“Performed with the proper attitude, each of our everyday actions can be an asana, each breath a pranayama, each thought (or space between two successive thoughts) a seed for meditation.“
–– Richard Rosen
–– Richard Rosen
BY CHRIS COLIN | Originally published here on Yoga Journal
When Anna’s boyfriend of five years broke up with her, she was devastated. He had given every indication that he was committed to a shared life, right down to the proposed names for the children they’d planned to have. When he admitted he couldn’t deliver on any of their dreams, Anna (not her real name) did her best to move on. She painted her apartment, recycled her furniture, and swept out every reminder of him in a determined preparation for a new phase of life.
But deep down, she couldn’t accept the change. “I kept hoping a coconut would fall on his head and he’d come to his senses,” she recalls. She raged at the upending of the life she’d envisioned. She sabotaged new relationships by comparing them to life with her ex. For several years she fought the reality of his departure with all she had, and in the process shut herself off from new opportunities, from happiness, from peace. “I was so in the thick of it, I couldn’t see any doors opening. I was just banging into all these closed doors.”
It wasn’t until she experienced the equally life-transforming change of a cross-country move—a change she welcomed—that Anna realized the value of taking change in stride. “If you’re willing to accept the good changes,” she says, “you have to be willing to accept the bad, because it’s all part of the same dynamic.”
Erik, it would seem, already knew that. While working a hodgepodge of construction jobs, he had realized he needed a change and started rethinking things. “I was driving by Casper’s Hot Dogs, and all of a sudden it hit me: I wanted to do architecture,” he says. It took months of strategizing, but a major life warp was set in motion. Both Erik and his partner, Melissa, made plans to become grad students. Their house in California would be rented out, the relationship made long distance, as Erik moved to Philadelphia for the University of Pennsylvania’s prestigious architecture program. A few months later, Melissa would head to New York’s Pratt School of Art and Design. Erik was thrilled. After a period of professional uncertainty, there was a plan.
And so, after moving east, Erik accepted the impossible hours, the sleep deprivation, and the separation from Melissa with resolve. All told, his big life change was chugging along nicely—right up to the moment a bigger one sneaked up from behind. He’d been gone about six weeks when Melissa called to say she was pregnant.
Erik greeted the news with joy. He didn’t kick and scream about the complete disruption of his life. He simply decided to come back to California, start a family, and leave Philadelphia behind. His hard-earned blueprints had been ripped to shreds—by something wonderful, to be sure—but ripped to shreds all the same. And yet he was OK.
So, how is it that when life is spun around by circumstances, benign or otherwise, some people flail, while others sail? Why do some of us wallow in that place where we’re so shocked and unhappy about an unexpected turn of events that we resist reality and find ourselves mired in bitterness or fear or hopelessness? Instead of accepting change with grace, we dig in our heels and suffer through each day of things not being what we think they should be. What’s the secret to riding each new wave gracefully—regardless of whether it deposits you gently on the beach or wallops you down to the seafloor?
“I hear a lot of people say that change is exciting, but they mean a specific kind of change,” says the Frank Jude Boccio, a teacher of yoga and Zen Buddhism in New York. “We all have an aversion to change that we’d rather not have. Certain change is appreciated, and some is not.”
The funny thing is that as a culture, we seem determined to celebrate change. “Change is good,” we tell each other, and, “Everything happens for a reason.” Thoreau himself volunteered, “All change is a miracle to contemplate.” Yes, we praise the virtues of change religiously—until some unwanted, unscripted change occurs. Then, mostly, we long for permanence. For all our professed faith in the benefits of transformation, we are a species that falls to pieces upon learning the salmone fresco is sold out. Generally, we cement where possible and panic where not. The smallest nudging of our routine can send us into a tizzy, while big disruptions send us into therapy.
How can you learn to accept change with equanimity, absorbing each phase in stride and learning from each new experience? The answer may come from dealing with change in three distinct stages.
When any unscripted change comes down the pike, there’s an overwhelming feeling of losing control, and that’s perfectly normal—and also perfectly delusional, says Herdis Pelle, a teacher at the Berkeley Yoga Center in Berkeley, California. “We’re moving into unknown territory,” she says. “Deep down, we’re never in control.”
Pelle, who came to California by way of Denmark, England, and Scotland, says she bases much of her teaching on the changes she’s experienced in her own life. It’s not that she managed to get a better grip on those changes over the years—it’s that she accepted the impossibility of any real grip in the first place.
