Natural disasters, political frenzy, gun violence, grave environmental reports . If you're like me, you are suffering from news fatigue and the cliffhanger model of problem-based news delivery that effectively leaves us feeling emotionally and spiritually unmoored. We've been rendered dis-empowered and as a result are suffering. As the late, great B.K.S. Iyengar once said, "Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and to endure what cannot be cured." Our collective suffering need not be endured any longer. In fact it's time we aim to not endure, not survive, but truly THRIVE. It is not our nature to wallow and rest on our laurels. As complex-thinking, sentient beings, it IS our nature to creatively problem-solve as an expression of our own resilience. As humans, what distinguishes us from other animals is that we are the most extreme. We are very clearly living in times when the negative side of our extremism is apparent. Our work today is recovering and embracing how extremely great we can be. Out of all the news stories that wound our spirits and make us hurt for all of humanity, these extreme acts of greatness are present. Let us take sustenance in the goodness of humanity and point our attention toward love and light. I've highlighted 8 yoga-inspired ways to thrive today for a brighter tomorrow. And stay tuned, as I will be posting updates on my own progress with this list!
1. Act Super-Local "Svadhyaya"
The most local we can get with our activism is to start with our own work. Svadhyaya (self study) is one of the Niyamas (5 observances) in the 8-limb path of yoga . We cannot do great work in the "out-there" world until we study ourselves and make peace within. There are infinite opportunities to practice self-study; on the yoga mat, in meditation, at work, and in our closest relationships. We can't do for the world what we can't do for ourselves. Until we learn to Love, forgive, take care of, and nurture ourselves we cannot do this for others in an authentic way. This is where our radical healing and thriving must begin- with an honest, compassionate, and ongoing study of self.
2. Build Community "Yuj"
Yoga (Yuj) means to join. Yoga takes what is fragmented and restores it to a unified state. We have been divided as a people, and, without a common narrative, have become rutterless. Neil Postman, author of The End of Education, explains that we've drifted away from our founding narratives of democracy and individual rights and replaced them with narratives of economic utility and a belief in technology as the measure of humanity's progress. Instead, he suggests, we can create a common culture among citizens through "unifying, purpose-giving narratives". His five suggestions of alternate narratives are so wonderful, if not a bit tangential, I had to include them here: Spaceship Earth" (the notion of humans as stewards of the planet)"The Fallen Angel" (a view of history and the advancement of knowledge as a series of errors and corrections), "The American Experiment" (the story of America as a great experiment and as a center of continuous argument), "The Laws of Diversity" (the view that difference contributes to increased vitality and excellence, and, ultimately, to a sense of unity), "The Word Weavers/The World Makers" (the understanding that the world is created through language — through definitions, questions, and metaphors). Our work right now is to reunite the people of this country who are the fabric of our nation. Keeping in mind the butterfly effect, know that world peace can begin in our own neighborhoods. We can make our communities whole again by weaving ourselves back into them. Resist the urge to hide under the covers and, instead, step outside to connect with your neighbors and those in your own community. Don't look for differences. Look for ways to co-exist peacefully. Have conversations where listening and understanding occurs. (Check out this Heineken Worlds Apart You Tube video). Many are suffering from profound isolation and loneliness. Take time to visit someone who is isolated. Send snail mail. Make a phone call. Surprise someone with a knock on the door. To thrive, we must make an effort to make "analogue," rather than just digital, connections with others. Next to bees, humans are the most social animal there is. I love this poster "How to Build Community" which provides many ways to create a sense of community in our lives.
3. Enough is Enough "Santosa" & "Ahimsa"
Acting upon the decision that we have enough is a most radical act today. We don't have to subscribe to a culture that strives to consume and have bigger, better, faster. Santosa is the art of contentment. It is finding the exquisite existing in utmost simplicity . Living simply so that others may simply live. Challenge your own materialism. Challenge marketing that tells you you aren't complete without their product. When we decide we have enough we are practicing Ahimsa or non-harming to our planet. Refuse SWAG (stuff we all get) and Single Use Plastics (SUP's). Reduce waste. Reuse what you can. Repurpose. Recycle. And Remind others. Find contentment in the simple things, minimize your environmental footprint, and free up time and space to live your life more fully. Resist the impulse to acquire more. Retool phrenetic Multi-tasking into a single-tasking Low-Volume lifestyle. Slow it down, do fewer things in a day and do them mindfully. Contentment is badass.
