Life has been challenging since my last publication, and I often wondered if there was any truth to my “wisdom” teachings. I often looked back at my very own words and said to myself, Dora you are full of it.
If you read my column last month you know I finished my article with the sentence, “If you are having trouble celebrating the downs, then check in with my column next month when I will talk about how our sorrows are precisely proportional to our joys, and therefore they are both necessary and meaningful parts of our lives.”
Oh my did I have to put my own medicine to test this past month.
It has been a miserable month. I am a yoga and mindfulness teacher. My yoga studio in West Seattle has been open for eight successful years. I do live in Issaquah, and I dreamed for years of providing yoga closer to my home community. This winter my dream came true, after many months of construction and preparation, I opened Spira Power Yoga Issaquah.
But it seems that my dream come true came with a bit of challenge. I managed to open on the day after the wind storm, you know the one that left us without electricity for a week… Just when we started getting a little momentum with attendance, we got two weeks of snow. If any of you are small business owners, you know the tremendous financial and emotional risks.
As I waited for the weather to shift, I found myself deeper and deeper in a dark sorrow of self-doubt, anxiety and regret.
But then unexpected and tremendous joys popped up in the middle of stressful tears.
My team of teachers demonstrated loyalty, kindness and support that I never experienced before. In my West Seattle studio, I found my students reaching out to support the new studio in Issaquah. They took flyers to work, and they spread the word on social media. Friends called with encouragement, and my husband cleaned our kitchen every night, so I had one less job to do. New business colleagues stayed on the phone with me through my stress bombs.
In other words, because of my adversity, I found deep human connections. I always knew that I was lucky to have such fantastic business and community, but never before was I as grateful and aware of my blessings.
Then in the middle of the snow, it started happening. Don’t get me wrong, business is still slow as heck, but the folks that wandered into our space ended up coming back, and coming back and coming back.
I started hearing the familiar hellos in the hallways, the chit chat about life – yes it is still winter, but when I took time to breathe and not be lost in my financial anxiety, I started seeing the signs of a budding community. My gratitude was infinitely more abundant for these few loyal customers than if my business would have started on a sunny day with abundance.
As Kahlil Gibran writes in “The Prophet”:
“Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears…
…The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.”
Indeed it is so. Humans are remarkably adaptable, and this also means that we get used to things, and forget our blessings.
The human mind is incredibly aware of changes but not very good at recognizing the good from the routine. Neuroscientists call it the “adaptation principle” of the mind. In layman’s term, we get used to stuff and then take it for granted. This is why the average house for a family of five back in 1930 was 1,500 square feet, and we thought that was fantastic, but somehow we have a hard time being grateful to fit five people nowadays in 3,000 square feet. We adapt to our blessings and forget that we have them.
The human brain tends to always search for the negative in life. This is not a bad thing — it is an evolutionary necessity for survival and progress, but we do need to learn to mindfully manage our negativity bias. Mindful gratitude practice is one way.
If you are, like me, having a tough time with life, make it a routine to write a gratitude journal. Before going to bed at night, take time to write a few things down that are good, wisdom that you learned through adversity, the knowledge that you gained, and connections that you found or lost for the better. At first, this practice is weird, it may even seem artificial, but overtime while you dive deep into anxiety and sorrow, you will be able to direct your mind better to see the sunny horizon.
If you are wondering why the negative is so much stronger than the positive for the human mind and soul and want to understand the gratitude practice better, then check back with me next month.
Dora Gyarmati teaches yoga and mindfulness classes. She owns Spira Power Yoga in Issaquah and West Seattle. Her company M3Bmethod also lectures on resiliency and stress management to healthcare professionals.