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There's lots of talk about how to stay physically safe during this pandemic:
wear a mask,
wash your hands,
stay socially distant,
but what about how to stay mentally or emotionally or spiritually safe?
How to live free from anxiety and fear?
How to sidestep stress and overwhelm?
How to live fully in joy and connection, even with all of this going on around us?
Well, it's about two things, diet and exercise. Though not in the way you might think.
Imagine for a moment, you had a really healthy diet. You were eating clean, lots of organic fruits and vegetables, no processed sugars, no additives. And in addition, you worked out at the gym three times a week.
Diet plus exercise.
Weight is good.
Blood pressure is good.
Energy levels, great.
But then let's say something happens. Maybe it's your routine changes, or you move to a new city where organic food is hard to find, or maybe it's a zombie apocalypse, or how about this? A global pandemic. But whatever it is, it causes your healthy diet to go out the window.
Now your breakfast is a cinnamon roll.
Lunch is a big Mac and fries.
Dinner is KFC and a pint of Ben and Jerry's.
You have a new diet.
Now, what do you think is going to happen to your weight and your blood pressure and your energy levels, if your exercise stays the same? It's not good, right? It's obvious. That to maintain even close to the same sense of well-being with this new unhealthy diet, you can't just go to the gym three times a week. Now, you have to go five or six or more times just to balance out that crappy diet you now have. Diet gets worse. Exercise needs to get better. We have to compensate for the bad diet with more exercise.
Now, to be clear, I'm not advocating for poor eating habits, but rather illustrating a point: that our wellness depends upon a balance between our diet and our exercise.
And here's the important point. This goes for our physical wellness and our mental, emotional, and spiritual wellness as well, because the fact is that for all of us, our diet has changed. I'm not talking about our physical diets. I'm pointing to our mental and emotional diets.
With a pandemic,
with a financial meltdown,
with the politics and the protests,
and all of it broadcast into our lives 24 /7 by social media and the 24-hour news cycle, our heads are filled with empty, terrifying calories; images of doom and gloom every single day. Our mental diets have gone to crap, but for most of us, our mental exercise is either the same, or for far too many of us, less than it was back when we had a healthier mental diet.
You know, over the past few months, I've heard from hundreds and hundreds of my students all around the world.
And so many are in crisis, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. And whenever I talk to them, my first question is always, how is your practice? How much yoga are you doing? How much meditation are you doing? How much prayer and contemplation and worship are you doing? And more often than not, the answer is not much, or sometimes even none.
And so with a mental diet consisting of pandemic terror and financial uncertainty and political turmoil and no mental, emotional, or spiritual exercise to counter it, it's no wonder so many of us are suffering. Unnecessarily. I know for me, ever since the beginning of this strange and disorienting time, I've literally doubled my practices.
I've doubled my yoga. I've doubled my meditation. I've doubled the time I spend in prayer and contemplation. And on some days, I'll admit, it still doesn't seem enough. But I can only imagine how it difficult it would be, and how horrible I would feel, if I hadn't changed, upped, increased my mental, emotional, and spiritual exercise to compensate for my new unhealthy diet.
So, the invitation becomes this as it relates to your diet and exercise for your mental, emotional, spiritual self:
First, watch what you eat. Try not to subsist on a diet composed of 24-hour news, and social media, and other divisive narratives, focus on those things in your immediate world that are nourishing and uplifting. You may have to dig a little, but I assure you they're there.
Second, recognize that no matter how hard you try to improve your mental diet, we're living in a different time. And try as you might, it's more than likely that your mental diet will still be far less healthy than it was a few months ago.
And third, adjust your exercise to compensate for your new diet.
And, of course, here, I'm referring to your mental, your emotional, and your spiritual exercises, your meditation, your yoga, your prayer, your worship in whatever tradition you're rooted in.
By deepening our connection within, to Source or Self or God, to that which can never be harmed or damaged or diminished by a pandemic, or anything else.
This is how we shall overcome.