the right tools

There’s nothing like a mid-winter recuperation for a good long think.   Lest you come away from last week’s post with the mistaken notion that my thoughts are a continuum of good cheer, I would like to clarify.   I advocate positivity, yes.  And I practice it as much as possible, because it works, and because that practice is in my toolbox.

We all have our moments.  Family life, living in a body, with mind and emotions in their constant fluctuation, all life is full of ups and downs.  And walking a life path that is not mainstream has its share of razor’s edge experiences as well.  There are times when our hearts darken.  Pain in the body distracts, and our minds become doubtful, worried, anxious, 2

It happens to the best of us.  That’s when it’s good to have some tools.

The first tool in my box when I cannot set my mind at ease is the concept that I am not my mind.  And you aren’t your mind, either.  The same thing goes for the emotions,and the body.   Of course, all three of those elements are integral to the person we consider ourselves to be…

So, if we are not our bodies, our thoughts, or our feelings – who are we?!

Good question.  Each of us can work on that answer for ourselves.

As for me, I’m just grateful to be know that I am not ONLY my thoughts and feelings.  What a relief.

However, it won’t do to just discount our minds.  The mind, when used well, is one of our very best tools.  Using it well is big trick.  There are so many pitfalls.

My grandmother was bi-polar (may she rest in peace). At her best, she was a brilliant, effusive, energetic, affectionate and creative woman. She made my mother’s homecoming queen dress by hand. She designed the house that she and her husband occupied for 50 years, as well as the office where they worked. She kept a nearly photographic memory of the medical history of innumerable members of the small town she and my grandfather served in their family practice. But her downturns were so treacherous and sad. It was as if she was incapable of generating a positive thought. And most of her negativity was turned towards herself.

Most of us are blessed to avoid the mental and emotional extremes that my Nana weathered in her life, but I think we can also all relate.

There are times when it’s hard to make our thoughts and feelings behave appropriately. There’s a new baby in the house, and we wanted the baby and longed for it and we’re so excited it’s here, but still we are in tears. What gives? It’s this kind of stuff that leads us to confuse our ultimate identity with the workings of that heart/mind. The works of our minds and emotions are powerful.

Just think how powerful they could be if we were actually able to direct them with

The second tool I like to use on dark winter days comes from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. I’ve quoted them here before. Therein lies a wonderful road map of the mental/emotional system of humanity.

In the second chapter of the Sutras – Patanjali lays out the eight limbs of yoga practice (astangha – and I’m not referring to the strenuous flow sequence practiced widely in the west today). He discusses the sort of inner development that comes from refining our lives, the principles of positive actions, and all sorts of great stuff.  And then he allows for the fact that we all hit log jams from time to time.

And here’s the tool:

II:33 vitarkabadhane pratipaksabhavanam – When harassed by doubt, cultivate the opposite mental attitude.

This doesn’t mean suppressing the negative thought. It’s more about creating an option. We don’t have to buy into that thought. Think twice.  Like this…

If my negative thinking around our illness says: “Oh this sickness and lying around is a terrible waste of time.” (It sucks to be sick, it’s awful to see my kids sick, I’m tired…)

I can reverse my mental attitude by creating a different thought: “This healing process is a wonderful opportunity.” (How rare it is that we all get to lie around together, read, watch a movie, let the world go by while we heal…)

Sometimes the reversed “mental attitudes” can seem absurd at first, but I don’t even have to believe the thought right away for it to begin to affect me.  It opens up a question.  Instead of wallowing in self-pity or fear or whatever the prevalent negative thought/feeling was, I am suddenly involved in an inquiry, and my attitude changes to one of curiosity and exploration, which is much more helpful than doubt and fear.  Maybe I can choose to believe that second statement for a little while, at least, and see what happens.  It’s an exercise – a tool for the mind.

In the next sutra, Patanjali explains how this exercise can help us get to the root of our discomfort and dysfunction and move on from there to a place of greater positivity and effectiveness, rather than just glossing over our thoughts and feelings until they come back, as they do, again and again.

If it hadn’t worked for me, I wouldn’t write about it.  This is a good tool.snowscape

The third good tool may also be the first.  When the storms of life rage – go outside.  There’s nothing like a little hard labor in the garden to adjust the workings of the mind.  Even when there’s not so much hard labor to do, in the thick of winter weather, just a little walk, a little time with animals, domesticate and wild, makes a shift.  What are my worries in the snood of a tom turkey, a rooster’s crow?  A cardinal lights on an empty branch, then flies off with my fear on his tail.  It doesn’t weigh him down at all.  On those days when the sky is clear brilliant blue, it lifts the wrinkles from my forehead.  It doesn’t take long.

As sure as there is Winter, there will be shadows on the mind and heart, frozen mud and icy paths.  But with thick socks and the right tools, rest assured Spring will come again, and we will find ourselves living in love with the green world, outside, and within.spring shoots

Please don’t look to me for deep context of the Yoga Sutras.  I’m only reporting what has helped me, and my understanding is far from complete.  There’s much more to it than I am capable of expressing in a blog post.  Others have done it much better.  The resources I lean on for Sutra quotes and commentary are Bernard Bouanchaud’s The Essence of Yoga, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, In Introduction, by T.K.V. Desikachar, and my training with Gary Kraftsow and the American Viniyoga Institute.  I hope what I write can be of some service.

6 thoughts on “the right tools

  1. Thank you for this Coree. I have long believed (and practiced) that we can overcome depressive bouts with nothing more than what exists inside of us, and of course the natural world. I’ll never claim that I don’t have them, but I usually don’t keep them around for long any more.

    • thanks for the acknowledgement Barb. it felt like a strange thing to write about – not my usual stuff, but I try to stay true to what is nearest to my thoughts.


  2. Going outside and spending time with the animals is a surefire way of snapping out of a bad mood for me. The rabbits are so loving and affectionate, the chickens so friendly and interested in me, that any negativity I might be carrying evaporates.

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