As for Anna, it took her three years to let go of the feeling that her preordained future had been wrested away. Eventually she recognized that had she and her ex stayed together, there were no guarantees that life would have unfolded as she’d wished. With or without him, she realized, she didn’t have control over life.
No one does. That moment you fantasize about? When the bills are paid, the roof stops leaking, the phone’s not ringing, and you soak in the caught-up-ness of it all? That’s when the dog runs away. Or the girlfriend gets pregnant. Or the tornado touches down. Life doesn’t give you breathing room, but if you stop grasping for control of the uncontrollable, you can learn to breathe through it all.
Of course, just as you can dread change disproportionately, you can also overly invest in it, betting on a new job, mate, or baby to erase your troubles. Such eagerness for change may look like the flip side of resistance to it, but really it’s another vain attempt to control your circumstances. “You think the change is going to be miraculous and solve all your problems,” says Anna, who has, at last, found that the best way to approach change in her life—wanted or not—is to neither fear it nor think it’s a cure.
Once you’ve accepted your utter lack of control, it can still take some doing to accept the emotions that often accompany a sudden unraveling of your expectations. Even minor setbacks challenge us. Take Frank Jude Boccio’s experience of returning to his Hudson Valley home after time away; the famous fall colors had just faded. “I was really disappointed,” he says. “I found myself wishing I could change it back, or have come home earlier. And that wasn’t right.”
By that, Boccio doesn’t mean that his disappointment was unjustified—that he should learn to see winter’s colors as just as pretty as autumn’s. His idea is more nuanced: you can be disappointed with certain changes, but you accept that disappointment the same way you’d accept delight.
What does that mean? Surely you can’t be expected to rate disappointment the same as delight. No, says Boccio, but you can separate your feelings from your response to them.
As for Erik, while he’s nervous about impending parenthood, he’s accepting his nervousness instead of worrying about how he’ll pay the bills or getting angry about having to leave his program.
By distinguishing your core emotions from those that pile on afterward, you don’t limit your emotional life; on the contrary, you unclutter it. As Boccio says, it’s the clutter that leads you away from your true experience and into murkier territory.
Mitra Somerville, a teacher at the Integral Yoga Institute of New York in Manhattan, looks at major life changes and their constellations of angst in terms of what is, and isn’t, permanent. Your duty, he says, is to recognize that in the midst of radical transformations, the Self remains stable. If you can come to an understanding of this—through asana, breathwork, meditation—you can soothe the discomfort brought on by external changes. “The yogic thinking is that there’s part of us that’s unchanging—the spiritual part of us that has peace and joy and love,” he says. “The nature of the world, however, is in flux.”
Learning to make peace with life’s calamities—lost jobs, romances, dreams—does not mean you have to be passive.
“Sometimes we try to provoke change in our lives,” Boccio says. “Rather than just be with sadness, anxiety, or anger, we want to change it. And that inability to sit with what’s happening isduhkha, suffering.”
But does that always mean choosing inaction? What about when there are wars to resist, house fires to flee? Are you meant to be sanguine about any old change of plans that comes along? “If we listen to our hearts, in that deepest silence we will be guided toward the appropriate action,” says Pelle, who agrees that certain events require out-and-out protest—and that yoga helps you know which ones.
“We practice so that we can be guided from within,” says Somerville. In stilling your thoughts, you free up a more reliable inner wisdom. “The more peaceful your mind is, the clearer and stronger your intuition is, and the better able you are to make the proper decision.”
As Melissa’s due date approached, Erik was clearly at peace with the inevitable maelstrom ahead, despite upending everything in order to go to school, and then tearing that plan up as well. “It’s funny. The more time I had with this newest change—the one that took me away from the original change—the more I came to accept it,” he says. He still intends to pursue an architecture degree, but he’s clearer about that intention. “I came to see that I’ll transfer to another school [near home], or we’ll head back to Philly if we have to, or maybe just that I’ll get to it someday.”
A deeper realization about change had come to him, one that saw a kind of balance of permanence and impermanence in daily life. No matter how much the circumstances of his life turn upside down or sideways, he can be in touch with a core that’s always right side up—the essence of his being. Being in touch with this core, in turn, provides the clarity to navigate life’s loops with calmness.
