Recently, my 15-year-old son asked, "What are some tools I can use to not feel stressed?" I was stunned. What struck me first was the fact that he had the self-awareness to identify his own anxiety. What really impressed me, though, was his ability to ask for help in order to alleviate his discomfort.
My son's question got me thinking about my own stressful experiences, and how I've learned to deal with them.
Acting on stage is one situation that often makes me anxious. Before my last performance, I suddenly felt extremely afraid and out of control. Even though I had rehearsed, I felt paralyzed by the thought that anything could happen.
Despite my fear, however, I forced myself to walk onto the stage. As soon as I did so, my fear immediately disappeared. I became focused on the moment, on the lines I needed to speak to drop into the scene. I think many actors experience this same phenomenon: the mind being freed from anxiety as soon as they step into their roles.
But for many people, it is difficult to achieve this freedom. It is difficult to escape the fear that -- no matter how hard we prepare -- we can never anticipate what is going to unfold in the future. Nothing is predetermined; it is written as we go. Other times, we focus on past failures, reliving painful memories. These kinds of thoughts can lead us to become "stuck in time." Instead of living in the actual present moment, we become locked in a past-future game.
My years of study and practice of yoga and meditation have helped me meet these challenges and, indeed, have enabled me to experience time from a different perspective. Most people tend to think about time in terms of the past, present and future. But there are other, more multi-dimensional, frames of reference for thinking about time.
For example, when I began to practice meditation, my teacher suggested that I reserve time in my day to do nothing. I was so confused and asked what I was allowed to do during that time. "Whatever the moment brings," she told me. I followed her advice, and reserved time during which I would allow one moment to unfold into another without planning a thing. This experience allowed me to act more mindfully and experience less stress. It challenged me to expand my view of time and thus allowed me to be more in tune with myself.
I've also noticed other instances in life when time seems to work differently. For example, when we fall in love with another human being, time with that beloved person feels short. Even when we spend most of our time with that person, it never seems enough. And when we're not with that person, all we want to do is go back in time to be with him or her as we were the previous day or night.
I talked about time with my teacher Kofi Busia, who said: "I know something is infinite when it contains the whole of itself within itself... As part of this 'infinite', I of course contain many generations of Africans. But I also, and surprisingly, contain Germans, Scots, Swedes, and Danes. One ancestor was Governor Augustus Frederick Hackenburg; another my great great grandfather Carl Christian Rheindorf who translated the Bible into Ga (a Kwa language spoken in Ghana, in and around the capital Accra). That perhaps explains my affinity for things northern European!"
In other words, one person contains with herself all the generations that went before. She also contains within her the seeds for future generations. In this way, time works on a continuum; points of time exist only in relationship to one another.
So what advice did I give my son when he asked me about tools to help him not feel so stressed? I told him to watch and pay attention to what is happening "now" in the present moment. I told him to focus on the sounds in the street, the smell of the trees, the changing leaves and even the feeling of his own feet on the ground.
If you're interested in reading more about Kofi Busia's theory of time, click here.
For more by Osi Mizrahi, click here.
For more on yoga, click here.