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.

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.

THE CEO WHO TOLD THE TRUTH

She got fired over the phone, and sent an email blast to the organization announcing what had happened. The New York Times story on former CEO Carol Bartz abrupt dismissal from Yahoo said she did something that executives rarely do in that situation. “She told the truth.”

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