“It’s good to change things now and then,” Erik says. “Not because change is inherently good, but because changing something about your life makes you realize that other things won’t change.”
Prepare for life’s ups and downs with a daily practice. Frank Jude Boccio offers some ideas for a change-friendly inner life.
Accept Impermanence: Every morning, I repeat a gatha (mindfulness verse): “Great is the matter of birth and death; impermanence surrounds us. Be awake each moment; do not waste your life.” Much of my practice has to do with aligning myself with that. Then, ideally, my action comes from the situation, rather than from a false perception of what’s happening.
Practice Mindfulness: Come back to the present moment. The Buddha points out that you can be happy in a pleasant situation, but then it’s all too easy to lose yourself in the pleasure.
Take a Breath: When faced with a change, pleasant or otherwise, I try to tune in to my breath, and how I’m feeling in my body. Tuning into the breath gives me time to respond better to an unpleasant situation.
Most meditation workshops cost hundreds of dollars. There is no charge, and nothing is sold. For those who wish, I recommend a Donation of time, food or money to Hospitality Pantries. It delivers food daily, to anyone that needs it. The Workshop is my way of giving back!
After graduating from UT in December 1972, I began collecting meditations from hundreds of people, past and present. I collected over 50 journals full of meditations. About 15 years ago, I put some of the best meditations in a book, 800 Stepping Stones to Complete Relaxation. The Learn to Meditate – Workshop helps individuals gather “top of the line” information. Practical tips from over 60 writers: Oprah Book Club, to the ancient writings of Socrates and Pythagoras, to special magazine articles! Author Michael Lee Wright, says, “Anyone can learn to meditate. It’s easy, inexpensive, and it doesn’t require any special equipment. And, you can practice meditation wherever you are: out walking, riding in a car or bus, watching television, waiting in line at the grocery store or sitting in the middle of a difficult business meeting!” There are many benefits: improve your health, increase your happiness, expand your focus & attention, and make you more compassionate & wiser.
Everyone can benefit from Relaxation Meditations. The more you are relaxed the better your memory works, the better your muscles work, the better your brain works, and the better your life works. While a junior at UT, I found three meditations that helped change me from a “C/B” student into a “B/A” student; and from an unfocused kid into a focused adult! I remember when it happened! After a Psychology Class on “The Hill,” I walked down the steps to the main library, to go over “homework” for my next class, across the street in the business building. On this day, I had 30-minutes extra, so I went to the magazine shelves to look for interesting articles. In the table of contents of Psychology
Today, I found an article title that fascinated me, How a Student Can Improve Memory During Class? It has 3-simple techniques:
This stimulated the memory section of the brain, the hippocampus. I tried it in my next class, a very tuff and boring class on Government Economics. I found that my focus became so great that I took the best notes I had ever taken. At the end of the quarter (quarters then, not semesters), I went from a low “B” in the class to an “A.” I used the same technique in other classes, and it improved my grade in every class. A Quarter later, for a History “Term Paper,” I chose Benjamin Franklin. In his autobiography, I found that Ben practiced 13-meditations that helped change him from an average life into a super life. A few months later, while studying in the main library (Hodges), I decided to take a break. I went into the back room where they kept the old magazines. It was called The Stacks because there were 10-year old issues of magazines stacked on top of each other. At the time, the Summer Olympics were coming up, so I decided to go through old sports magazines. I found an amazing magazine article on Billy Mills, the Olympic 1964 Gold Metal 10,000 meter winner. Billy grew up on an Indian Reservation in South Dakota. He loved to run as a boy. When he was 10-years, he stopped under a shade tree, trying to catch his breath and second wind. There were three old Indians sitting under the tree. One of the Indians walked up and started telling about running fifty years earlier, as a small boy, when his grandfather gave him a Breathing Chant. Back then, the Indian boys, who did not have horses, had to run & run & run. The magazine article continued, and Billy talked about his last lap in the Olympic 10,000 meter race. He was side by side with Ron Clark (Australian World Record holder), as they were about to lap slower runners. Ron Clark, on the inside, saw this and elbowed Billy. Then, Ron shot ahead, and around the slower runners. Billy was knocked off-stride, and another runner from Ethiopia passed him. Billy talks about using the Indian Breathing Chant. The more he chanted, the more his muscles relaxed, and the faster he went. It was a major Olympic upset, no American before or since, has won the Olympic 10,000 meter race. A movie was made of Billy Mill’s life in 1983, Running Brave (library & youtube.com). American Indian Breathing Chant (30-seconds): Divide your lungs into 3-sections (front, middle & back). Sing or Chant Hu, 6-times (aloud or silently, pronounced hue)! As Chant Hu Hu, visualize the letters in the front area of both lungs; Chant Hu Hu & see the letters in middle area…; Chant Hu Hu & visualize the letters in the back area of your lungs! Your mouth naturally drops open; & you breathe in the mouth & nose at the same time!
