It was, you’d think, a very serious moment. Two of the most venerated icons in the world — The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, were all set to walk staidly together onstage to give a talk on how compassion, peace, love and empathy would save our world.
As they took a few steps, the Dalai Lama, suddenly seized by a playful mood, pretended to strangle his fellow-speaker. “Hey!” protested the Archbishop, “The cameras are on us, act like a holy man!”
It’s a scene I keep re-playing in my mind and it never fails to bring a smile to my lips, which then spreads to my entire being.
No hang-ups. What is the secret behind these two great mens’ mirth and mischief? First of all, they’d laugh heartily at being described as ‘greats’. The Archbishop never claimed to be chief of priests and the Dalai Lama sees himself as a simple lama. I flush with embarrassment when I think of the time I described myself as a ‘senior writer’! Uff! I feel so much more light-hearted, so free after I became a simple writer. It is important to observe, absorb and emulate the attitude and behaviour of the wonderful luminaries amongst us.
For, it’s a fact — hang-ups do weigh us down because they are a load on our naturally free spirit. That is how our anxiety levels rise. And we begin to live ‘lives of quiet desperation.’ The mark of an anxious person is nervous body-language, withdrawing into a self-cocoon or, alternately, over-
reacting aggressively. The pulse beats at 95-plus per minute (78–84 is considered normal), the breathing is quick and shallow.
Breathe away the buzz. Slow, conscious breathing is essential to dissipate the buzz and blur of anxiety and re-align with our natural peaceful rhythm. Sit comfortably, eyes closed. Take long breaths through your nose; exhale long breaths from your mouth. Feel your stomach rise as you inhale and fall as you exhale. Calm your mind with well-intentioned thoughts: May all be happy, healthy, peaceful. You can actually slow your pulse rate from 95 to 80 beats a minute after 10 minutes of slow, conscious breathing. In the days to come, if you feel a tingling in the back of your head, it means you are getting into a calming pattern. Your brain is adjusting to a change from fearful and angry reactivity to one of ease and joyful acceptance. It is literally a tingle of sweetness.
And sweetness is hugely preferable to stress any day, isn’t it? Stress increases anxiety, so please don’t seek it. Distance yourself from negativity, drama, dialogues. Be kind, not hard on yourself and others. If something feels wrong, don’t do it. If something feels right, do it. There’s this guy who, every time he shops for groceries, buys extra bags of rice and dal and gives them to beggars at traffic lights. He does it because it feels right. Just reading about him brings sweetness in you, doesn’t it?
Explain life to your mind. The mind listens. Care for it. Check in every now and then to see if it is okay. If it’s upset, explain to it the other person’s perspective. As goes an ancient Amish proverb, “Instead of putting others in their place, put yourself in their place.” If your mind is angry, explain to it that life is big enough to accommodate all kinds of events and emotions to play out. Give it love, give it understanding, give it words uttered by the greats so that it can fly on their wings until it learns to fly on its own. Nurture the mind because it manages your relationships. It can make the dismal abyss of differences glow with the sweet radiance of acceptance.
In this spirit of acceptance tell your mind repeatedly to suspend judgment. Judgment delayed is anxiety denied as this little parable teaches: A child was holding two apples in her hands. Her mother walked in with a soft tread and asked her with a fond smile, “Hello, my sweetie, may your Mom have one apple, please?”
The little girl looked up at her, then at the apples, then quickly bit into one apple and almost as quickly bit into the second apple as well…
The mother’s smile froze. She tried hard not to feel let down. And the girl handed over one bitten apple saying, “Here you are, Mommy. This is the sweeter one.”
That one moment, if held in suspended judgment, has immense potential for peace, acceptance and surprise. For, anxiety also arises from an acute lack of trust. Harassed is he who believes there’s always a gun to his head. Happy is she who believes there’s always a flute at her lips. Every one of us has been pleasantly surprised not once, but several times, the way people or situations have come through. Now, all we have to do is: remain true to our experiences. Anxiety has no elbow room when, along with the disappointments, we also constantly acknowledge the reliable people in our life, the times when things have turned out just fine. That’s how we open our minds and hearts to trust.
Sifting four conditions. Anxiety is a mix of four inner conditionings that make us think and act the way we do. These are:
- Self-pre-occupation: being concerned almost solely with one’s own beliefs and opinions. To break through this conditioning, we explore new ways of thinking, keep our mind open to other viewpoints, by saying, “There’s always something new to learn.”
- Anger stems from resisting the flow of life. This can be overcome by deciding to co-operate with people and flow with maximum number of situations.
- Greed comes from lack of self-control, like wanting more and unable to stop yourself at the sight of a chocolate cake. Here, self-mastery can be developed by attaching our sense of values — I value my health, so I do not touch that cake.
- Fear flows from feeling powerless in a situation, in life. Here, the need is to master the situation by exercising responsibility — consulting experts, designing creative ways to ease and deal with the issue — and reclaiming the sense of power.
Finally, declare and make every day a non-anxiety day. Walk in the park knowing that each step brings peace and stability. Drink your tea in freedom and joy by appreciating every sip and marveling at its easy accessibility. Above all, don’t take life so seriously. Even the Dalai Lama doesn’t. And, he is a holy man!
The writers are authors of Fitness for Life and Simply Spiritual – You Are Naturally Divine and teachers of the Fitness for Life programme.