We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch -we are going back from whence we came. – John F. Kennedy
I frequent the ocean year round. It’s one of the perks of living in New England. And during the summer, there’s nothing I like more than feeling the cool ocean
waves flow over my body – rinsing off accumulated stress and tension -reminding
me how to just “be”. There is a soothing rhythm to the ocean waves. Even the
rouge ones add a little spice and change to the tempo before they crescendo and
return to their regular beat. I believe that when we tune into the ocean’s rhythm, we inadvertently tune into our own. Perhaps this one of the many meanings behind Kennedy’s quote?
This past summer (I’m sad to say “past”) I decided to try a new way of experiencing the waves via bogie boarding. Being a novice, I bought a kid’s board form CVS and then journeyed to the sea. I made it out to about waist high waters, and just as I plopped my body onto the board, I had a horrible thought – and it wouldn’t go away.
I kept thinking that from a shark’s perspective -I looked like a seal. And even though the recent great white sharks sightings and attack in the oceans of Cape Cod were some 2 &1/2 hours away, I couldn’t stop “catastrophizing” the
possibility. Like many, the film “Jaws” did a number on me and it took a good 20 minutes of “hypervigalent” seal scouting - realizing not one was in
sight, for me to finally relax, and ride the waves.
And when I did: aaahhhh it felt good.
But all the crazy fear ridden thinking was just that: crazy – and of course unnecessary.
The reality is, on average, each year three humans are killed by sharks (usually a case of mistaken identity) and three hundred million sharks are killed by humans (with intention). When we watch the news, my guess is that eighty percent of what is televised is all the horror and trauma in the world, and about 20 percent are the feel good stories. The reality is that good things happen all the time – far more than the horror. But as the saying goes “perception becomes reality”. When we are constantly bombarded with media messages that give our adrenals a shark attack like charge, our reality becomes chaotic and our rhythm takes on tsunami like fight or flight pace – sadly without any real earthquake. No wonder there’s so much road rage and people so often seen “on edge”.
So how do we slow down- and get back to what’s real? How do we retrain our brains to just tune into the “now” and find contentment in simplicity?
In yoga, there’s principle called Pratyahara which means drawing of one's attention toward silence rather than toward things. Practicing this is not so easy, especially in our fast paced information driven culture where everything has become instantaneous. Yet instant as a constant rhythm isn’t natural -or
healthy. And instant all the time leads to increased anxiety, fatigue and even
So here are some practical ideas on how to practice Pratyahara in your fast paced everyday life:
1.Limit your news intake. See if you can find a balance of staying informed
with the outer would as well as the inner.
2. Set limits on how often you use your smart phone- especially before bed time.
Ever notice how people are always walking with their heads bowed to
their phones? (I’m guilty of this one.)
3.Take some time every day – even if it’s just ten minutes to sit in silence or listen to soothing music.
4. Weather permitting, try to get outside for a walk and notice all that’s happening around you. (Leave the phone behind.)
5. Spend time each day focusing on your breath. Notice it’s rhythm without
trying to control it.
Practicing Pratyahara can help restore equilibrium in your body, mind and life.
Yet practice is the operative word. The only expense for you, is time. But if you practice, you will have a lot more fun riding those waves – big, small or tsunami like – and you will return to calmer seas a lot quicker than not.
If filling our minds with negative thoughts and images has a deleterious effect on our physical and mental health, then the opposite must be true as well.
So I guess our reality – to some extent, becomes a choice.
Which one would you prefer?
Maura Matarese, M.A. LMHC, R.Y.T is a psychotherapist and yoga instructor practicing in Sudbury.