Michael says, “He began using this Indian Breathing Meditation while playing basketball on the University of Tennessee basketball courts, and it was amazingly helpful. Also, I used it while climbing the steps, & the long walks to class, because I was always out of breath, I did not seem to be able to think & walk & breathe at the same time.” He recommends using it while walking, bicycling or anytime the mind wonders into negative junk. After over 40-years, almost daily, I still chant or sing Hu. It is like a tuning fork. The more I sing or chant Hu (aloud or silently), the more I tune to the life-beat within me. And, the more relaxed & the more aware I become!”
HOMEWORK: EVERY DAY PRACTICE 3-MEDITATIONS (1-BREATHING, 1-VISUALIZATION, & 1-SOUND).
One of the most practical & useful meditation is proper breathing. The more oxygen into the body, the more it relaxes, and the less anxiety. In tense situations the jaw tightens & you forget to breathe in the nose & mouth at the same time. 1) Proper Breathing Meditation (3-seconds): Repeat, silently, 3-times: “Relax Jaw…” Your mouth will open slightly and you can feel the cool air on the roof of your mouth! Repeat off & on during the day, especially anytime you catch your mouth closed! 2) Create Your Own Meditation (1-2 minutes): Collect inspiring phases or quotes from songs, books, & movies (google – quotes). Put them in a vase; & every morning pull one out before you leave home. Off & on during the day, repeat the phase 3-times, & wonder: “What does it mean? Why is it interesting? 3) Re-Program Your Brain with Positive Thoughts (8-15 seconds): Example: Silently repeat, “CONTENTMENT” 3-TIMES. Then ADD, “APPRECIATE CONTENTMENT” & repeat 3-TIMES. THEN ADD, “APPRECIATE FEELING CONTENTMENT,” & repeat 3-TIMES! Repeat 4-6 times a day! Type 20-Postive Thoughts (20 font), cut & put in Jar or vase. THEN, Pick a new “Positive Thought every Sunday,” & tape to your refrigerator. In the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Ben meditated on 13-positive thoughts for 13-weeks: cleanliness, chastity, frugality, humility, industry, justice, moderation, silence, sincerity, resolution, order, temperance, & tranquility. Napoleon Hill, Think & Grow Rich, meditations: peace of mind, love & romance, hope & faith, sound health, & financial security.
Plato (ancient Greek) meditations: temperance, prudence, & courage! Aristotle meditations: harmony, ethics, virtue, nature, wisdom, balance, soul, truth, and enlightenment. It takes 8-15 seconds of attention to program the brain! In 12-weeks, the quality of your life will improve. 4) What is the Greatest Visualization that you Can Imagine? (1-2 minutes): Imagine colors, sounds, & feelings – Put Yourself in the Picture! Off & on, during the day, when you need a break, close your eyes, and practice a visualization: imagine your favorite place, a mountain stream, the ocean, a vacation scene, someone you love, doing something you love, a time when you were laughing, etc.
The Workshop will cover many levels & types of meditation: breathing, relaxation, visualizations, projection, sleep & dream, light & sound, chanting, self & soul, & maximizing awareness. Learn the basics: who, what, when, where, why & how? Reduce stress & worry. Reduce anger & fear. Help with sleep issues, weight issues, healing processes & more. Use meditation to control drug & alcohol abuse. Learn to practice contentment & tranquility. For more information or If you cannot attend the workshop, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org – (Handout/Outline).
Home: (865) 851-9535, cell: 308-8529, email: email@example.com
While in Macau, China, patty and her traveling companions, Mebbie and Jolee, were entertained by magician Franz Harary. Patty was invited on stage to participate in his stage act after she had instructed Franz in his first yoga class. This video from the CBS morning news is all about Franz and his fabulous act. Enjoy!