Written by BijaB with Erin Shea Brady
Show of hands: how many of you check your email first thing in the morning, before even getting out of bed? How many of you scroll through your Facebook feeds just before falling asleep?
My guess is, many of you.
And I get it. We all have a responsibility in today’s world to stay informed, to stay on top of the news so that we may contend, even resist, and challenge that our America is not normal. It's difficult even in less threatening times to take a break from technology where everything is so immediate. The continuous flow of communication is tempting to pay attention to. But studies show that tweeting or checking emails can be more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol. When we introduce heightened social and political responsibility, unplugging can seem like an impossible, even irresponsible task.
This is a historic time to engage — to turn fear into action, chaos into progress, anger into empathy. But achievement in all forms comes from focus and clarity. Instead of constantly draining your energy by “liking”, scrolling, and retweeting, you must make an attempt to reclaim your lucid mind.
Beginnings and endings are the key to finding this kind of sanity. How you begin and end the day shapes the way you live. Quieting the mind and turning your attention inward, into the world of the senses, rejuvenates your body and mind and allows you to be present, focused and connected to everything around you. Using “personal ritual” brings power to your experience.
Creating a Personal Ritual
Ritual, as part of yoga practice, takes the abstract idea of focusing and brings it into your muscles, your emotions, and the way you live. Through the simplest acts of personal ritual, you can do many things. You can help yourself deal with difficulty or pain, purify and atone for your mistakes, and reflect on your choices. You can also energize and boost your desire with ritual.
A ritual can be something as simple as sitting quietly and repeating an intention or a word, lighting a candle, planting something, offering a flower, or walking 100 steps after you eat (an old Indian ritual). Create an intent in your mind as you do these things. Feel the silence and resolve to bring it into your world. Rituals give form to your life, not just on the surface, but emotionally. You need rituals to connect deeply with yourself. Even the simplest rituals can give you emotional security, contentment, and a deep sense of comfort and strength.
Creating a personal ritual is important because of its enormous power to comfort and heal.
In the Morning
The purpose behind your ritual directs your ritual to fulfillment. Ritual isn't mindless movement. It's a focusing technique to systematically give you an anchor point within.
Here is a simple ritual you can do before you begin each day:
Sit wherever you are, even at your desk, and close your eyes. Notice how you feel. Then begin to lengthen your breath, both on the inhale and exhale. Keep lengthening the flow of your breath and continue doing this for about 10 or 12 breaths, increasing the length of your breathing as you go along. Pause at the end, come back to easy breathing and stay in the silence.
From that place of silence, begin to repeat a silent intention inside, for clarity and purpose. Wait for a moment, and repeat that intention again. You may ask for guidance, for a particular direction. A wish, a goal. Repeat it once more. Then, slowly open your eyes.
Notice the quality of your attention and how you feel.
“Like a frightened child, the planet sleeps with its lights on.” — Dr. Rubin Naiman, Healing Night
Take an evening, and open the ritual space by turning the lights down and lowering the volume. Light a candle, or just sit quietly in your living room and appreciate the beauty around you. Reflect on your day, your week. Remind yourself that your presence has really mattered and you have touched people. Listen to the silence and enter into what feels like a subtler dimension, where you feel connected and calm.
Get an alarm clock and leave your phone outside the bedroom. Surrender to rest. Turn your mind gently inward and allow the tensions to leave. Then you can hear what is most deeply true. In the yoga tradition, this is called, pratyahara, choosing freely to accept or leave the external situation and direct your attention inside.
It is as the psalm says, “Be still, and know.”
A Wake-Up Call (Day or Night)
— Stop, and notice where you are this moment. Are you available to yourself? Can you see where you are not?
— Come on and be here right now. Jump into present-moment awareness.
— Can you notice yourself being present? Stay with yourself for a few more moments.
— Keep your attention within. Pull it into focus.
— Trust yourself and your ability to listen. If you are willing to tune in, you'll find that the energy of your attention will change you deeply. Paying attention means having a listening mind. It leads to the experience of freedom.
You Must Have Emotional Chaos
Order is something we all desire, but chaos is everybody's business. From what we've learned about chaos, we're usually intrigued, but never comforted. Chaos seems ominous because we're all taught to avoid it. Nevertheless, when it happens, it serves a valuable purpose.
In everyone and everything lurks the potential for chaos. Amid change, all life is in chaos — the turbulent sea, the fluctuations of wildlife, the oscillations of our hearts and brains. Life is most exciting when it's in chaos. During periods of emotional chaos, you always seem to grow the most.
Chaos is just the motion of your system organizing itself into a new focus. When disturbances come, know you're being asked to change and move forward. Disturbances create disequilibrium, but disequilibrium leads to growth. Chaos is a great motivator, prodding you, pushing you to keep going, to renew your beliefs and question your behaviors.
In these uncertain often daunting times, you must consider turbulence an opportunity for growth. Use it to build personal fortitude and strength. Trust in yourself. Look in the direction in which you want to go. Be gentle with whatever you're going through, and continue to tune into the joy and the love in your life.
How else will you know what you’re fighting for?
[Excerpts from Emotional Yoga: How the Body Can Heal the Mind (Simon and Schuster, 2002)]
Looking for more self-care tips? Learn more about managing your energy here.