We’ve rallied so far and we will continue to do so. For if, as Eckhart Tolle says, ‘Life is designed for disruptions,’ then it is a sure thing that we are designed to ideate, create and overcome. We’ve come up trumps already, haven’t we? From working from home to working out to strengthen our immunity to vaccinations to staycations to virtual conferences and parties and doing our stuff online, we’ve covered a massive area with our innovations.
The next question is: how do we proceed? The answer is very simple: we adapt and keep adapting. The story goes: A village called Land had never seen the ocean. As the ecology changed, the sea expanded and began encroaching on the Land. The villagers panicked. ‘We will drown!’ they cried. Only one person called Shams remained calm. He quietly walked to the shore and went into the shallow water. He stayed there. Then he looked back and told the anxious villagers, ‘I have walked into the Ocean. It is very comfortable. Why don’t you leave your fears behind and join me?’ And the whole village did. And everybody agreed that it was really quite comfortable and enjoyable.
The breath that builds. These villagers had an inbuilt skill that we all have — the skill to adapt. In adapting, we go through three phases: in the first phase, the body reacts acutely to a stressful stimulus. It secretes adrenalin and other stress hormones. They quicken our heart rate, breathing and raise our blood pressure. Before we get to the second phase, let’s pause here.
We can control our body-reactions by taking control of our breath. Sitting where you are, consciously inhale through your nostrils to a count of 8, while allowing your stomach to swell. Then exhale through your mouth to a count of 8, allowing your stomach to subside. Do it comfortably, slow and easy, 20–30 times until you feel calm. By doing this simple exercise, you are letting go of fear and anxiety and allowing calmness to govern your system. And now, you voluntarily step into the next phase.
Normally, in the second phase, the acute fear can sharpen or dull down leading to high anxiety if you are a high-strung kind of personality or depression if you are prone to quick lows and pessimism. What this 8-8 breathing does is that it helps you manage your reaction and guides you into a state of readiness to respond to the situation. This state can be enormously productive — it gives us the beautiful urge, the positive impetus to ideate, create, overcome and progress. There’s a wonderful feeling of: ‘We cannot let ourselves down!’
And that brings us to the third phase which is a ‘let-downer’ — a continuous high-energy state which brings on chronic exhaustion and then illness. However, our 8-8 breathing mellows it, keeps it balanced yet beautifully lubricated.
There’s much wisdom here. When we cannot change the environment, we change our reaction to it with our breath. Tip: Do the 8-8 breathing at bedtime when the lights are off. You will slip into a lovely, restful state.
Make trying times, caring times. Thomas Paine sighed, ‘These are the times that try men’s souls.’ He was, of course remarking on a different concept, but the sentiment holds true today. And we can, at a personal level, make them less trying. There’s a timely, humane reminder making the rounds. It says, ‘We all need each other. Take care.’ Perhaps, initially, we needed the shrill negativity of the media to shock us into wearing masks, sanitising our hands and maintaining social distancing. At the same time, while we need to continue these practices, we now need to keep away from such shrillness. For these are also times that can numb our souls.
So, please do minimise watching news channels and give your mind the space to breathe, to trust that things are working out. Distrust is a slow, unpleasant destroyer of our inner cohesiveness. As Theodore Roosevelt said, ‘The poorest way to face life is with a sneer.’ Many speakers on news channels do. Interestingly, I find channels that specialise in economics more positive, very upbeat about the state of affairs. Their analysts speak in measured tones, they don’t suffer from ‘future block’ — where it’s all fog, no future — they see disruptions as opportunities, they plan for the next six months and beyond, they walk the stocks through thick and thin, they see the future in all its brightness where others don’t.
Be interested, be passionate. That’s an important pointer — do things that you wouldn’t have time for in the old normal. Spend an hour or so on something you are passionate about. As a cardiologist said, ‘Be interested in something and you will be interesting to others.’ This is how we allow the present to interact intimately with us, it comes alive in our doings. Rainer M Rilke puts it beautifully, ‘Don’t search for the answers which could not be given to you now because you would not be able to live them. The point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps, then, some day you will gradually without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.’
Live everything with grace and enthusiasm. A few days ago, a thought floated into my head, ‘When you accept life as perfect in its imperfections, you rise above life-situations.’ Stillness does that. It teaches. It points you in the right direction. Emotions don’t give you direction but they give you a certain drive, a flair, so that you live everything.
Live the pause too. Maybe you’ve had to put some big plans on pause. That’s okay. Live the pause too. It gives space to re-think, re-plan and be more flexible in your approach. Allow your eyes to open to the multiple, multi-coloured routes your life could take. Who knows what secrets were hidden from you before the corona virus came along? As Somerset Maugham said, ‘The secret to life is meaningless unless you discover it yourself.’
Telling takeaways. The virus has given a greater emphasis and deeper meaning to the words ‘health’ and ‘immunity’. These are compelling takeaways for our present and future. The key is to exercise regularly — walk briskly half an hour five days a week or CAH — cycle at home at 70–80 rpm. A study was conducted before vaccines came on the scene in California. It followed 48,440 people who had Covid and found that the active ones did not need hospitalisation.
Lift the greyness. Mental immunity and strength are equally important. Three of the most heart-lifting words I heard recently were from my cousin Pramod who was hospitalised after testing positive and feeling breathless as his oxygen level fell. ‘I am recovering!’ he messaged all of us on the first day itself. It’s amazing how the greyness lifted. That’s what we need — a feeling of being on top of our ailments, for that’s where adaptability springs from. The secret taught by sages is to never underestimate your energy. When I heard Nayaswami Jyotish thunder, ‘We live in a sea of powerful energy!’ I felt a wave of strength in me. It’s true. Each of us is powered and we live in an environment powered with energy. That’s how millions of us are alive and the world functions 24/7. Have trust, faith, conviction that everything is working out. We will vaccinate ourselves, we will all get well and stay well. As Yogananda said, ‘All challenges are challenges of our willingness!’ And by God, are we willing! Not just willing but ready and roaring to go!
The writers are authors of Fitness for Life and Simply Spiritual – You Are Naturally Divine and teachers of the Fitness for Life programme.