Well, it’s the holidays. 100% chill time. Inbox zero’d, to-dos checked! Dishes done. It’s pretty much 100% pure yoga bliss over here 24/7. Ha. The holiday season is a full-on pressure time and a poignant reminder that pressure can arrive in myriad forms – family, work, community, cultural, societal, political.
I’m reading a book called The Zen Leader. The central thesis is that pressure will always be part of any leadership position. The key is feeling the pressure and using it as fuel rather than as an inhibitor. These days we’re all leaders as our work environments demand us to take ownership and act as our own entrepreneurial islands. We’re leaders as students, as parents. We’re even leaders at the helm of our own social media outlets. And we all feel the stress and pressure of leadership.
Feeling stress in any form reflects the Buddha’s 1st noble truth, Dukha. Dukha, a Buddhist concept that instructs us to embrace, rather than deny, that life involves hardships. It would be easy to see the teaching as a Debbie-Downer statement on the reality of a crappy life. Life is suffering, deal with it. But the teaching is very much to the contrary. Dukha is a lesson in opening our eyes to hardships, and living the freedom that accompanies a life with eyes open to all. Being Zen about stress means that we see that worrying is not helpful. It increases the pressure rather than deflates it.
It’s so important to allow ourselves to feel. Feeling helps us sleep well. Feeling into pressure prevents an implosion or explosion of unpredictable anger/reactivity or passive-aggressive communication that surfaces as a result of repressing our feelings.
When I hear from a studio owner about an incredible teacher in our community that finally came out to her fellow teachers and students that she is struggling with Stage 4 cancer, I hang up the phone, take a breath, and let the tears fall. Then, from within that feeling, I contribute to her fundraising page, and send her a guided meditation to use in the hospital. But, I have learned from serious burn-out to set clear boundaries around worrying. I do not allow myself to worry about her at night. It won’t help her at all. Worrying at night is not allowed, never useful, and not helpful for anything or anybody. Crying, yes. Getting mad, yes. Worrying, no. Feeling is one path to letting go.
So, how can we feel the pressure without worrying? To feel, we have to create a bigger container – one that holds the good and the pressure, the stress, the financial fears, and the joy all together. And to do that we need a little more space.
Here are four things I find effective for creating the space to feel. These are all pretty simple, but isn’t it amazing how it’s easy to miss the small easy things and let the pressure build.
1. Minimize multitasking. There’s lots of research on how multitasking makes us less intelligent. We need all the brain power we can get in order to be efficient, and to create the space to allow all the good and the challenging to see the light.
2. Don’t sweat the small stuff. It seems obvious but somehow it’s easy to miss, and so key. There are really big things to worry about in the world. Sweating-the-small-stuff stops us from addressing this ever long list of big things. Examining our time on FB/Insta/Twitter can help. For work and life, social media can be necessary, but is all the social media time serving our greater mission, or could a walk or a yoga practice serve us more? Also we can ask ourselves if we need to solve a little thing that is bugging us in a relationship, in community, or a work space. Can we just let it go? And most importantly, is worrying or engaging with the small stuff taking you away from the big stuff – the stuff that really takes the pressure off and allows you to solve for greater holistic success (financial, health, joy, fun etc.)?
3. Don’t worry about things you can’t control. There is freedom in naming the things that are beyond our control, and as my best friends’ Italian dad would tell us growing up – Fahgetaboutit.
4. Take 3 steps back, and create time to name your own vision and mission.
I saved the best for last.
One of the ways we practice our Community Support (Pillar 4) at Moksha/Modo International is chatting with every studio owner annually and asking them 6 questions about their year as a community facilitator/studio owner. We then share the results cherished pieces, and repeat patterns with the rest of the community to make sure we’re learning both the wins, and the mistakes from each other. We call them Best Practices Calls. I just had one of these calls with Phil and Ryann, co-owners and co-founders of two of the early Moksha studios, in Winnipeg, Canada, and co-owners of Modo Yoga Minneapolis. They’re running 3 studios in 2 different cities, starting a vegan café, being parents and community leaders, and yet they were as cool as a lake at dawn on our call. Their demeanor reminded me of a meditation practice Frank Jude Boccio leads at our Level 1 teacher training. We picture our consciousness like a lake and repeat the phrase “calm waters, reflecting.”
Choosing calm, being peace, allows us to reflect. Reflection allows us to choose powerfully, to make choices from a place of personal power, rather than from the whim of overwhelm.
When I asked them what was the best thing they’d done at the studio this year, Phil said – “We took the time to take 3 steps back.”
Envisioning always seems to come last on the to do list, they told me, but it should always be first. Naming your mission/your vision – or your WHY – takes you away from the “tasks”, but it allows you to function more clearly so that tackling the tasks is easier and more efficient.
After my call with Ryann and Phil I thought about our first annual 4-day vision meeting this past November. At Moksha/Modo International we’re always thinking about 83 studios and over 1200 teachers. It’s a big family and we care about every community, and every individual. With this care, there’s always a lot on the go. Two days before our meeting began, I was reticent, doubting that I’d be able to rock it with so much on the go. After the meeting however, there was a marked difference in efficiency. Things flowed, decisions and communication were easier. I felt clear at the end of the day.
Taking 3 steps back is a catapult to jumping 20 steps forward.
Taking 3 steps back, zooms us out and leads us to asking and answering the big questions.
I find these big questions come to me on walks in nature, during chats with friends over vegan eggnog, shortbread cookies, hot chocolate. Well, chocolate makes anything good. Big answers also reflect back at me clearly when I invest in myself by taking a long (over 10 minute) savasana at the end of class, or after forgetting about it all and staying up way later than usual with friends and family. This is why being busy at the holidays is worth it.
The busiest times often collide with the best and most brilliant of times.
I hope your brilliance is shining this holiday. I hope it’s shining out on your own mission, from your own vision, because this is how we do it together — as individuals, and as a family. I’m thankful that you read this little blog of ours, I’m thankful that you take the time to reflect here together and in community. We’re a whole bunch of goofy, smart, wise, and ultra different yogis. I love our pieces, and I love our whole, and I am grateful to grow together as yogis.
Love and happy belated Chanukah, Christmas and all the best in the new year,
Ginny Whitelaw’s Zen Leadership – book, info and training
Huffington Post Article ‘Why Multi-tasking makes us Stupid’
Pyschology Today article ‘Is High Tech Multi-tasking Making us Dangoursly Stupid’