05/12/2020 Mind-Body Health
Learning to cope during a crisis has been vividly brought to mind for everyone in the pandemic. A time of unrest and anxiety brings out the stress response, and we all need to know how to deal with this.
The current pandemic of the COVID virus has brought in its wake a different pandemic of anxiety and uncertainty.
How do people usually adapt to anxiety besides taking tranquilizers? Psychologically the two most common ways are denial and distraction. Neither is helpful. By ignoring your anxiety or doing something that takes your mind off it, you might find temporary relief. But is there something more permanent and effective? Sigmund Freud said that anxiety is like an unwelcome guest that refuses to leave. You are forced to adapt to its presence. Can you actually get this unwelcome guest to leave?
Yes, you can. The secret is to make conscious choices that cause fear to shrink away because you no longer need it. Fear is a holdover from our early evolution, rooted in the fight or flight response. It lies in wait, ready to spring into action, as it did for our hominid ancestors over a million years ago. But for the last ten thousand years the higher, or conscious brain, has evolved and with it came infinite resources of thought, feeling, creativity, and choice-making. We were set free from primal fear.
All we have to do is choose the path of consciousness, which is the path of inner wisdom. This is a theme I will be returning to over and over because the true secret of making tomorrow better than today is to choose to wake up. Your purpose here is to become more human, and the first lesson of inner wisdom is that becoming more human is accomplished with every step of waking up.
To make the right choices, you need to be conscious of what fear is doing to you. Fear is a form of stress, and you can choose to release that stress. That’s where learning to settle your mind comes in because only the level of awareness that is always quiet and peaceful gives you escape from stress and anxiety.
We can use an effective and very simple Yoga pose known as Shavasana where you simply lie still, breathe, and consciously relax. First, find a comfortable, quiet place to lie down on the floor, using the carpet or a yoga mat. Lying on your back, place your feet 18 inches apart with your arms at your side, palms up. Close your eyes, settle into the position, and breathe naturally.
Put your attention on your breath, feeling your chest rise and fall. On the out breath, let your lungs deflate with a sigh. Easily breathe in, then exhale with a sigh. Sense yourself becoming deeply relaxed and continue for 5 to 10 minutes. Now sink into this relaxed feeling. To exit the pose, don’t just jump up and go into an activity. Easily turn and stretch as if you were waking up in the morning. Open and close your hands, then open your eyes and get up without moving quickly into activity.
You are relaxed and in control. Remember this feeling. Later in the day, if anxiety comes calling, tap back into this feeling.
Let’s broaden the discussion a little. Modern life makes room for many external rewards but very few in the inner realm. A stark fact in modern life is that more money, power, status, and position don’t bring inner fulfillment. Inner fulfillment is found along a different path. In ancient India, life presented two paths, the path of pleasure and the path of wisdom. Every wisdom tradition, East and West, is based on waking up, which means in practice getting over your unconscious behavior and adopting conscious behavior instead.
You’re already doing that in this discussion of how fear works. You are waking up to discover that fear doesn’t have to be in charge. You might not think of this as wisdom, but it is. Every moment of inner wisdom is simply a moment of becoming more conscious and aware.
I hope many of you will try Shavasana. Taking 5 to 10 minutes to breathe out stress and breathe in relaxation may not seem like much, but such small steps reassert control over your personal reality, lessening the grip of fear and uncertainty.