Greetings! I hope your Thanksgiving holiday was enjoyable and grace-filled. I had a wonderful time catching up with old friends and had a birthday on November 25thand I celebrated joyously. I’m so grateful for community and authentic connections! Very nourishing.
I hear this often, “I do my practices every day, but I’m still stressed out.” Life moves fast and it’s not slowing down. It’s speeding up. How then can we maintain our balance? What happens when yoga is not enough?
World-renowned scholar Douglas Brooks says, “Crisis is the normal state of affairs. Embrace the idea. We try to make order in a world of entropy.”What is entropy? It’s the state of breakdown and dissolution. Things tend to gather dust and decompose when left alone for a while. Don’t vacuum and dust bunnies magically appear. When you come back from vacation, just look inside your fridge. The blue/green/purple/black mold growing on everything? That’s entropy! It’s a natural phenomenon.
Order is just one aspect of reality. Another aspect is stochasticity– a fancy word that means randomly determined. Here’s an example of how science uses the word – “Environmental stochasticity refers to unpredictable spatiotemporal fluctuation in environmental conditions.” Basically, it’s the inability to precisely predict the future state of something based on constantly changing variables. Possible things can’t really be predicted, but they can be predicted within parameters. Where will the next wave hit the shore? You can’t tell for sure, but tides do go in and out. Chaos is something you can’t anticipate. You can only embrace.
Is yoga trying to tell us there’s an alternate reality of bliss somewhere out there? No. Yoga is trying to help us embrace chaos. Not solve it but be in it. Ugh! Who wants that?
What can you do about chaos? Here are two strategies for living in a chaotic world:
- Control what you can.
- Let go of the rest.
This might sound easy. But it’s more difficult than you think. When I distinguish between things I can control and those I cannot, I get clear in my mind. This clarity helps me release the futility of trying to change the unchangeable and focus my energy on the things I can actually shift. What is unchangeable? Well, for example, the past. You cannot change the past. But many of us stress out over something we said or did in the past that was unskillful or hurtful. Emotions like guilt or regret are our futile attempt to change the unchangeable. Best to let the past be and move on. The beauty of the past, whether positive or negative, is to give us wisdom. The trick is how not to let your history get in the way of your destiny.
Here’s an example of something I can control. We’ve had mice problems in our house for years. The house was built on a farm and we’re in the Berkshires – there’s mice. Especially during the change of seasons from Fall to Winter, the mice come in to get out of the cold. After years of using “have-a-heart” traps, I succumbed to using real mouse traps (the lethal kind) to control the population. When I put the traps up in the ceiling with just the right positioning and bait, the mice are caught every time. When I don’t set up the traps, after some weeks, the mice repopulate. I can control the mice issue fairly easily. My next step is to try using a sonar repellent which is much more humane. We’ll see how that works.
We have a bird feeder in the backyard. I took it down over the summer to protect the baby Bluebirds because the birdfeeder attracts predators. But this fall I reinstalled the birdfeeder and, voila! all the birds returned. I can control that, and in all honesty, I enjoy bringing the birds. They are fascinating to watch.
But trying to control the weather? That’s a waste of time and energy. The weather is going to do what it does, when it wants to. For weeks I waited for a “warmish” dry day to put away my outdoor stuff and to stabilize the mowers and fuel tank. I kept waiting and waiting. But then it got cold (single digit cold), snowed, and everything froze up. I had to drain my frozen hose in my garage and I carried the deck furniture through the snow into the garage. I never got my dry, warmish day. Normally we’ll have a few days of 50º in November to change everything over for the winter season. I caught myself stressing out about this. Why? Because I had an expectation of the way I wanted things to go. When the weather didn’t cooperate, I became resistant, disappointed, frustrated, and anxious. Once I finally recognized the cause of my angst, I was able to accept and let go.
Then I remembered I like the snow because I love to ski. Let’s face it, living in the Northeast requires some form of fantasy or having something to look forward to in order to get through the miserably cold, rainy, and snowy weather.
