DON'T WORRY! (But . . .)

When doctors say, “Hmmmmm, I don’t want to worry you but. . .”  it’s pretty much certain that the next thing they say will be worrisome. And when a surgeon said it to me last month, it was.

“I want you to be checked out by a specialist for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis,” he said.

I said, “ALS?”

“Yes,” he said.

He didn’t want to WORRY ME? What I said next wasn’t pretty.

For the first time in 61 years, a sense of my mortality slugged me directly and squarely in the gut. ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, has a definite expiration date. And the process to getting there is pretty gruesome — degeneration of the brain’s motor neurons that slowly rob you of movement and speech and life while leaving your brain aware of everything you’re losing. The news didn’t exactly put me in the holiday spirit.

I went home and told Maren. It took all she could muster not to break down (she saved the tears for a more private time.) As we talked about it, we vowed not to let it spoil all the upcoming Festivus activities. But ALS lurked and sometimes loomed large. I was bummed by the possibility and the “not knowing” was almost as bad.

I wish I had a yogic secret to divulge here, some amazing technique that miraculously dissipated the fear and anxiety. I wish I could tell you that my practices kept my head from running to the darkest of places. What I can report is that immediately after my reactive expletives in the doctors office, I instinctively focused on my breath – inhale 1-2-3-4, hold 4, exhale 1-2-3-4. After a few repetitions, at least my head cleared and my heart rate returned to normal.

Over the next few weeks, I used this breathing technique many times to slow my thoughts and regain equanimity. I also was drawn back to a more conscious meditation practice. I have been meditating since 1972, and it had become a bit like breathing – automatic. Now I used the practice with purpose to calm the physical anxiety and quiet my mind.

I have realized yoga is useful on two fronts. Long-term yoga practices create long-term effects — a quieter mind, a peaceful outlook, and physical strength and flexibility. It also can provide a sort of triage process in life’s circumstantial emergencies, such as dealing with a stressful period or coping with unwanted changes.

Three weeks after hearing “ALS,”  I saw the specialist who could confirm that I did not, in fact, have the disease. I thanked him like he gave me a gift — and in a sense he had. But the real gift of the situation was a reconnection to two important aspects of my yoga practice – controlling my breath and meditation.

Now I can get on with trying to avoid neck surgery by hitting physical therapy hard and working with my physical trainer, which suddenly seems a much more manageable set of circumstances with which to deal.

CEoga PHIL JACKSON'S MAGIC: SURRENDER

 NBA Coach Phil Jackson

NBA Coach Phil Jackson

"When a player surrenders his self-interest for the greater good, his fullest gifts as an athlete are manifested."
~ Phil Jackson, Sacred Hoops

 

Employees and managers alike long to learn the magic of working better as a team. In this simple quote — from a coach who has achieved 13 National Basketball Association championships (two as a player) — the “magic” is revealed. It’s neither trick nor spell that creates the magic.  It is a kind of alchemy.

“Basketball is a sport that involves the subtle interweaving of players at full speed to the point where they are thinking and moving as one.”

Think of a time when you were part of a group working on a project or toward a goal where people felt completely connected. Recall an experience where everyone on your team knew deep in their bones that individual contributions were coalescing to create a greater good.

What was going on for you? What conditions existed? How did you feel about yourself, your partners, and the work?  

“The fact is, selflessness is the soul of teamwork.”

Jackson coaching philosophy has helped build phenomenal basketball teams. He blends the principles of Zen Buddhism and teachings from the Lakota Sioux. Like those wisdom traditions, yoga also has much to say about deepening individuals’ connections to themselves, improving relationships with others, and achieving results through superior teamwork. “Magic” happens when people are intentional about why they are working together and are willing to surrender ego to something larger than self. They are willing to give an effort all they have, and then surrender their attachment to the outcome as they stay fully present in the moment.  In yoga, such surrender is called ishvara-pranidhana, and translates as “offering the fruits of one’s efforts to the divine” (i.e. the greater good).

“If the 9, 10, 11, 12 players are unhappy . . . their negativity is going to undermine everything."

Surrendering personal wants at work is an experience anyone can create. You can choose to let go of your need to be right, your desire to win, your insistence on having  your way, your egotistical impulse to look good at the expense of others. All of these things distract from connecting with your best self and with others. Clinging to "me" in the face of "we" is a disservice to the magical experience that can emerge when you surrender to something greater than yourself.  



FOOT-IN-MOUTH IS NOT A YOGA POSE

 Don't be a victim!

Don't be a victim!

Your thought is verbally launched before a conscious countdown is complete. “Ten, nine, eight…. Uh, Houston, we have a problem. Thoughtless words rocketed out of the launch pad prematurely.”

No matter how desperately you try to make amends, your angry/sarcastic/insensitive words have burned into your coworkers’ brains. “What was I thinking?” you think.

If only you’d created some space before you spoke.

Yoga can help, even if you've never stepped foot on a yoga mat. By employing some of its philosophies and practices at work, you can slow your thoughts, create a more compassionate consciousness, and mindfully mold your messages. Practicing just a few of the precepts in the First Limb of Yoga, called the yamas, will help you steer clear of the dreaded foot-in-mouth pose.

Start with compassion. Ahimsa, the first of the yamas, means non-violence or non-harming, which certainly has applications for the way we speak to each other. Start with a practice that examines the way you talk to yourself. Are you harsh, judgmental and critical? That can feed your tendency to treat others the same way. Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, spiritual head of the Himalayan Institute, says that negative self-talk does harm: “Stop hurting yourself by telling yourself that you’re a failure…” Compassion toward self makes it easier to speak kindly to others.

Tell the truth. Satya, the second precept, refers to non-lying. You’ll never have to remember what your story if you tell the truth — just remember that kindness is an important part of the delivery. As an employee who contributes to an enterprise, you also have the obligation to speak up when your feedback might improve decision-making, help resolve a problem, or improve on an idea. It helps to remember that truth has three facets: Speaking your truth, honoring the truth of others, and understanding that many things can be true at once.

Are your words turning you into a thief? Asteya asks you not to steal. If you’re rambling on at a meeting, you’re probably guilty of time theft. Bragging about an idea or a successful project could be a way to steal credit that should be shared among coworkers. Dressing down a colleague in front of others is a form of stealing dignity. Those thefts are intangible, but mighty valuable.

Pause to ask yourself four key questions before you speak: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind? Does it improve upon the silence? Answering these questions creates space for thinking before you speak and sets a high standard for message delivery.

Try chewing on these precepts awhile to help you develop a habit of mindfulness. And remember, it’s polite to keep your mouth closed until you’ve completely swallowed.