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How to be stoic

2016 was a terrible year for me, both personally and professionally. I won’t bore you with the specifics; I’ll let you conjure up scenarios in your mind. They’re probably similar to what you might have faced too; I remember that year was terrible for many people I know. Maybe the stars were at war, I don’t know. But that year, I felt like the universe had some special torture devices under its sleeves for me. And before I knew it, life had me dangling by my ankles.

I’ve often been told I’m pretty strong. But nothing had prepared me for the things that unfurled that year. The strong me had been squashed to a pulp and I was but a hollow vessel. Somehow, I managed to get through a big part of that torture chamber. Otherwise, you probably wouldn’t be reading this. Parts of me are still stuck there, but I’m sure I’ll get out completely. Soon enough. You see, I’ve got some tools up my sleeves too. Now, this comes from no high horse. I’m no life coach. But the tools I’ve found since that year have armed me well. And now, my feet are pretty firm on the ground. It takes a lot more than a wind—perhaps a hurricane—to knock me off my feet and blow me away.

This kind of a state even has a name. They call it being ‘stoic’. No, not ‘emotionless’, but more along the lines of ‘strong’. According to the book The Daily Stoic, the philosophy of stoicism “asserts that virtue (meaning, chiefly, the four cardinal virtues of self-control, courage, justice, and wisdom) is happiness, and it is our perceptions of things—rather than things themselves—that cause most of our trouble.” I can vouch for the truth of this. My life isn’t greatly different from how it was in 2016. But I’ve learnt to tackle the same old issues differently. This learning didn’t come easy. It was a very conscious effort.

So, during my two-year quest to find answers to my problems, I found that grounding, centring, and disengaging from myself made life more manageable. I couldn’t do these out of sheer mind power, of course. Like I said before: I had certain tools at my disposal, and I’d like to share them with you.

Grounding

I remember I used to feel so weighed down by my problems that I’d let my mind stew in the negativity. I wasn’t grounded. I wasn’t practical. Finding solutions requires just that. I know this now, but before I learnt it, I had no clue how to solve my problems.

What’s common between both spiritual practices is that they not only rewire your mind, but also centre your inner self.


But somehow, one thing led to another and I found Krishnamurthy, an independent yoga trainer, who taught me two kinds of pranayama (breathing exercises)—kapalabhati and mahatyoga—that can keep my emotional turmoil well below the surface. He told me, “The mind is a monkey. When you do these breathing exercises, however, the counting itself stills the mind, bringing your focus to the breathing alone.”

These days, I do the breathing exercises for all of 10 minutes in the morning before I take a shower. After two months now, I’ve been noticing a gradual change in the way I deal with my emotions. I don’t find the need to curl up and bawl as often as I used to. I’m able to think more clearly.

Centring

In my quest to find answers, I found many who’d suffered just as I had. I didn’t even have to ask them if that were the case. By then, I’d developed a hyper-sensitive radar that picks up on others’ pain instantly. Teena Aiyanna, one of my friends, was deeply troubled in life—just as I was—when I first met her.

But soon, the two of us turned over a new leaf. And this, she achieved through regular chanting, and I through meditation. She tells me, “When I lost my dad to cancer a few years ago, the Buddhist chanting of the lotus sutra Nam Myoho Renge Kyo was all that kept me strong. As my practice advanced, I began to feel a greater connect with my inner self. It made me understand situations in life are transient.”

I feel the same way. I too began to feel more centred with my practice of Master Choa Kok Sui’s Twin Hearts Meditation. What’s common between both spiritual practices is that they not only rewire your mind, but also centre your inner self. They make you more responsive than reactive to situations, or at least that’s what I’ve found.

Disengaging

I tend to be way too caught up in my feelings when things go wrong. I find it very hard to see the situation I’m in under a new light. Fortunately, spirituality helped me with that. I didn’t turn to a new faith or anything, if you’re wondering. I just took up a short course on the nature of the soul—why it takes birth, what it’s destined to do, what its relation to other souls is.

Somehow, the knowledge that I am my soul really helped. It was as Amit Dhar, the course instructor, explained to me. “By learning about your real self, and eventually understanding that you are not your emotions, but have emotions, you can detach yourself from them. This kind of detachment equips you with the ability to think clearly,” he said. And I’ve begun to see the truth of his words.

Every time you feel your world’s falling apart, just try and force yourself to find practical solutions. Because no amount of trying to tame your mind and emotions on your own can help. Certainly not when you’re at your lowest. Or so I’ve found. Hence these tools—breathing exercises, meditation and chanting, and esoteric or spiritual studies.

At your lowest, you might find it hard to stay rooted to the ground, every time a hurricane comes your way. All you need to do is remind yourself that you can. But having said this, I’m not sure how much of what I’ve shared with you here can actually help you. If nothing else, I hope you can at least find solace in the fact that you’re not alone in your pain.

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