Several themes from my yoga classes and the rest of my life converged recently in one idea: fear of loss and hope of gain.
It started with Thanksgiving. As we have done before, in my class we practiced gratitude during the week around Thanksgiving. But in Las Vegas right now, gratitude is hard to muster.
As we often tell ourselves and each other, everybody in the country’s having a tough time right now – but we’re having the toughest time. When it comes to the bad stats, we always win: highest unemployment rate, largest percentage of homes in foreclosures, most murder-suicides… People outside here don’t realize just how bad it is.
It’s tempting in this environment to taint even gratitude with bitterness; for instance, “I’m just thankful I have a job.” But what if you actually hate your job, as so many people do? What if you feel trapped? Are you really grateful for that?
So… we practiced digging deep. Maybe you’re not thankful for the job, but for the money the job provides, the mortgage payment, shelter for your family, time with your family. Ah… a discovery: I’m grateful for my family. True gratitude. Begin by focusing on that, connecting with the place in your heart from which that emanates. We learned that, in suffering, there is a special place for satya.
Then came the gift-giving holidays. Again honoring a class tradition, we practiced giving, from our hearts, through our yoga. We asked ourselves, “What is yogic giving? What is the role of offering and accepting in our lives? And of generosity?”
Here too, current circumstances offered a new perspective. Let’s face it: Most studio yoga has become the domain of the relatively affluent. Many of the students that practice with me are dealing with financial hardship for the first time. Some have stopped coming to class because they can’t afford it any more. Others have had to make sacrifices to keep paying fees, or attend less often.
We all, it seems, approached the holidays with a combination of relief and restraint – glad a time of celebration was finally here, but still afraid to begin spending our increasingly precious resources. We learned to give thoughts and gestures and acts more than things. We learned to let go of expectation of delight or reward, knowing that the giving came from the heart, not from the wallet, and that such gifts are never the wrong color or size or brand. Where being materially wealthy was not an option, we enjoyed the riches of being together.
One student offered me a bookstore gift certificate. I used it to buy the store’s only copy of “Ramayana” (Rama’s Way), the re-telling by William Buck.
In his Americanized version of the famous Indian epic, Buck describes a battle between the righteous Manibhadra and the demon Ravana, along with Ravana’s sidekick Prahasta. Having taken care of Ravana, Manibhadra turns his attention to Prahasta. Buck writes that “with a magic wave of his hand” Manibhadra “put fear of loss and hope of gain into Prahasta’s heart in exactly equal parts and so paralyzed him.”
Fear of loss and hope of gain. As the New Year dawned, it occurred to me: We have all, or so many of us, maybe just in this city, maybe far beyond, been paralyzed by a deadly balance of fear of loss and hope of gain. We’re on the verge of losing our homes and jobs, yet trying desperately to put turkeys on the table and buy Christmas presents. We want to hang on, want to claw our way back, want to figure out if it’s better to short-sell, walk away or stick it out and hope for the best. We want, we want, we want.
What does yoga offer as the antidote to this paralysis? Security in what we have, contentment, santosa. How many times have we practiced this concept? And yet, here it was with new meaning, for the New Year.
We came to our mats humbled by recent events, but we had our bodies, our breath, our hearts and minds. We started with that. We practiced enjoying what we could do with that. What we could do with and for each other. It’s so little, and everything at the same time.
I have set an intention to carry this awareness through the coming year. May we all free from the paralysis of equal parts fear of loss and hope of gain. May we be content. Namaste.