The recent attacks in Paris have been at the forefront of my thoughts this past week, and at times my sadness and worry have felt almost paralyzing. One of my concerns as a yoga teacher is how to address these emotions that we are all feeling. I watch the way that people are reacting, from changing their Facebook profile picture all the way to full blown hysterical xenophobia from our own governor and other political figures on the right. We all feel helpless to do anything, so our minds go toward fear and anxiety – this is our imagination asking for what it doesn’t want. We may feel helpless, but we are not powerless.
Retreating from life is not the answer, nor is turning off the television and denying the reality of what we face. How do we create more certainty for ourselves in these uncertain times?
- Feel your emotions fully and let them pass. Emotions are fleeting and fluctuating, they pull us away from our natural state of equanimity into fear, anxiety and on the opposite end, love and joy. Our job is to stay in the middle. When we hold our negative emotions at bay they grow in intensity and can overwhelm us. Feel them and then let go. Emotions are like the wind that blows through the leaves on a tree – the wind moves the leaves and shakes the branches, but it doesn’t change the tree.
- Practice extreme self-care. This is where we cultivate equanimity, stamina and resilience. Be gentle with yourself by eating nourishing foods that are in season, getting enough sleep and exercise. Come to yoga and allow yourself to feel the entirety of yourself – your body, breath, mental functions, emotions and from there you can hear the voice of your inner wisdom. This time of year everyone begins to get pulled into the distractions of the impending holidays. This is the time of year that we really need our introspective practice of yoga, and now more than ever with the state of the world as it is.
- Take action on a local level. First, just be kind. Offer kindness to yourself (see #2) and then serve from that place. Volunteer. Be a helper. There are plenty of opportunities locally to make a difference.
- Keep your heart open. The people that attacked Paris want us to contract into fear and hatred. Don’t fall for it, and by all means do not demonize an entire group of people for the actions of a few, especially for their religious beliefs. When we see “other” we create separation from God. Separateness is an illusion that we create to make ourselves feel safe or superior – it isn’t real.
- Live your life with full-hearted enjoyment. We don’t know what the future holds for any of us. Life is short, so enjoy it – drink in the beauty of the season, spend time with your loved ones and live your life without fear and anxiety. Ultimately we are not in control of anything, but we can impact change and make our world a better place. This happens within each of us, one act of kindness at a time. Make the decision to live with an open heart instead of the pain and anxiety of a closed heart. As Gandhi put it, “Be the change you want to see in the world”.