4. Media Fasting "Bramacarya"
Bramacarya is a wise conservation of energy. There are only 24 hours in a day and sadly, much of that time is spent wrangling machines and passively consuming media. When we escape to our devices, we separate from ourselves and do not feel whole. In fact, we don't feel anything. Our devices are the machines through which we escape; from the moment, from our selves, and from each other. Pick up your device only to hunt and not to browse. Remind yourself that what you take in needs to be psychically digested. I often say that our yoga asana practice metabolizes the emotional and psychic leftovers from all that we encounter. If we binge on media, we get backlogged with images, feelings, thoughts, worries, etc. Take a break from media. Batch your email and text responses to something you do maybe twice a day at a set time rather than reacting to your phone every time it dings. I will never forget my daughter giving me a tour of a section of woods in which she and her friends had set up an imaginary world. On this tour of elaborate imaginings, she pointed to the trees and said "these are the computers". I asked her, why are the trees computers? She looked at me and without hesitation said, "because then adults will pay attention to them." Life is happening now. Look up from the phone. Be bold, tuck it away for an hour. Maybe touch a tree instead and see what happens.
5. Do Yoga Every. Single. Day. "Asana"
Yoga moves our consciousness from the brain, where it collects, into the entire space of the body. When we move, we replenish the entire body with our awareness which mitigates mental and emotional fatigue. Being Embodied is being Empowered. Asana (the physical practice of yoga) is the third limb of yoga and lays the groundwork for the last five limbs; pranayama (breathwork), pratyahara (turning inward), Dharana (concetration), Dyhana (meditation), and Samadhi (union of the self). "Penetration of our mind is our goal, but in the beginning to set things in motion, there is no substitute for sweat." -B.K.S. Iyengar
6. Practice Purification Rituals "Sauca"
We must acknowledge the effect of our environment- both mental and physical- on the state of our minds. How does the state of my home affect my mind? How does this thought affect me? Physical hygiene keeps us clean on the outside. Through yoga, breath work, clean eating and the filtering of our thoughts through a lens of loving-kindness and compassion we can keep ourselves clean on the inside. A daily gratitude practice can have a profound influence on our thoughts. Sauca is an ever-vigilant state that seeks to purify our inner and outer worlds.
7. Be Bold! "Tapas"
"Tapas is, simply put, an enthusiasm for health. All of us have it. It is in our nature. The genius of yoga is that it encourages us to cultivate this enthusiasm. Rather than cloak our childlike wonder in cynicism, we are encouraged to develop an appetite for life." This excerpt is from one of my favorite writers on the subject of yoga, Rolf Gates in his book, Meditations from the Mat. And to paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson, enthusiasm is the main ingredient in achieving greatness and thriving in this life. Practicing yoga helps us to cultivate tapas and thus, an enthusiasm for the good of ourselves and others.
8. Love & Devotion "Isvara-Pranidhana"
We need to love each other. Simple as that. We need to have faith in something bigger than ourselves. Our love and compassion cannot be selective. Our work right now is in learning to replace hate with love. There is so much hate in our country right now and on top of it, people are so self-righteous about their hate. It looks ugly on anyone, I don't care who you hate. Hate comes again from a disempowered place of vulnerability. Compassion is a way more empowered emotion to harness. What if we could practice compassion at the level we're practicing hating on people right now? Abraham Lincoln questioned, "Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friend?" Develop a loving-kindness meditation practice. Check out Sharon Salzberg's Street Loving-Kindness Practice for an approach you can integrate into your daily life.
I will report back with updates on my own personal thriving journey in my neck of the woods.
Let us be brave, be bold and be kind to ourselves and one another.