Sunday, August 1, 2010

Maintaining Sanity in Insane Times

I was recently talking to a friend of mine who, as a teacher, enjoys summers off but will soon be returning to school. She explained that she's been doing a lot of yoga and personal work this summer - and wonders how her hard-earned serenity will hold up when she has to return to the chaos of work. I thought it was an excellent question - how do we maintain serenity in chaos? Here are a few thoughts:

*Maintain your practice and your routine. When time is tight, it becomes tempting to abandon yoga, meditation, or whatever you practice. We all take a day (or two+!) off from time to time, which is fine. The problem is that we'll tell ourselves it's ok to take a few more days off, which then turns into a week, a month and longer. Yes, it can be difficult, but making the time - even just 10 minutes a day for meditation - will keep you in touch with your practice and yourself. You will stay more centered and paradoxically, have more time for the rest of your life if you make the time to practice. Trust the process. Show up, and the process of practice will carry you along.

*Observe your internal dialog. Cultivate an awareness of your thoughts and feelings, and ask yourself: what are you adding to your situation? Negativity? Resistance? Often our thoughts about a situation can add a lot of stress and negativity, and we're not even aware of them. A good practice is to acknowledge our thoughts and feelings and label them (ex: "I'm thinking about how much I dread going back to school. Feeling anxiety.") Then, practice letting the thought and/or feeling go, and return to the present moment by focusing on your breath or other physical sensations. (Note I said 'practice' - it does take some practice). If you have trouble letting go of your thoughts, visualization can help: you might imagine your thoughts or feelings are like clouds drifting overhead, helium balloons that you release and watch float away, or boxes on a conveyor belt being carried away. For some reason, thoughts and feelings seem to have a need to be acknowledged, but it helps to remember that they are not facts. Some are useful; some are not. Just practice observing them and you will eventually begin to realize they are transitory and you don't have to get carried away by them. And when we are not caught up in our own storyline (ex: "I have to go back to school in a few weeks and it's going to be awful") we can meet day to day challenges with a lot more clarity, less negativity and resistance.

*Remind yourself of your intention. Why do you do what you do? Do you have a personal mission statement? Even if your job (or your life) isn't finding a cure for cancer or ending world hunger, you can create your own meaning by considering what is important to you and reminding yourself of this regularly. It doesn't have to be a big mission like saving the world. Maybe you will try to make one person smile today. Your mental health (and others') will benefit.

*Ask yourself when you start tensing up - "could I lighten up about this?" Chances are, you could. We tend to take things - especially things our ego doesn't like, such as conflict, disapproval, and other challenges sooo seriously. You may have heard this before, but it bears repeating: when you're stressed about something, ask yourself, "will this matter in a year from now?" Most of our day to day snits we won't even remember in a year. Take a deep breath (or several) and lighten up when you can.

*Have some fun. Laugh. Have a sense of humor, and don't forget to make time to see friends and do the things you enjoy. If you spend a lot of time working, you will need some time spent away from work to decompress and recalibrate your mind and emotions. Again, time constraints can make this a challenge, but you won't regret making this a priority. Of course, as with all things, balance is the key. I'm not suggesting going on a weekend drinking binge in the name of having fun, just that it's a good idea to make sure you have some down time.

*Accept that life can be difficult. I think sometimes we forget this, and when the going gets tough, we think we're doing something wrong, or are inadequate to meet the challenge. The truth is, life is challenging for everyone at times, and in the big picture, it's not that important that we are 100% happy, 100% of the time. Our expectation or need to be happy all the time can actually make us more unhappy! This doesn't mean you have to endure horrible situations that can and should be changed. It just means that not every phase of our life is easy - and that our greatest times of growth come from our greatest challenges. Step up to the plate. This is tapas. And don't hesitate to ask for help when you need it!

*Finally, remember that a challenging situation is an opportunity to serve. Whether you choose to serve God, humanity, your highest ideals (or all of the above), challenges are times to remember that it's not all about you (or me). When you stop feeling you have to protect yourself all the time, and enter a situation with an attitude of service, your load is lightened. And remember, all you have to do is do your best, and then leave it. (see last week's entry on the niyamas)!

Of course it's also a good idea to make sure you are eating well and getting enough rest, too. These are a few things I try to remember to do when the going gets tough. What do you do?

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