Trust, faith, letting go, etc

“Everything good that happens to you in life happens because of the way you behave. Everything great that happens to you in life happens because of the way you behave when things aren’t fair.” – Andy Andrews

“Acceptance is the key to happiness.” – Art of Living Foundation

We go through life with desires and expectations about how we want the world to be.  Sometimes things go our way, and sometimes they don’t.  Eastern philosophy teaches us that suffering results from attachment to our desires.  Since we can’t control the world, the guru reminds us, instead learn to control our response to the world.  I’ve been having this lesson hammered into me this week, both from my coaches and from my real teachers, people and circumstances in my life.

I met a woman recently at a local community gathering who made a really strong impression on me.  She was smart, funny, and beautiful; she cared deeply about social justice; and we seemed to have a lot of common interests.  We spent the entire afternoon together, and parted ways with an agreement to see each other again the following weekend.  So the stage is set for my desires and expectations about how the world should be.

My romance coach, Erwan Davon, says that trust is fundamentally important to our relationships with others, ourselves, and life in general.  When talking about trust in life, or trust in the universe, I interpret it as something akin to faith: that everything is all right, that everything is going to be all right, and that there is no need to worry.  Many of us have an underdeveloped sense of trust in life, and when something happens that rubs us the wrong way, we recoil from it.  We reject it and judge it as “bad,” as something that “shouldn’t be.”  Then we react.  Each person’s mode of reaction to a triggering event is influenced by their personality type.  In my case, I was brought up to believe that if at first you don’t succeed, try again, and try harder.

For whatever reason (and for a cerebral person like me, trying to figure out the reason can be a real trap and waste of energy), the woman I met never answered any of my calls, and when she replied to my texts, she did not answer my questions about our plans for the upcoming weekend.  For me, this was a triggering event, an instance in which things weren’t fair.  I had a fear response, which I judged to be bad, and my personality type kicked in.  If she didn’t reply to my text, I called.  When she didn’t answer, I tried it all over again the next day.  My yoga teacher, Kevin Snorf, calls this clinging to the rope of life, which only results in rope burn.

So what’s the solution? Erwan and Kevin agree: first off, the Warrior does not reject her fear response.  Instead, he says “yes” to what is.  Someone doesn’t call you back?  Say yes to it.  It is what is.  Fear, doubt, and worry come up in response?  Say yes to them, and feel them, and know that they are only emotions.  They are not you, but they’ll live in you a lot longer if you try to repress them.  Then inquire into them.  Where is this fear coming from?  What am I really afraid of and why?  When you start to see that your fears have been with you for most of your life, and that you’re reacting today to things that happened years and years ago, you can start to experiment with a different way of doing things.  You can start by letting go of the rope and having faith that there will be a soft landing.

The 4 (+1) sources of prana

This weekend I’m participating in a silent meditation course with the Art of Living Foundation in Santa Clara, California. I first began studying breath and meditation with the Art of Living in January 2012, and I took my first silence course in February 2012. As I prepare for this weekend, I thought I’d share with you an approach to health that the Art of Living taught me, and which I still use as a guide to this day.

What’s prana?

Coming from ayurveda, the ancient Indian life science that informs many yogic teachings, the Sanskrit word “prana” is often translated as “breath” or “life force.” If you have never stopped to consider the fundamental relationship between breath and life, notice that even in English, the word “spirit” shares a root with “respiration.” In yogic contexts, prana is one way of referring to one’s state of health. High prana states are healthier and more vibrant than low prana states. In the first Art of Living course I took, we learned about the four sources of prana (and a bonus fifth one).

Breath: The first source of prana

No surprise, the first source of prana is breath. When you’re feeling down, notice how you’re breathing, and notice how it’s different from the way you breathe when you’re in a better mood. Experiment with taking a few slow deep breaths. If you’ve done any yoga training and you’ve learned to take deep breaths into the belly, ribs and chest, try a few of those first thing in the morning. Prana is also described as a vital energy, and while we may all be used to the idea that we get our energy from food, the sugar that we derive from food can only provide us with energy if there is oxygen at the end of the line. Breath is so integral to the process that biologists call it cellular respiration.

Food and water: The second source of prana

Again, thinking of prana as a sort of energy, it isn’t difficult to see how the foods we eat can have an impact on our level of prana. However, ayurveda is thousands of years old, pre-dating our understanding of calories and micronutrients, and as such, the relationship between what we ingest and our level of prana has no clear parallel in western nutrition. For one thing, water does not provide us with any calories, but that doesn’t mean we can’t compare the levels of prana of two different types of water. Certain foods and certain drinks are characterized as having higher or lower levels of prana. Living foods, green foods, and whole foods are higher in prana than processed foods or dead foods like meat. Clean water with electrolytes is higher in prana than dirty water, or even distilled water.

Sleep: The third source of prana

If we don’t sleep, we die. Death is a decidedly low prana state. So much of our health, happiness, productivity, and general performance in life is dependent on getting enough restful sleep. Compare how you feel after a good night’s rest to how you feel after getting only a couple hours of sleep, and it becomes instantly clear which leads to the higher prana state.

Mental state: The fourth source of prana

Our thoughts and emotions can also affect our level of prana. Mindbody medicine may still seem “new agey” and weird to many Americans, but it has been around for a long time, and is now beginning to be substantiated by the hard sciences. How we feel and the things we think about can affect our physical state. Since learning to meditate with the Art of Living, I have seen how a regular practice of mental cleansing can be just as important to my health as brushing my teeth. Learning to replace low prana mental states like hatred and anger with high prana mental states like love and acceptance is difficult, to be sure, but well worth the effort.

Cold showers: The bonus fifth source of prana

Don’t laugh. Or go ahead. Laugh, as long as you’re laughing with joy (fourth source of prana). I can’t really explain it, but scientific evidence and my own personal experience both converge on this one. Cold showers can do wonders for your physical and mental health. If you’re scared to give it a try, start small. Work out first to work up a sweat and then take a cold shower. Or start with the water hot and slowly lower the temperature. I’ve made taking cold showers a habit. I’ve probably taken no more than two non-cold showers in the last month, and they felt weird. Benefits include: shortcut to present-moment awareness, less water wasted in unnecessarily long showers, encourages me to move and stretch while I’m in the shower to reduce prolonged exposure to any one area, trains me to grit my teeth in the face of something horrible and just do it. Others report additional benefits: mood lift, weight loss, and sleep aid. For real, Google “cold water therapy” for more about this.

That’s it. Pretty basic. Which of these five sources of prana do you have working for you on a regular basis? What can you do to squeeze a little more prana out of your daily life? What do you think is missing from this list? Remember, this is just one model for health. Feel free to use as much or as little of it as you like, and combine it with your own approach if you have something that works well for you.

Until next time.