When you are able to release control of the things you cannot control and accept things the way they are, you touch freedom.
There’s no quick way to get to acceptance. Life has a way of persisting and repeating itself with increased intensity until you finally accept and let go. For myself, through cultivating a regular yoga and meditation practice, I notice that I am getting to acceptance more quickly. You need to develop a keen sense of discernment and inner awareness to note when you’re in non-acceptance. In non-acceptance there’s a feeling of inner contraction, a struggle, a fight within. Acceptance always comes about on the exhalation and it’s a feeling of release, letting go, and peace. When I finally come to acceptance, I always feel welcomed back home to my heart.
One last thought. Ever try to control another person? Good luck with that! Sometimes with persistence, persuasion, or whining, you can change someone. We can influence each other but trying to change another person is one of those things you cannot change.
At the end of the summer this year, I was grocery shopping at my favorite natural food store, Guido’s Market Place,and just as I was walking out of the store I saw a lady stow her shopping cart at the top of the hill and walk away. I saw the cart break loose and roll down the hill gathering speed toward the parked cars. It was kind of surreal because it all seemed to happen in slow motion. The lady never saw the cart since it rolled down the hill behind her as she walked away. But I yelled out “Runaway cart!” to warn anyone in the way. Then I thought, “Oh no, somebody’s car is going to get rammed.” And then crash. When I looked more closely, I was horrified. That somebody’s car was mine!
The cart side-swiped my car and continued down the hill ramming several more cars until someone stopped it. Upon inspection of my car there was a dent and a green line where the paint from the cart rubbed off on the car. I walked over to the car that the lady just got into and explained what happened. She was surprised and a little distant. But when I showed her the dent in my car, she took a picture of it and we exchanged contact info. Later that week, I had the dent fixed for $150. It was relatively inexpensive, but it took me several hours to arrange to have the bodywork done. I emailed the receipt for the work to the lady and left her a couple of phone messages. She never got back to me. I soon realized that she had no intention of paying for the damage she caused. This was one of those times. I got all stressed out about her not responding to my requests. I figured any decent human being would have paid for this, or at the very least, split the cost with me. My insurance couldn’t cover it because I have a $500 deductible.
Why was I stressed? I was trying to control the uncontrollable – anther person. After a few days of gnawing on the issue in my mind, I came to the awareness that I really needed to accept and let go. Suddenly my spirit lifted, and I was back in my usual buoyancy of joy and happiness. I moved on.
When you take delight in controlling something as basic as a birdfeeder, think of it as taking a little step forward toward creating your destiny. If you can affect your backyard, maybe you can affect something bigger that’s related to your greater purpose. For me that translates into teaching a well-sequenced yoga class, bringing forth a new chant, creating a new yoga theme, or making that call to hire a new web-designer. There are so many things you can control.
When you find the balance of control and acceptance, your heart opens and you go to the place in the middle where you discover your true nature which is everlasting joy!
Want to get to acceptance quicker? Register for one of my upcoming workshops! Openings are available in the New Year Yoga Retreat at Kripalu, the Costa Rica Tropical Yoga Retreat, Indianapolis Weekend Workshop, Ashaya Yoga Teacher Training, and other sessions throughout the year.
Love and Light,
Take a few minutes to journal. Try to discern the things in your life you can control and the things you can’t. Then think of one stressor in your life, something (or someone) you can’t control. Visualize it clearly in your mind’s-eye. Then take a deep breath and exhale. See if you can let go and accept. Take several breaths if you need to. Allow yourself to come closer to acceptance. Release trying to control the uncontrollable and shift your focus to the things you can control. Then go out and control something easy. Build a snowman, pick up the mail at the post office, or make soup. See if you can find satisfaction and joy in getting one thing done.
The Serenity Prayer:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
by Reinhold Niebuhr, Protestant Theologian