[January Dispatch] Calm In the Chaos: Adversity, Growth, and Equanimity


Hi Reader,

Happy New Year! πŸ₯³

Yeah, yeah. I know we're way past the point of saying that to each other. But here I am, more than a week late getting this Dispatch out.

I'll spare you the details, but this year has already revealed its spiciness. πŸ«”

And I feel like I have way more on board to handle it. (Unlike last year, which was...uhm... not great)

There's a lot of talk in the wellness world these days about post-traumatic growth. This is really a clinical way of saying, "Hardship seasons us." Though we may accumulate many scars, we humans are unmatched in the animal kingdom for our capacity to grow from adversity. (You know, instead of just passing survivor genes to our offspring).

Studies commissioned by the US Army have shown that following tragedy, people experience "renewed appreciation for being alive, enhanced personal strength, acting on new possibilities, improved relationships, and spiritual deepening." (from "Flourish" by M. Seligman, p 161)

Amazingly, a lot of us don't have to enroll in therapy or do anything especially involved to get to this point, though some do. My takeaway is that however we get there, we're hardwired for growth.

Psychiatrist Dan Siegel coined the term "window of tolerance." This is an optimal emotional zone where we're neither overly excited (to the point of panic and overwhelm) nor shut down (dissociation).

We know we're within the window of tolerance when we feel open, curious, and present. We feel capacitated to deal with stuff, which is why it's called the window of tolerance: what amount of stuff can I handle right now?

During this time last year, I was struggling to keep up with the things life was throwing at me. That would be a narrow window of tolerance.

There's no objective way to measure one's window of tolerance, but it's understood that some people (a combo of nature and nurture) have a narrower window. More complicated is that the width of our window isn't static. Being underfed and under-slept are surefire ways to close my window entirely.

Nevertheless, we all have a zone within which we can meet life's challenges and seize life's opportunities. And we can expand it.

Though Siegel gets credit for his clever analogy, the ability to roll with the punches is a familiar idea to many spiritual practitioners. In Buddhism and Indian yoga, we call this "equanimity" (upeksha in Sanskrit). Christians refer to this as resting in God's grace. Jews talk about the calmness of the soul. The word Islam roughly translates to "the peace that comes from total surrender and acceptance."

In fact, equanimity is The Big One in most wisdom traditions. In Buddhism, It's one of the Four Sublime States (which also appears in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali), one of the Seven Factors of Awakening (Bikkhu Analyo suggests it's the factor that all other lead to). It's also one of the Ten Paramis (the virtues that Bodhisattvas strive to perfect).

The Taoist sage Zhuangzi advised that one must practice equanimity to overcome intolerance so one can act appropriately to situations as they arise. Embedded in his view is the wisdom of openness, which reminds me of the Zen concept of Beginner's Mind: Approach each moment freshly and without judgment.

When you think of someone who can just plain handle things calmly, who comes to mind?

I see my maternal grandmother, who I never heard yell or complain about anything, though she wasn't a pushover. And I also see the Buddha calmly abiding in Mara's maelstrom as he approaches his enlightenment.

Usually, the Buddhist texts reference upeksha when talking about equanimity. But there is another word I recently learned: tatramajjhattata, which means "to stand in the middle of all this."

Who doesn't want access to a deep inner calm that can stand in the middle of this? *waves hands around*

Spiritual practices, more or less, frameworks for cultivating a wider window of tolerance. The well-funded researchers of today are finding that ancient teachings (particularly mindfulness) work well for combatting the tribulations of modern life. It makes me wonder if the nature of suffering has really changed all that much.

My go-to practices for staying open and calm amidst adversity are:

~ tracking my present state in the domains of body, heart, and mind (mindfulness)
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~ not getting myself in trouble if big feelings are around and I'm not calm (self-compassion)
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~ staying open and connected to my inner world regardless of whether it's seemly (contemplation, journaling, Internal Family Systems tools)

What about you? How do you stay calm under fire?

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For those of you still teaching yoga...

Last year, I took a sabbatical from leading yoga teacher trainings and workshops. To be honest, I was fried. Moving everything online while learning how to stand out in a saturated market during a global pandemic tapped me out.

I also wanted time to consider what the whole "business" of teaching yoga means now that things have really changed. Here's where I'm at this year:

~ I miss working with yoga teachers. A lot. I continue to believe that we fill an important roll in the mental health and wellness world, sharing embodied practices that facilitate inner knowing. Knowing yourself is a key ingredient of well-being. The world needs this now more than ever.
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~ I still believe that Yin Yoga is a unique container for exploring self inquiry. I love this practice so much.
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~ I don't want to do things the "old way." Meaning, that if people want to learn how to teach skillful and mindful Yin Yoga from me, I will answer the call. But I want to deliver it in a more sustainable way. No matter how we configure it, sitting on the floor in yoga rooms (or on zoom calls) for 6-7 hours a day isn't humane. If you're interested in a slow-learning opportunity that includes a strong mentorship component, let me know by hitting reply and let's co-create something.
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~ I'm most excited by the possibilities of expanding and deepening into self-inquiry practices (mindfulness, contemplative practice, and skillful self exploration using Internal Family Systems) within the container of embodied yoga. If Depth Practices for Yoga Teachers (working title, not attached to it) sounds interesting to you, get in touch and let's chat. I know what the curriculum would be, but the structure and delivery is unclear. I'd love to get your thoughts on how to roll something out and find beta participants to explore with me.

If any of these excites you, hit reply and let me know.

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Practice Yoga With Me Virtually

​Yin Yoga & Mindfulness​
​Online, Mondays 6:30-7:30pm EST (NYC)​
Sweet and simple Yin practice with mindfulness woven throughout. Pay What You Can.

​Insight Yoga Online Community Practice​
​Sunday, February 25, 10:00-11:00am​
​@ Insight Yoga Institute ​
The Insight Yoga Online Community (IYOC) is a global gathering of practitioners who are interested in the rich intersections between yoga, Buddhism, and psychology. Through June, Insight Teachers are sharing practices teaching on the Six Perfections, those qualities that awaken bodhisattva energy within us. I'll be teaching on sila (ethics) through the Buddhist lens.

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In-Person Events in the DC Area

​Self-Led Decision-Making​
Saturday, February 24, 1-4pm
@ Heartswell in Arlington, VA (Ballston)
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Using IFS Parts Work, explore open-hearted practices for untangling inner conflict.
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​Holding Space for Big Feelings During Tumultuous Times​
Saturday, April 27, 1-4pm
@ Heartswell in Arlington, VA (Ballston)
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Yoga and IFS together: finding ease even when things aren’t easy.

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With Metta,

Dispatches from The Wilds

I guide seekers, space holders, healers, and social change-makers through their inner terrain with shame-free embodied practices rooted in timeless wisdom and science. Let's connect - sign up for my free Monthly Letter below and check out my other free resources.

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