Recently, someone commented that because I’m a psychotherapist who has practiced yoga for more than 20 years, I must float around in a sort of bliss-filled bubble of equanimity and peace.
Eh, not so much!
I’d say my life is filled with an above-average amount of minor to major life stressors. It doesn’t look like that is going to ease up in the immediate future. But that is why I practice. Daily yoga and meditation isn’t some magic bullet that will automatically make my life’s path smoother, but it definitely affects how I deal with stressors on a day-to-day basis.
Because of my practice, I have noticed a marked difference in how I process whatever comes my way. In the face of problems from the small and mundane (the trash bag broke and now there’s garbage all over my driveway) to significant issues, such as death or illness of loved ones, I am developing the ability to incorporate what I call “The Big Pause.”
I’ll explain, starting with the easier example – trash on the driveway. It’s dark, and I just want to finish my chores and go to bed. Instead of spewing expletives out of my mouth, muttering about off-brand trash bags and stomping into the garage to bang around and get a broom, I take The Big Pause. Instead of jumping straight into reaction, my practice is teaching me how to pause and formulate a response instead.
Usually, I will go straight to a gratitude game I like to play with myself. It goes like this: So there’s garbage on the driveway. I’m so grateful to have a driveway that’s lit well and that I feel safe on. And I’m not picking through garbage because I’m hungry. I am actually throwing this away. Somebody is going to come pick this up from my house in a few days. Isn’t that nice? And while I’m out here in the dark, the stars are so beautiful tonight, they remind me that I am just a tiny, lucky, lucky speck on a big blue marble floating in the sky.
See how that works? Then I proceed to clean up the mess, but with a lovely feeling of gratitude and connection to the world around me. (I’ll be honest. An expletive or two might still come out before I take The Big Pause, but that’s why we yogis call it “practice.”)
Now, let’s take a look at a deeper issue and see how The Big Pause can help. I got news of a friend’s sudden accidental death a few months ago. Tears flowed and flowed. I allowed my body to assist my mind in absorbing what this meant in my life and the lives of others. And then, when I felt ready, I took a Pause. I thought of all this person had meant to me, how he had inspired me and my children, how many joyful experiences I had with him and, because of how inspirationally he led his life, how many juicy adventures I had because of him. The pain and the natural transition time to get used to not having him on the planet didn’t necessarily lessen, but the quality of the pain did. I was able to continue to move through my grief and assist others with theirs with more of a sense of sweet sadness, and a deep gratitude for the gift of knowing him during his time here on Earth.
Life is made up of challenges. There will always be difficult moments and hard transitions, and we’ve got to expect a certain amount of garbage on the driveway. How we deal with that garbage, that’s the ticket. That’s what makes the difference between leading a stressed life or a blessed life. Yoga and meditation helps me practice The Big Pause, and has changed the quality of my life.
I trust that it can change yours, too.
Julie Hale, LMFT, is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT #52246) in private practice in Los Angeles, and a Yoga Alliance Certified yoga instructor (RYT200). She teaches yoga and meditation to all ages at retreats, seminars and at her home away from home, Montecito Lake Resort. Visit her online at www.juliehale.net.