Stability on a seesaw
It has been a seesaw of a year, hasn’t it? One month up, one month down. When the vaccines entered the scene, we all rolled up our sleeves and it looked like immunity and economy were climbing along with our spirits. But, woefully, so did the Covid-19 virus spike up its act — of course, with a lot of help from a lot of citizens who let down their masks as they let down their hair and well… the seesaw tilted again.
For all that, let’s not get disheartened, ever. We don’t need to grin and bear it. There is a middle path, an old new normal — old to the Japanese, new to the rest of the world — we could choose to embrace. It’s called wabi-sabi. It’s a lovely, lovable, laudable concept, an art really, of celebrating everything as it is in all its imperfect, impermanent, broken, uncertain state. You accept, even appreciate the beauty of imperfection, you allow yourself to relax in it as you would in an old, familiar, comfortable tee shirt.
It’s a great attitude to settle yourself in. You laugh over spilt milk and through the prism of laughter, you see the crazy design on the floor and get the verve and energy to clean it up. You can love your wrinkles and gaze fondly at the lined face in the mirror that has grown old and is still with you. You admire the sunlight spilling through the broken part of the bowl giving out myriad iridescent colours and it becomes a treasured piece of art in your heart and home.
Make peace with the pandemic. Similarly, the worried, wandering mind quietens as it makes peace with the pandemic and the changes it has brought in your life. There’s a lot of uncertainty like a she-loves-me-she-loves-me-not dilemma. Just as people got comfortable in working from home, they were asked to report back to the office premises…there could be several mini-lockdowns, salary cuts, demotions, operating from hybrid set-ups….
Here’s the deal. The first thing to do is not to let your mind ruin your resolve. Quieten it. Take a few deep breaths. Exhale all the toxic fears. Decide that you are not just going to tolerate, you are going to accept uncertainty. Wabi-sabi says: uncertainty does not mean something bad will happen. It’s okay not to be able to control everything. Let go the fixed idea that everything has to be certain. Life is always changing, unfinished, imperfect… don’t resist its nature, just flow with it. Accept it. See the beauty in it. A wabi-sabi teaching goes: ‘Take responsibility for the ongoing creation of your imperfect, uncertain and beautiful life.’
Think differently. How do you “take responsibility”? Be curious, be excited. Rub your hands in anticipation. What are the possibilities? The great news is: you can lead your brain into creative waters. The brain has neuroplasticity and we can free it of old concepts by thinking differently, by going the wabi-sabi way. Our concepts freeze our thinking, wabi-sabi makes thinking more flexible by melting it with acceptance. I know from personal experience that depression, a symptom of non-acceptance, sends us into a tailspin, whereas acceptance forms a wonderful foundation and helps build resilience and stability.
Most of us have sunk so deep into our ideation of what life should be that we’ve lost sight and sensitivity of what life is.
And you begin to realise that it is possible to experience stability on a seesaw! Where do you begin? First, please understand that the brain has three systems you can work with and gift yourself a wonderful life. The systems are broadly influenced by three neuro-modulators — the chemicals dopamine, epinephrine and serotonin. You have the means to help your brain release these chemicals that bring on excitement, urgency and contentment respectively.
Move with purpose. Every morning when you wake up looking forward to going to work, you set off your dopamine-system. This chemical rises with anticipation. So, here you are, all set to go to office and you’re told there’s a lockdown… is it any wonder that the disappointment brings the dopamine swooshing down? Now you see how the seesaw works in you? You’ve been up one moment, down the next. Here’s how you take the reins. You move with purpose. All along, your brain has worked well because you moved with the purpose of going to office, right? Now, just tweak it a bit. Your purpose is to get fit, improve your immunity and for that you have to go for a morning walk. This forward movement is great for the brain. Dopamine, the anticipator, calls out to its pal, epinephrine who supplies the urgency that sets you off. So, you stride purposefully on the path of good health and your day gets a good rousing start. The opposite of depression is not happiness, it’s not feeling helpless, hopeless and let down. Your stride forward is the stride to successful living.
This self-pat sings. The next brain-
influencer is to be your own cheerleader. Applaud yourself through the day for the walk, for an idea, for a project completed on your computer, for eating healthy, for managing so beautifully. There’s a good reason for self-congratulating. It keeps the dopamine, known as the reward chemical, raised. And epinephrine needs dopamine as its companion. Without dopamine, epinephrine urgency turns into agitation and stress. So, simply put, be pleased with all that you’ve done and your brain will feel good about itself.
The here-and-now happiness. There’s one more thing you owe yourself and to your well-being — raising another reward chemical called serotonin. While dopamine enjoys the rewards of what you go out and do, serotonin enjoys the rewards of what you already have in your immediate environment. It can be your home, friends, family, pet… it calms you, promotes a tranquil, contented feeling. Serotonin rises when you hug your spouse, your kids, pet your dog or cat, speak over the phone to a loved sibling or friend… it loves bonding. And bonding is a great support not just in pandemic times, but all times. Bonds are the mental spine that give us the courage and confidence to go out and do stuff. We feel safe and reassured knowing they are there.
It’s amazing, isn’t it, that we have three friendly chemicals sitting right there in our brain, answering our summons? When you are able to control the controllable and influence your feelings, you begin to feel more yourself. When you connect the three systems in your brain, you can connect the dots in your life. You feel more comfortable, become more accepting and don’t feel ‘forced’, rather you flow gracefully with the current as the need of the hour.
For one or two years, there is a possibility of this continuing uncertainty. The coronavirus may not go away entirely, but it is weakening. Besides, our vaccines, masks, social distancing will make it virtually harmless. Experts expect it to be just another ‘cough and cold’ virus in another five years. Meanwhile, they say, even if we are infected, it will boost our immunity against other viruses as well.
I am enough. Meanwhile, don’t fret about having to remain indoors during mini lockdowns which could be part of our collective future. In a film titled Country Girl, seeing the city-bred teenager fret in the rural surroundings, the equine therapist gently shares her philosophy: ‘I am where I am meant to be… I am enough.’ The fact is, most of us have sunk so deep into our ideation of what life should be that we’ve lost sight and sensitivity of what life is. When we climb down from our arrogant assumptions, our stubborn suppositions, we’ll see its uncertainties as mysteries to be lived and it will slowly dawn on us that ‘it is all as it is meant to be. I am where I am meant to be. I am enough.’ It could be our tune for June.
The writers are authors of Fitness for Life and Simply Spiritual – You Are Naturally Divine and teachers of the Fitness for Life programme.