Practice becomes simply bearing the truth. I am reading and re-reading:
Allow by Danna Faulds
There is no controlling life.
Try corralling a lightning bolt,
containing a tornado. Dam a
stream and it will create a new
channel. Resist, and the tide
will sweep you off your feet.
Allow, and grace will carry
you to higher ground. The only
safety lies in letting it all in –
the wild and the weak; fear,
fantasies, failures and success.
When loss rips off the doors of
the heart, or sadness veils your
vision with despair, practice
becomes simply bearing the truth.
In the choice to let go of your
known way of being, the whole
world is revealed to your new eyes.
“Hard times build determination and inner strength. Through them we can also come to appreciate the uselessness of anger. Instead of getting angry, nurture a deep caring and respect for troublemakers because by creating such trying circumstances they provide us with invaluable opportunities to practice tolerance and patience.”
― HH the Dalai Lama
Some tough teachings. It’s been said that anyone born in America after the middle of the 20th century should never complain about anything. Compared to most other places in the history of the world, it’s really like winning the lottery.
This 2020…trying times that we live in. Growing up in India, I lived through the assassinations of two prime ministers and the chaos that followed. Presently, I have my share of personal challenges too with the news of a serious illness of a family member from back home. What can we do to stay resilient in this chaotic and uncertain world? One way is to check-in with ourselves to make sure we are doing the things that sustain our health and well-being.
What is happening in my body and mind today?
Our body can experience emotions before our conscious mind is aware of them. You can consider inquiries such as:
- How is my breathing?
- Do I feel any pressure in my chest?
- Are the events of the world around me disrupting my sleep?
- Are they interfering with my ability to concentrate?
Exploring these questions might help us understand what we are feeling – in particular some of the feelings that are below conscious awareness. This exploration can help us to name emotions like anger, grief or anxiety—naming them is the first step.
Ways to soothe ourselves when we feel distress
Once we have named our emotions, know that they are there to serve the evolutionary purpose of protecting us, so there is nothing wrong with having these less desirable emotions, such as anger. Instead of feeling bad about having them or suppressing them, ask yourself, what can I do to soothe myself. The following are some of the ways we can calm ourselves when everything feels overwhelming:
- Dirga pranayama or three part breathing. Place one hand on the belly and one on the ribcage, breathe into the low belly, the low back and the sides. Feel the belly expand under your palms. The other hand on the ribcage – feel them expand. Then place one hand, on the chest, slightly below the collar bones and feel the chest broaden. Each time you breathe out everything relaxes. Slow breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system (which is the brake pedal) and deactivates the autonomic nervous system (the gas pedal) leading to homeostasis in minutes. Remember to breathe this way anytime stress arises, we can stay in the homeostasis mode most of the time.
- Placing one or both hands on the heart. I was a sceptic of this method before my training in self-compassion methods. It really helps. Neural cells around the heart are activated by stress. Your warm hand on your heart helps calm the neurons very quickly. What can be even better is to generate thoughts, feelings and images of safety and trust, ease and goodness while you have your hands on the heart.
Balancing the news
While it is important to stay abreast of the latest news to get a clear picture of the world, there is a downside. The news is overwhelmingly negative – hijacking of our brain’s evolutionary need to scan for danger, because corporations know more money is made by keeping our eyes on the page with alarmist headlines.
Repeatedly consuming negative news stories is unhealthy, keeping us on high alert. We can also miss a lot of good in the world. To keep up with what’s happening in the world without being overwhelmed, we need to be conscientious about counterbalancing negative news with more hopeful news. Here is a great source: Solutions Journalism Network—an organization that encourages in-depth journalism, highlighting not just problems, but the people and programs they use to find solutions. More amazing reading on sciencenews.org.
Our mind naturally notices, attends to and processes negative information. Therefore it’s important to balance it out and recognize the immense amount of good around us. Mass media aims at everyones’ concerns—we’re all afraid of being hurt or of dying. Focusing on these is the easiest way to reach a wide audience. It means we need to work at not allowing ourselves to constantly watch the news. When there’s a terrible event, refrain from wallowing in the coverage, even though these are awful events. When you find good news, let yourself feel good about it. You’re searching for moral elevation – the warm feeling we get when we witness someone act with courage or compassion. Psychologist Jonathan Haidt calls that feeling “elevation”. Making an effort to experience more moral elevation will restore our faith in humanity and encourage us to help others.
The usefulness of keeping a gratitude journal
I started the practice of gratitude journaling with my children a few years ago when I came across the research surrounding it. I have seen some interesting entries – my then 6 year old was grateful for having three bathrooms in our house and for the future dog that we will get. Using our rational brain to bring out good emotions is one of the best ways to lift our spirits. According to gratitude researcher Robert Emmons:
“In the face of demoralization, gratitude has the power to energize. In the face of brokenness, gratitude has the power to heal. In the face of despair, gratitude has the power to bring hope.”
Focusing on what we’re thankful for helps us be more resilient when times are tough. Appreciating the good in our lives, can lessen anxiety and depression, so we can stay calmer in the face of uncertainty. Research suggests, writing 5 things that you are grateful for once a week is enough.
Peace of the Wild Things by Wendell Berry
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.