Monday, August 23, 2010

But I cannot control that . . . on well-being

Over the weekend, I attended an attorney wellness study. There were five lawyers there, all women. The first question we were asked was to rate our level of well-being on a scale of 1-5, with 1 being low and 5 being high. One of the women there rated her well-being as a 4. That in itself is not that interesting, but what I found most interesting was her reason. She said that her own life was great, and would have rated it a 5, but because of the outside forces she cannot control, she had to lower it to a 4. Interestingly, this woman also said that she does not do yoga or meditate.

This, of course, got me thinking. To some extent, she is right; we have little to no control over how other people act. (There are many who would argue, and I would agree, that we do actually have the power to change how others act, but we can explore that in another post.) Assuming we cannot control others, or external forces generally, what can we do? We can learn to change how we react to these forces beyond our control.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are considered by many to be the beginning of yoga philosophy and ideas. One of the many translations of the first sutra is, “Yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind.” It is when we learn to still the mind that we can change our reactions to the external forces at work in our lives.

When all we do is react to the external world, then we lose conntrol. Reactions take place from our fight-or-flight response, which is activated when we are stressed. Its purpose is to keep us alive, to ensure our survival. Its purpose is not to provide us with well-being. When we still the mind, we can learn to take ourselves out of fight-or-flight. We can learn to respond instead of react.

Responding takes more control. It requires that moment of reflection before survival. It also allows us to feel differently about how the world “treats” us; instead, we get to decide consciously how we are going to interact with the world. The legal profession, with its billable hours, hierarchy set-up, and faceless clients creates an opportunity for reaction instead of reflection. Even in the grocery store, however, we encounter people who act rudely and who make it very easy to react and be angry, perhaps even justifiably so.

But to what end?

Yoga helps us see that reactions rather than responses do not serve us. Reactions are prime space for misunderstanding and miscommunication and the paths they forge. Responses mean that we take in the entire situation, see it from all sides and determine how best to act . . . or not act. Then, when the external world “forces something upon us,” like an angry boss, we can let it slide, knowing that the person is merely reacting, not responding. By not giving in to their anger by reacting, more often than not, it dissipates. Like fire, anger needs oxygen to grow, and when we strip it of its power/force, it can no longer exist.

But what about the billable hour? What about the fact that lines are long at the grocery store? What about traffic? These are life’s annoyances, and our reactions or responses cannot change them. But we can change how we feel about them. We can use the waiting as a time to reflect, to breathe, to be still. We can let the billable hour be what it is and still serve our clients well because that is why we become lawyers. We can find our own internal force and motivation rather than relying on the external motivation of the ubiquitous bottom line.

Responding rather than reacting is no easy task. But as we take the time to slow down and learn it, it becomes easier. And then we can have control over our own well-being, rather than allowing the external world define it for us.

Namaste and blessings!

1 comment:

  1. I love how your worlds continually interact! I have to admit, I was a little skeptical that you would have enough to write about but turns out you were right! Anyway, I think about this responding/reacting a lot, and I know it's something I need to work on (and have been working on for a while). Thanks for reminding me again!