When I was a kid, the surest way to make anything more fun (besides adding ice cream) was to tell me I was allowed to bring a friend. Spend the afternoon being dragged around town running errands with grownups? Fine, if I can bring a friend. Chores, homework, long lines for anything, anywhere? No problem, if I can bring a friend. Friends make tough stuff easier and the fun times even better – for kids and grownups. As we get older, though, we recognize the deeper value of being connected to others, of having a support network to cheer us through the highs and hold us through the lows. Community can be a powerful anchor, and a lifeline at times. Now and then, however, it can also be a distraction.
The trouble starts when, to use a yoga analogy, you start focusing a little too much on what’s happening on other people’s mats, and forget to pay attention to what you’re up to on yours. You know the drill. You’re going about your day when you bump into someone who just found out they have some great news to share. You’re happy for them, but then there’s that twinge of, well, you know, but also, “Should I be doing that, too?” Five minutes ago, you knew where you were headed, and then suddenly, you’re looking at someone else’s map and you’re not so sure.
In these exceptional times, we have access to more information about other people’s decisions than ever before. We don’t even have to talk to them – or even really know them – to find out what they’re doing. As human beings, we like to have our decisions reinforced by those around us, ideally by having them make the same ones. That’s a much easier need to satisfy (maybe?) when you’re only interacting with 10 families in a village than when you’ve got the world at your fingertips, though. So, how do you keep from short-circuiting with all this information? How do you figure out what’s right for you, and stay the course while appreciating that others may need to follow a different one? Easy. You breathe.
More specifically, you notice that you’re breathing. You were already doing it, which comes in handy at moments like this, but you probably stopped noticing it because your brain took over with its panicked pleas of “Wait, wait! There are more options to consider!” Come back to your breath. Focus on the basic sensations of your inhales and exhales, even for just a few seconds. Where were you going again? And why was it the best path for you? There you go. Your mat, your journey, your internal compass for choosing what’s right for you.
All set! Until you run into someone else, of course. Then all you need is the ol’ rinse and repeat approach. Stop, breathe, then respond. Odds are good they could use a little of the same after talking to you.
Photo credit: Francisco Moreno