This post was originally part of my “Ahimsa Now” series regarding Peace Tools – everyday yogic actions that can create peace in our inner and outer worlds. Today I post it as a NOTE TO SELF: reminding Holly to put these tools into action, particularly during this difficult time of transition, responsibility, instability and sadness. (Cliff Notes version: I moved from Washington, DC to Nashville, TN in September to support my aging father, and have hit some big bumps along many avenues since.)
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Thank god for great teachers.
I got my butt kicked yesterday morning in an Intermediate Vinyasa class. Well, admittedly, I often get my butt, hips and thighs kicked in this teacher’s classes! (But it’s a sweet, Ahimsa-like kick.)
Today, however, the real smacker was when the teacher told a story about wanting something she didn’t have. She was feeling stressed by being without this particular thing (a typical modern household convenience item); and she believed her stress would be relieved if she had this thing. Life, in general, would be better. Then, someone close to her pointed out that if she had that thing, she would inevitably be challenged by its related stresses and difficulties. And, this someone added, there are places where they don’t even have access to such a luxury, and where they make out just fine.
Thank god for great teachers – in the form of those certain someones who bring perspective.
Perspective can bubble up from many sources. If I am willing to hear it, I can use perspective to practice “Pratipaksha Bhavana” (replacement of negative thoughts with positive ones) and “Samtosha” (contentment). And, if I really want to live the concept “Ahimsa” (non-harming) and cultivate inner peace, I can carry my positive thought and contentment a step further to practice “Gratitude” (gratitude).
Because by allowing myself to stew in negativity and malcontent, I am harming myself. When I harm myself, I am far from peace. And when I am far from peace, I am closer to harming others.
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Sunday morning, when my yoga teacher told her story in class, I immediately thought about my long period without full-time employment, the related fear and stress (which has come to quite a head lately), and, my frequently repeated statement of: “If only I had a job, everything would be better.”
Would it? I can attest to the harmful wear-and-tear of being in the wrong work situation – whether it’s being underpaid, overworked, over-ego-fed, physically strained, sexually harassed, verbally abused or mis-matched in any way – and how that discomfort can negatively affect everything in my life. So the last thing I want is to desperately jump into any ol’ job.
In addition, having the “right” job can also add stress to life. Less free time. More suits. New relationships. Office politics. And so on. “Everything would be better” is inaccurate after all.
Still, being without a full-time job over the long-term is a seriously challenging state. I don’t simply “want what I don’t have” – on a fundamental, life-sustaining level, I actually don’t have what I need. So how do I nurture inner peace when the justifiable anxiety of “If only I had a job…” pops into my mind? What is the antidote?
In his book “Raja Yoga,” Swami Vivekananda explains, “When thoughts obstructive to yoga arise, contrary thoughts should be employed.” In simpler terms, when my inner peace is rattled, I can restore serenity by replacing negative beliefs with positive thoughts. This is Pratipaksha Bhavana, which is mentioned Book Two of the Yoga Sutras.
This doesn’t mean replacing “If only I had a job…” with “If only I had a financially sustaining job that enhances my emotional, physical and spiritual well-being and complements my lifestyle…” Because the fact is, even if I had this supposedly ideal thing, there is still no guarantee that “everything would be better.”
Bingo! I have a job! In fact, I have many jobs – some with traditional paychecks; some with other types of “payment.” I teach yoga part-time; I manage a yoga studio part-time; and each year I teach percussion and yoga full-time at a summer camp. I was recently invited to guide Latin dancing lessons for a group of school kids because of my background in Hispanic culture. I sometimes accompany great songwriters on tours and gigs. And because of my music and yoga background, I am invited to play Kirtan. I play volunteer roles in my community, and I play supportive roles in my family. I could not ask for more wonderful jobs. I get paid to pass on the beautiful teachings of yoga. I get paid to contribute to a yoga business’s well-being. I get paid to facilitate youth’s arts education. I get paid to play music. And I have the opportunity to be of service in many ways. Through these “jobs,” I receive more than money. I enjoy unlimited, much-needed, free yoga classes where I teach. I feel the satisfaction of using my operational skills at the studio. I get to hang around kids eight hours a day for the six weeks of summer camp. I get to work alongside amazingly talented musicians. My yoga and music communities are strong and the circles are widening. I enjoy true friendships. Overall, I receive immense “compensation” being involved with yoga, music and youth.
