move into the present moment is one approach to reducing anxiety and opening the heart.

Scott Anderson said...

Good observation. It seems like difficult times demand attention to our contemplative practices more than at other times. The paradox is we're often driven by anxiety, which makes quieting more difficult. It helps so much to have a community that reminds us to take this quiet time, even if it seems like there's too much to get done.

Ryan Mlynarczyk said...

thank you for this timeless wisdom Scott! i resonate with this even more than a year later! :) Coincidentally today is Obama's 1 year anniversary. :)

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