“Accepting the truth proclaimed by the scriptures does not produce knowledge. Real knowledge is only obtained through personal experience. For experience, practice is indispensable.” —Swami Kripalu
In his new memoir,Monkey Mind, Daniel Smith describes a life spent in near- constant panic. He’d have recurring nightmares about premature death. He’d wrestle over the decision between ketchup and barbecue sauce. He’d sweat, a lot. In Monkey Mind—the title comes from the Buddhist term meaning “unsettled, restless”—Smith, now mostly recovered though still no stranger to the panic attack, uses humor and blunt-force honesty to describe what is an ever-present, and very American, condition: worry.
These days, everyone’s a worrier. Nearly one in five Americans suffer from an anxiety disorder. If there were an international war of worriers, we’d be winning: According to a recent World Health Organization study, 31 percent of Americans are likely to suffer from an anxiety issue at some point in their lives. Compare that to second-place Colombia, where the anxious top out at 25.3 percent. Even those in developing countries are less likely to fret: According to the 2002 World Mental Health Survey, people in developing-world countries are up to five times less likely to show clinically significant anxiety levels than Americans. Until, that is, they move here.
In the summer, one of the things I do to unwind from work is play golf. Sometimes I have friends who laugh about why I would play a game that involves walking around a big field, chasing a little white ball that seems to go in lots of directions. I love playing for many reasons. The obvious part is a great walk, outside the office, around a beautiful park—that, in and of itself, is a lovely and relaxing experience. But the real reasons I love playing golf are subtler and a bit harder to explain.
Golf is a game in which failure and success seem to come in rapid succession. One great shot can be followed by another shot that is an abject mess. One moment you are feeling the joy and pride that comes with a great swing and the next you are watching your ball arc unceremoniously into the water or the woods. It is a test of one’s ability to be present with what is and to watch how your mind reacts to the pendulum of experience that is the golf game. Golf is more like meditation that any sport I know. It has all the experiences of having and losing control, all the sensations of flow and contraction, and all the elements of forgetting and remembering. No other sport seems to be such a perfect metaphor for the practices I do to explore the nature of my mind.
Summer and fun go hand-in-hand. The richness of the season gives us permission to open up and to let go, in body, mind, and spirit. So this is the perfect time to reinvent—and recommit to—your playful inner child.
Our childhood memories often act as doorways to pleasure and laughter. Along with the more challenging memories of childhood, remembering the freedom and spontaneity of our young selves can inform our adult selves in healthy and relaxing ways.
What summer activities lit you up as a kid? Did you enjoy swimming in the creek? Riding your bike to a new destination and having a picnic once you arrived? Going for a long walk as the sun set? Visiting amusement parks or the zoo?
When we give ourselves that which lights us up, so many arenas of the positive unfold, and the simple relaxation that results from having fun is a profound gift. Emotionally, we benefit so deeply from laughing, from letting go. And spiritually, the connection we feel while letting go into fun is profound. As Rumi says, “The door is round and open.”
So go ahead, choose one childhood outdoor activity. Give yourself this gift—the gift of summer, the gift of laughter, the gift of childhood, the gift of fun.
Look out the window. How many ways can you notice the rebirth of the earth? Take in the color of the grass, the bright hues emanating from the flowers. Listen to the sounds of the birds rejoicing in life. We, too, are of this earth and share this capacity for renewal. Unlike the flowers and grass and birds, however, we need to consciously shift our behavior in order for renewal to unfold.
Here are some steps to help you cultivate that unfolding. These actions require focus and commitment, but as you take them, relax into the flow. Be the creator of your life. Generate circumstances that inspire you to come alive.
Approach something differently: Perhaps you can shake up your morning routine. If you usually get up and read the paper, try going for a walk or meditating instead. Eat breakfast outside instead of in your kitchen, or give yourself some time in the morning to write a poem. Break out of your weekend routine and plan an adventure—an excursion to the beach or a museum, a picnic with friends. Make a date with yourself to do it. Schedule it into your calendar. Create a perfect playful day for yourself.
Is there something creative that you’re interested in pursuing? Give yourself the time to explore it. Watercolors? Pottery? Find a class, and enlist a support group for yourself as you investigate this interest.
Have you started a new class or ritual lately? Have you done something completely outside of your comfort zone just to try something new? Share with us!
In this video series, Kripalu Healthy Living faculty member Maria Sirois, PsyD, shares her wisdom on the topic of resiliency and suggests ways to cultivate it in your daily life. Are you resilient? What does it mean to you to be flexible?