Just Be Helpful
As I flowed through the poses of my solo yoga routine, I found myself choosing to do five sun salutations, one after the other. I was not following any particular order of poses, or aiming for a particular goal for my workout today. Physically, my intention was to strengthen my core, stretch as many muscles and tendons as possible, connect with my body which is in the throes of a marathon training plan. I am training for my 10th (I think) marathon, which will take place three days before my 48th birthday, and as always, my goal is to show up under-trained, uninjured, and ready to soak up the energy that is unique to the Marine Corps Marathon. I run about four times a week and break up the pounding with yoga, which I did today.
In the meantime, loved ones are being pounded by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, and other loved ones were terrifyingly shaken yesterday in Mexico City. Here in the continental U.S., a couple of friends have sent out prayer requests in the last 24 hours, for a young man who was in a car accident and is now fighting for his life, and an older man who has just received a serious cancer diagnosis. Not for the first time, I found myself being pulled into the tsunami of this world’s chaos and suffering, and while filled with worry and sadness and empathy, I also felt the need to help somehow. But how?
I think the overwhelm of individual situations, not to mention the state of things in the broader landscape, can easily lead to fear and a sense of inadequacy, helplessness and hopelessness. I am in my beautiful, comfortable home, it is a beautiful, sunny, warm day out, and the items on my To Do List are, quite frankly, not that important in the grand scheme of things. Yes, boxes still need to be unpacked. Yes, a workshop session still needs to be designed for an upcoming retreat. Yes, a book chapter needs to be written. Emails answered, errands run, travel plans finalized. And yet, knowing how many people, including loved ones, in areas I know and love, are focused right now on clinging to their most basic needs - food, shelter, safety - the things I am doing to ensure my and my family’s day is as smooth and comfortable as possible, seem really stupid. So, because I am doing my best, every day, with what I have on this God-given day, I ask myself - what can I do that is helpful, right now, with what I have? This thought, feeling, action - is it helpful?
“Is it helpful” is one of those filters I have adopted as a mantra, when it comes to my words and actions. It is really tempting to jump into negativity - complaining, blaming, criticizing, catastrophizing, dramatizing. But is that helpful? Sure, it’s important to vent, to release our thoughts and emotions, in order to transform them. But the key is to do this with a select audience that can help us transform our shit by validating us and helping us feel heard and seen. In general, this audience is most likely a small group of (or one or two) super close friends or a significant other. I have found that, especially with Facebook and other forms of media, social and otherwise, this healthy process is either misunderstood, or people are not engaging in it. In other words, a lot of people are not asking themselves, “Is this helpful?” before posting or commenting or writing or speaking.
As I started off what ended up being a sweat-drenching yoga practice today, I knew that what I was doing, was the most helpful thing I could do for the next 75 or so minutes. Honoring and accepting my body. Focusing on the experience, from breath to breath, of being in my body, in my space, in that exact moment. Again. Again. And Again. Stretching my spine, clearing my head. Breathing in life, breathing out love. I less pictured, more sensed, the people I know, and know of, who are in that primal space of fearing of losing what they hold dearest, knowing how fragile it all is, how little we can truly control. I breathed in faith, breathed out strength. I allowed the thoughts, images, feelings to pass through my mind, my heart, my muscles and bones, like waves that ebb, flow, crash, recede, always moving, never staying, controlled by a force much greater than us.
My practice ended in stillness, my body ready to be quiet for a seated meditation. Is it helpful? Yes, I answer to myself. It is helpful to connect with my body in a loving, supportive, challenging way. It is helpful to prepare my brain to handle the day’s news, demands, surprises in a way that is more active than reactive. It is helpful to give myself the self care that I need, so I can be more present and compassionate for those I love the most. And yes, for those who challenge me the most. I suppose that like anything, it is a matter of perspective. I can choose to see my role in the world, right now, as not really making much of a difference. No, I am not in a position, today, to protect people from harm’s way in the face of natural disaster or evil people. But I choose to do what I can, right now, that I know to be helpful. And I also choose to believe that if each of us behaves, in person and online, in a way that is helpful, for the greater good, then we are doing something that matters.
If you need some ideas, these are some ways that I think are helpful actions that we can all do, today, right now:
1. Listen. When in a conversation with a child, significant other, in-law, sibling, friend, co-worker, patient, student, fellow parent, neighbor, stranger - instead of thinking about what we are going to say next, or making an assumption of what they are going to say, or interrupting them with your own opinion or story, or one-upping them - just listen. None of us do this nearly enough. Including me. Let’s all listen. Please.
2. When posting on Facebook (social media), first ask, “Is this helpful?” If we are sharing a link, or giving an opinion, that we believe is going to change someone’s mind or “inform” someone about a hot topic (ie politically-charged), I suggest you not post it. It is not going to change anyone’s mind, instead, it is going to alienate people whose minds you are trying to change, and it is going to strengthen the Group Think of your supporters. In other words, you are merely adding to the polarization that you claim to dislike. More helpful, I think, is to reach out to someone whose mind you are trying to influence. Reach out privately. And then, rather than shouting at them, follow number 1 (see above).
3. Self-Care. We need to take better care of ourselves if we are going to be helpful. This includes: rest. Go to bed at least a couple of hours before midnight (my mom always said those were the most important sleep hours, and I agree). Get outside. We are so disconnected with nature that it’s no wonder it’s rebelling. Get the f--k outside! This is a beautiful world, so much more interesting and miraculous than anything you will find in the latest IOS update. Move. Move your body, often, throughout the day. If you work in an office, pretend you’re a smoker, and make sure you get up at least once an hour and walk around, stretch the limbs, take deep breaths. Exhale like a smoker. Play! Don’t take yourself so seriously. Life is hard, there’s some serious shit we all have to deal with, so give yourself a break and hang out with friends, yell encouragement to other runners as they pass you (they’ll be shocked out of their PR-chasing misery), wear a silly t-shirt. I could go on and on about self-care but I don’t think that would be helpful right now - this is long enough.
So, while “thoughts and prayers” may feel or be accused of being hollow and a cop-out, I choose to believe that keeping people and communities and the world in one’s heart and mind, in a way that stresses healing, strength, support, and compassion, is actually very helpful. Especially when coupled with whatever helpful action we are equipped to take, right now, today, to the best of our ability.
I hope this is helpful.
Wellness coach, athlete, mom, entrepreneur. I love helping people mindfully reboot their health & joy.