Thursday, December 1, 2011

In Our Element

As I have mentioned many times here before, yoga has helped me tune in with the natural world a bit better. Perhaps it is because I simply pay more attention, but I actually think I understand and feel the natural world more. I also crave it more. If for no other reason, that is one of the best parts of being in New Zealand. The natural world abounds here like nowhere else I have ever been.

Of course, that can have consequences, as I mentioned in thepost describing where I was attacked by a sea lion. But more often, I find I learn something about the world, and about myself without having to fear for my life . . . too much. The other day, I was kayaking in yet another of the beautiful cities in New Zealand, Kaikoura. In Kaikoura, snow-capped mountains meet native bush meet Pacific Ocean.

This was my first time kayaking, and as I mentioned before, swimming is not something I do well, so I guess I was putting myself slightly into harm’s way, but once nice thing about traveling alone is that when you do crazy things like kayaking, you often end up being paired with the guide, as I was. (As a digression, he did almost capsize the boat a few times while looking for paua [abalone] for his dinner that night and when he stood up in the boat to look at a crayfish cage, but we did not capsize, and I got back to shore without getting wet.)

We were hoping to see the orcas that had graced the coastline earlier in the day, but they were nowhere to be seen, even when the seals got in the water. Oh well. But it was from the seals that I learned my lesson. Seals are incredibly playful and with romp and swim with humans while in the water. On land, however, they are aggressive and dangerous and according to several signs around town, they will inflict “infectious bites.”

So what’s the difference?

On land, the seals feel vulnerable. They do not move as quickly as they do in water, and in the very recent past, they were hunted to near extinction while lounging and sunning away on the rocks. In water, however, they are quick, secure, and in their element. It is almost as though they have multiple personality disorder when it comes to interacting with humans, but really, it is about feeling safe.

A seal playing in the water near our kayak (next to some massive kelp)

Humans, and indeed lawyers especially, are no different. When we feel threatened, we become aggressive, inconsiderate, and sometimes vicious. While we will not (hopefully) inflict gangrene on anyone through a nasty bite, our interactions are infectious, and combined with misunderstanding and confusion, lead to the downward spiral of our relationships (and our emailexchanges).

But when we are in our element, when we feel secure and understand ourselves well enough, we can handle the exact same situation with more ease and control. We know that humans are the same whether they are in the water or on land, but to seals, the two experiences are entirely different. Filing a motion, replying to an email, and having a conversation with your boss are all the same situations whether we feel secure or do not, but our responses to them very significantly depending on how secure we feel.

In many ways, yoga and all I have learned from it have helped me find that sense of security more often. I certainly do not feel it always (and I know of no one that does), but the ability to respond rather thanreact becomes easier over time. In that way, yoga has helped me find my element and become more playful rather than aggressive. Apparently, however, I still bring out the aggression in others when they are not in their element (though sea lions are different than seals).

Do you notice a difference in your responses when you are in your element vs. when you are not? What do you do to bring yourself into your element and safety?


© Rebecca Stahl 2011, all rights reserved.


  1. Wow. I've been thinking a lot lately about a coworker who has such a vastly different personality than I do, and who reacts so incredibly opposite to how I react to nearly everything. Thinking about security makes me see the situation in a completely different light. I am now wondering if she reacts the way she does because she is insecure. Very interesting! ~Amy

  2. That is an intereating observation, Amy. I think many of us react when we are insecure, and it comes across at work because we want to be "good."

  3. Yoga and meditation give you a new way to see things as they happen and as they are rather than by reacting to them. Its a human thing