Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Crisis Management: A Changing Perspective

While many of the recent posts have focused on the similarities between yoga and the law, today’s is about one of the biggest opposites. As I have mentioned before, lawyers live in a world defined by disaster. Whether in litigation and responding to the disaster at hand or in transactional work preparing for or trying to avoid disasters, the legal world moves among disasters.

Yoga, by contrast, is about simply preparing ourselves. While disasters are about the external world, or our definition of the external world, yoga is about preparing our internal selves for anything that happens in the external world. This is, of course, much easier to do when the external world in which we find ourselves is fairly simple and not one disaster after another.

So what do we do when we find ourselves surviving in crisis management? What do we do when we feel as though we are barely staying afloat, and if one more event occurs that requires our attention, our entire being is going to explode? That is when the yoga bucket is so vital. That is when the five minutes per day of internal practice help give us the strength to respond with our full awareness to these external forces rather than react with our immediate reactions, unsure of whether we are actually doing what is necessary.

Living in crisis management is dangerous on many levels. We harm ourselves because we live in a state of constant stress. The physiological effects of long term stress are well documented and include the inability to sleep, inability to digest, decreased immunity, etc. In addition to our own physical health, we harm our relationships because we are less capable of interacting with people from a place of heart. How often have you snapped at someone you love simply because you were too tired and stressed to speak to them differently?

Finally, living in that state of crisis management means we can never be in control of our professional lives. The irony, of course, is that we become less effective lawyers (or whatever) because our jobs require us to live in that constant state of managing the crisis du jour rather than preparing ourselves internally sufficiently to respond from a place of compassion and understanding each time an issue arises.

I think there is more to doing this than just having the de-stress bucket filled by doing a practice. I think it also requires a shift in perspective. The reason so many of us believe we live in crisis management is because we view so many parts of our lives as crises. What if we changed that perspective? What if we saw these moments as just another step along the path? What if we saw them as opportunities?

In my personal life, I have seen crises become the greatest moments in peoples’ lives. In my cases, I have seen what I thought were crises become non-issues simply by getting all the facts. And when I change my initial perspective, I find that I have a lot more to give to the situations that truly are crises because I have no used all my energy on the parts of my life that do not require such an intense response.

Unlike finding five minutes a day for a practice, which is simple but not easy, this change in perspective is not very simple either. At some level it requires a complete reprogramming of our responses to what we see as our external world. That takes time. But if I found one thing in New Zealand, it is also possible. I have been back in the United States now for just over a month, and I still find myself “looking right” half the time before I cross the street.

We do not have to choose to be in crisis management mode at all times. Sometimes it feels as though the world has not given us the choice to step back and step out of it, but with each new “crisis,” stop and take a breath. What would happen if you chose to stop and evaluate before going into crisis management immediately? How would that look different?

Do you find yourself living in crisis management? What tools have helped you?


© Rebecca Stahl, 2012, all rights reserved.

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