A life of this much purpose and passion certainly can sustain me through tough times…when I focus on the positive.
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“If only…” in itself is a negative belief. When I walk around thinking that everything would be better “if only this or that,” I am existing in illusion. I am negating the worth of the present moment. And I am living in complete malcontent. What is the ultimate remedy for the “If only…” plague?
Instead of thinking “If only…”, I aim to embrace whatever is directly in front of me as my path, my work, my opportunity. Life is exactly as it should be, right now, with all its struggles and surprises and ups and downs. Now is all I have. So why not accept what currently exists and choose to be content? And this is Samtosha – being at peace with whatever exists at this very moment.
Can I be content with my nearly jobless, penniless existence? And if so, how do I get there?
For me, contentment requires a blend of footwork, surrender, acceptance and faith. Footwork means I am proactive to my best ability. Surrender means I acknowledge how much is beyond my control. Acceptance means I embrace all outcomes. And faith means I believe that I will be OK no matter what. Inevitably, when I practice this combo, I feel content.
For example, in my work search, I must take appropriate action by applying for jobs that make sense for my long-term goals and sustainability. After I make these efforts, I must remember that there are way too many factors that figure into these scenarios, and therefore completely let go of the results. I must accept any news without getting stuck in pride, disappointment or resignation. And when the news is bad, I must believe that there is something worth waiting for – and what helps most here is remembering exactly how big the “Big Picture” is.
“As a result of contentment, one gains supreme joy,” Swami Satchidananda says of Samtosha, in his exploration of the Yoga Sutras. Who could ask for anything more?
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Practicing Pratipaksha Bhavana and Samtosha, I can be positive and accepting instead of negative and wanting. Usually. But can I gain “supreme joy” and true serenity?
The truth is, most days I am still trying to shake off the nagging belief that I might never have what I need; that stability and security are impossible; that I am destined to die homeless, jobless and penniless in a gutter. Those days, more than any others, it is imperative that I practice Pratipaksha Bhavana and Samtosha, and that I take the extra step of doing a Gratitude List.
- Part-time work that I absolutely love.
- Talents, education and experience to lend to new jobs.
- The “umph” to keep on keepin’-on despite challenges.
- Free yoga where I teach.
- Living in a city with many free activities.
- Friends who treat me to baseball games so I can relax.
- A caring circle of family, friends and community.
- My mom’s and dad’s inspirational work ethic.
- My dad’s unending encouragement, confidence and support.
- My sister’s love, understanding, advice and periodic butt-kickings.
- Beautiful spring/summer weather.
- Living near Rock Creek Park for hiking.
- A lifetime of tools and resources for trudging this road – and the willingness to use them.
- So, so much more.
I am truly lucky to have so much. I may not have everything I need, but I do have a lot. And when I reinforce appreciation, the self-pity dissolves, the worry of paying the bills decreases, the fear of becoming homeless disappears, the anxiety of the unknown dissipates.
When I practice Gratitude, I can actually forget what the problem is…I can relax…I can smile!
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It’s a lot of work to manage and reduce stress. Why do I do any of this?
The concepts of Pratipaksha Bhavana, Samtosha and Gratitude do not change the fact that, month-after-month, I wonder whether I’ll be able to pay my rent. That stressful reality definitely exists. But as practices, they can change my state of mind during these challenging times. Instead of dwelling in worry, fear and anxiety – when I am willing to hear perspective and embrace these practices – I can dwell in presence, hope and joy. Instead of harboring self-harming thoughts, I can enjoy inner peace. And I can share that peace with all around me.
OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.