By Kristine Kaoverii Weber | October 13, 2023
No one deserves the violence of this past week – and as I sit in the comfort of my safe, temperature-regulated American home writing this blog I think, what could I possibly understand about what people are going through in Israel and Gaza?
What could I possibly have to say about it?
I’m no expert on the middle east – but I’m also in my late 50s, so there’s been continual strife in the region throughout my entire life. I have compassion for all the innocents – no one deserves this.
So, what can I do? What can we as a yoga community do?
I teach nervous system regulating yoga. I’ve doubled down on my own practice this week in an attempt to stay centered in the midst of the news tsunami. It’s helped to some extent, but I can’t say I feel balanced – and I think it’s okay not to. It wouldn’t be very human to be completely balanced in the face of such a situation, would it? Still, I’d be a lot less centered without my practice.
So here’s what I can offer today:
- It’s okay to take care of yourself.
Last night my son said to me, “It seems ridiculous right now to think about my own problems – I’m worried I’ll become a narcissist.” I responded that if you have the capacity to worry about becoming a narcissist, you won’t, by definition, become one. But I get where he’s coming from – when you’re worried about the suffering of others, taking care of yourself may seem selfish, indulgent, or narcissistic. It’s a form of survivor guilt. But you have a right to use your tools to regulate your nervous system during difficult times. If you don’t take care of yourself, how can you expect to be present for anyone else? So please, take walks, do some yoga, go to classes, talk to a friend, have a picnic, pet your dog, shake it out, listen to music, etc. It doesn’t help anyone who is suffering for you to be a basket case.
- Don’t ignore what’s going on.
News can be scary, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to cut yourself off from it. I do think it’s important to discern what your nervous system can tolerate however. On one news station this morning I saw a banner at the bottom of the screen that read “Israel vs. Gaza” – as if it’s some kind of sporting match 🤯. The news media can be disgustingly inhumane. I prefer to listen to academics and experts who can provide context and commentary, not talking heads peddling sensationalism for ratings.
All that being said, I believe that cutting myself off completely from the news is a reflection and reification of privilege and an escape via dissociation. Each person is a cell in the body of humanity. Cutting myself off from the pain of that body is its own subtle form of violence. But I can’t be a puddle either. So I only take in what I can tolerate. I believe that my responsibility, over the long term, is to continue to build resilience and tolerance, so that I can stay present and take right action now and in the future.
- Do something.
Yoga and science teach that we are all intimately connected. What happens to one person reverberates throughout the world to others. So, ultimately, we all have some measure of responsibility for what’s going on in the world. When there are scary overwhelming things happening I can’t freeze. I have to take some kind of action. If we are all collectively responsible, we need to discern what we our capacity is for responding. For me teaching yoga is a parallel process – when I do it, I help others and help myself.
When I help others self-regulate with yoga, their more balanced nervous systems affect their families and communities – then they, in turn, can be more present and compassionate. Does teaching yoga help you in a similar way? What other activities provide a similar benefit for you? Perhaps taking food to or having tea with an elderly neighbor, writing a letter to your congressperson, or donating money to a relief organization?
Seva is an immediately effective course of action in difficult times. It steps us out of our self-induced mind prisons and offers an avenue for meaning and purpose.
- Faith (śraddha).
What do you believe in? A deity? The earth? The goodness of human beings? Kindness? Compassion? During difficult times sitting in your values and your beliefs can be hugely clarifying. I recommend setting aside time daily to meditate and plug into your source.
Faith builds a foundation for your nervous system to tolerate whatever is going on, to be a witness to the violence and injustice. I think it’s important to understand faith as emerging from internal, quiet, regular experiences. I also think that the most egregious offenses committed against human beings arise from the manipulation of faith by violent, political, control-seeking, sociopathic forces.
- Cultivate presence.
Feel your feelings, take care of yourself, and cultivate presence – and perhaps, wherever you can, be a source of love and inspiration for those around you.
Drinking daily from the well of yoga practices (asanas, breathing, and/or meditation) is a way to both mitigate the immediate effects, and, over the long term, create the strength and fortitude needed to handle the overwhelm of violence, war, climate destruction, personal tragedies, loss of friends/relatives/pets that are happening all around us.
Personally, I don’t believe pessimism or cynicism is an option. Life persists because that’s its nature. Flowers defy sidewalks. Humanity will always rise above itself.
Please check out my free class, Subtle® Yoga for Greater Nervous System Resilience and Brain Function.