By Sevika Laura Douglass, Ph.D.
Turn on the radio or television and it becomes clear that those of us who live in North America are encouraged to be fearful. Advertisements, websites, articles, and relatives warn us to fear fat, illness, refugees, terrorists, identity theft, death, lack of money, failure to find a job, loss of social security—the list of what and who to fear is endless. Many of us desire to live and create a sense of community that is deeply rewarding and engaging, yet we may find that our individual aspirations are hijacked by personal and collective fears that lead to gossip, distrust, complaining, and politics. While it isn’t easy to create workplaces based on the yogic values of non-violence and purity, it is possible to put aside fear and develop communities based on love, respect, and service.
Dr. Vasant Lad, an Ayurvedic physician, states that fear is a vata disorder that emerges from constant movement, multi-tasking, chronic stress, and erratic hours. When individuals experience high vata it leads them to be restless and anxious. When a workplace experiences high vata the organization experiences a shift away from creativity and high engagement. As vata persists in the community, restlessness, worry, gossip, and complaining emerge to try and handle uncertainty and anxiety about the future. Unfortunately, these behaviors have the unintended consequence of lowering the quality and quantity of service we are able to provide. As service wans, the focus of the workplace shifts to self-preservation leading to more unhappiness and confusion.
Swami Satchidananda said, “Fear is not going to help us in any way. Fear makes the mind lose all its strength.” Understanding exactly how fear makes us lose our strength is the first step to ameliorating the high vata that binds us. When we experience fear it is natural to attempt to distance ourselves from it through our preferred distraction—videogames, shopping, gossip, drugs, overwork, and entertainment to name just a few. These activities drain us of the energy we could be using to serve others which—as yogis we know—is what ultimately leads to happiness. While it is a step in the right direction to replace these distractions with Yoga, if we do not deal with the fear underlying our distractions, we may notice our mind cultivating a subtle egoism regarding our spiritual practice. Egoism, like drugs and other distractions, creates a division between ourselves and our community.
Acknowledging our own struggle with fear cultivates the humility necessary to begin understanding the negative actions that we may see in our community. These actions are rooted in fear. The fear may be as simple as worrying that we can’t do the tasks we’re assigned, a fear of upcoming layoffs, or a fear that we aren’t valued within the organization. The challenging thing about fear is that it doesn’t abate just because we directly address the fear and bring it into the open. Attention given to fear, even if it to develop a stalwart plan to stave off the fear, often fortifies the reality of our anxieties. When we put our hand near the hot flames of a fire, our reflexes pull us away from the flames. Likewise, the pain of fear is a useful emotion as it clearly shows us we are thinking in the wrong direction and need to chart a new path.
High vata, thankfully, is ameliorated by creating a warm, nurturing environment in which experimentation and exploration to creatively solve problems is encouraged. A balanced work environment includes goals and clear structure (brought by pitta dosha) and the good, steady, reliable and compassionate service of others (brought by kapha dosha). We can develop the following qualities to bring down high vata and enhance creativity, and be of service to others:
Relationship is everything. Warm and nourishing relationships are central to every aspect of the positive functioning of a community. When vata is out of balance, its “light” quality incites fear, anxiety, loneliness, and insecurity. These qualities can be ameliorated by bringing grounded qualities of stability and connection into our daily relationships. Emphasizing how positive relationships impact the service the community provides to each other and to others is central to satisfaction. Everyone who comes into contact with the community should feel they are incredibly important. This focus on relationships creates a workplace to which people want to donate their time, be a part of, and promote because it feels good to participate. . .
Read the rest of this article in the Winter 2016 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine.