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Why it’s riskier to give up on life than to start over

Bridge Pose, HappyMomentum.com

 

“Life is inherently risky. There is only one big risk you should avoid at all costs, and that is the risk of doing nothing.” –Denis Waitley

There was only one thing left to do.

I had downed some tequila, the only bottle of liquor I had in my house. I walked from the darkened kitchen into the darkened bathroom and found a big bottle of over the counter pain meds. It was late – 9 p.m. maybe? – and I was about to hit rock bottom.

I didn’t know if this would work. I didn’t know if I even wanted to do it.

I didn’t feel like I had an option.

That night, my half-baked plan to end my life came to an abrupt stop when my last cry for attention, a text to my then-boyfriend, brought him racing through my apartment’s open door.

When he discovered me lying on the bed, he backpedaled, hit the bedroom wall hard with his back and slid, cartoon-style, to the floor. He burst out crying.

That was when I knew I had to take a risk that was far greater than committing suicide.

I had to keep living.

That was five years ago. Little did I know that my choice to start over was the catalyst that brought me to yoga and my life’s purpose: to spread the message that despite any situation, everything is going to be okay.

Maybe you’re in a dark space right now or just feeling a little stagnant. If so, it’s time to take a risk — the risk of imagining that you don’t have to feel like this and that you are worth so much more than you know, no matter your disaster.

The risk of doing nothing

This week, the worst wildfires in Colorado state history are lighting up the state, specifically in Colorado Springs but also in Boulder where I work. Along with the rest of the country, I’m watching helplessly as the fires burn out of control. And more than one of us is asking: Why is this happening?

When disaster strikes — natural or not — we have a choice. We can believe that circumstances are out of our control and give up on life.

Or we can rally and create our new reality.

When I was depressed “Why me?” was my favorite mantra. (Here are my two new favorite mantras published on Elephant Journal.) But wondering why and saying that life is unfair is a trap. It’s a trap that makes you powerless to improve your situation.

Boulder - Flagstaff FireI don’t know the reason behind the wildfires or why depression runs in my family. What I do know is I had the same pit in my stomach as I drove out of town, my eyes wide at the Boulder Flagstaff Fire (my photo at right), that I did the night I thought my life was over.

Firefighters don’t ask questions. When there’s a fire, they put it out. If I had given up that night – if I had taken the risk of doing nothing – I wouldn’t be here to share this with you today.

Somebody somewhere needs to hear what you’ve got to say, too, even if you don’t know it yet.

Don’t wait to start over

Sometimes we’re forced into change. We hit retirement, like my dad did this week. We get laid off from our jobs. A natural disaster destroys our home.

But too often, we wait to start over only during momentous occasions: moving houses or states, graduating, getting married.

Like a car in rush hour traffic, we witness lots of starting and stopping in our lives. When our cars’ brake pads wear down to 20 percent of failure, a mechanic will advise you to change them. If you wait until 5 percent, you’re playing with your life (and someone else’s for that matter.)

The key is to proactively change your brake pads before disaster happens – both on the road and in our lives.

But a lot of us don’t do the mechanical tune-up work on ourselves because we feel that our disasters aren’t disastrous enough. When I was depressed, I had a solid job and an apartment and a family who loved me.

I told myself that compared to the rest of the world, my issues were “first world problems” and I should be able to snap out of them.

Only, I couldn’t.

If you feel this way, it’s time to reclaim your emotions as valid.

A new study published in Psychological Science took a worldwide look at the emotion-health connection. The study surveyed 150,000 people aged 15 to 99 and living in 142 countries. Surprisingly, the poorer the country, the stronger connection between emotions and health – even over basic unmet needs like shelter and food!

“As this study documents, there’s no place on Earth to outrun the cascade of human emotions – or the important health consequences of those everyday feelings,” writes Wray Herbert, author of On Second Thought: Outsmarting Your Mind’s Hard-Wired Habits.

Disaster is disaster. And the emotions that arise matter to your health, regardless of where you live or who you are.

Start over today

“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” -Psalm 30:5

So instead of running from your emotions, the time is now to harness them. You can start over with every breath, not just with every day, year or milestone.

During our yoga teacher training, my friend Becky used to write three things she was grateful for in her blog. Whenever I have a rough day, I do this either in my journal or in my head right before I go to sleep.

This can be as simple as a kiss from your sweetheart or no line at the grocery checkout. My favorite is being grateful for just one breath. Just one.

When I made my decision to live five years ago, I was motivated to undo the hurt I caused to someone I cared about deeply. In my moment of deepest self-isolation, I realized we are never alone. Our actions ripple out to others and into the world, whether we know it or not.

It’s time to bridge your way through disaster because you are necessary.

You are here for a reason.

Try it: Bridge Pose, Setu Bandha Sarvangasana

This pose is a staple in my classes. It’s a beautiful backbend that opens your heart, strengthens your roots and sense of belonging, and can turn your blah day upside down. It’s also an amazing posture for relieving low back pain.

I highly recommend trying this pose without a dog on your belly, especially if your dog weighs more than 8 lbs.

  1. Lie down and bend your knees, planting your feet parallel and heels close to your glutes. Your fingertips should be close to your heels while keeping your knees stacked over your ankles.
  2. Flatten your low back into the mat, lengthening the spine.
  3. Gently press your arms and palms into the ground on either side of your torso. Protect your neck by gazing at the ceiling during the pose.
  4. Inhale and push down into your big toe mounds to lift your hips toward the sky. Sink your feet into the mat as you tuck your tailbone and move your belly button in to the spine.
  5. Squeeze your inner thighs together, but don’t let the knees touch. You can use a pillow or block between your knees to assist.
  6. If you’d like to go further, clasp your hands together underneath you and gently roll your onto your shoulders, one and then the other, to lift off the shoulder blades.
  7. Take deep breaths here, gently lifting the chin away from the chest to open up your throat.
  8. Stay 1 minute or until you begin to fatigue. You can choose to stay longer if you support your hips with several rolled up blankets or a block placed under the sacrum.
  9. To come down, unclasp the hands, gently roll off the shoulders and extend your tailbone toward your heels as you articulate your spine back onto the ground.
  10. Don’t forget to relish in the energy surge in your heart.

What’s the greatest risk you have ever taken?

POSTED in Let go, Seek spirit on July 1, 2012

12 Comments — Add Your Own

    Brigitte says:

    Oh my, Caren, thank you for so much honesty. I’m sure this took lots of courage to do. There is such a sweet quality in your photos and writing. I am curious about the emotion-health connection. I didn’t understand what was stronger in poorer countries. They have a stronger connection between emotions and health with regards to what? Would love to hear more about the findings. All my best wishes and so sad to hear about the wildfires.

    Caren says:

    It’s a good question, Brigitte. The study found that no matter if you were in a 1st world or a 3rd world country, emotions were better predictors of health and illness than were basic unmet needs (food and safety and shelter). Here is a link to the write up about the study so you can learn more: http://bit.ly/LPFPup

    Adrianne says:

    The greatest risk I ever took was flying to a country I had never been, meeting someone I meant online and going to stay with him for a few months. Turned out to be the best decision I have ever made in my whole life, even though everyone else told me I was crazy. (and it probably is a little crazy haha) But we are married (3 years!) and have a beautiful daughter.

    I think the risks that count the most are the ones we are most afraid of. Thanks for sharing this with us.

    Caren says:

    Wow, Adrianne! That’s amazing. You’re right: Sometimes the best outcomes come from the scariest risks.

    Lea says:

    Caren, Thank you for sharing this personal story. Every time I come into contact with you I am struck by how meaningful your work is – how much you light the way for others. I’m so thankful to have connected with you!

    Caren says:

    That’s so sweet of you, Lea. It’s mutual! Risk takers unite.

    Jess Goldstein says:

    Caren, You are truly an incredible being that is on her way to changing the world one article at a time. You remind me why we go through dark times, not only for our own growth but to connect with others, to help one another through sharing our experiences. I admire your openness and strength, truly a gift. I feel honored to witness. Now lets go rally!

    Caren says:

    Rally at Tea Bar! Loving this: “…not only for our own growth but to connect with others…” We can be strong solo, but it’s exponential when we share.

    Merna says:

    Caren, thank you for sharing such a personal journey. It’s so inspirational!

    I find it incredibly interesting how the role of emotions differs in 1st and 3rd world countries. I’ve spent long periods of time in impoverished countries and always wondered how they could be so happy, given their situation while we in the 1st world, who have so much, struggle with depression. Thanks for sharing the link – it’s something I want to explore more.

    Caren says:

    Merna, you’re welcome and I’m with you – I’m very fascinated by those who have so little yet feel so happy.

    [...] But the monk leaned forward and told me, “I feel like I should whisper this. I’m not going to actually whisper it, but I feel like that is how the words should be treated.” And then he paused, and looked me right in the eyes and said, “Meditation is the knowledge that everything is going to be okay.” [...]

    Olivia says:

    Thank you for sharing your personal experience. I was at the edge of giving up yet I know I am not supposed to. The struggle is killing me. Your personal experience of getting over gives some hopes to me for my endurance of not giving up although it is not easy.

    Thank you.

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