Sometimes we have years when we can coast, and we can inflate so-called “luxury problems” into sigh-ridden kvetching, even while knowing we’re lucky. Then there are those other years, the ones that are more like scorched earth.
The time around 2001 was like that. I lived about a mile from the World Trade Centers and was home when they were attacked. I heard sirens; first a few, then a lot, then a constant ululation of shrieking first-responder vehicles. At night, off my tiny balcony, I could see the glow of fires that wouldn’t go out for a week.
A month later, while I was still trying to comprehend what had happened, I lost my job as a magazine editor and writer in the subsequent recession. I had no idea how I was going to pay my bills. A while later, a longterm relationship ended—for the better, I knew, but it was still another loss. As I wrote in Yoga Mind, my friend Marnie was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and my friend Francesco had a catastrophic accident. Just when I thought surely nothing more could happen, my cat Ethel, passed away. Yes, even the cat was lost.
During that same year, I also became a Yoga teacher. I started learning that Yoga was far more than a nice set of stretches. Yoga, I realized, was a collection of spiritual tools that teach people how to appreciate the good moments in life and how to handle the scorched-earth times. Not necessarily make sense of those times, but at least they showed me how to keep from hiding under my bed.
Among the teachings that helped me that year, and during this difficult year:
Ishvara Pranidhana, or self-surrender: Going into denial or fighting what’s happening doesn’t help. The sooner I accept reality, the sooner I can get to a solution.
Santosha, or contentment: We can’t be happy all the time, but we don’t have to be constantly morose during down times either. Santosha taught me how to find and create pockets of joy.
Titiksha, or inner strength: Knowing that we each have a river of endurance flowing through us gave me the ability to carry on even when I felt I couldn’t take another step.
Saucha, or purity: This usually pertains to cleanliness of yourself and your space. I expanded the idea to paring down what was most important in my life, and used a combination of Saucha and Brahmacharya, energy conservation, to cut out anything I didn’t need to do.
These spiritual tools don’t create a fallout shelter around you so you won’t get hurt. They won’t get you things, or keep bad times from happening. They are the answers, in themselves: Each small action you take to recognize what’s already in you or what you can do for yourself or someone else is the solution. The tools don’t change what’s happening. They change you.
When things are going well, enjoy them, and some good-natured kvetching. When you’re having one of those scorched-earth times, use the tools. And get out the marshmallows and the chocolate and the graham crackers, and know that you can endure the fire.
For more on these spiritual tools, and the 30-day program in Yoga Mind, click here to get your copy of the book.