This is truly an eventful time of year -- the changing of seasons, the passing of the Summer Solstice, and, yesterday, the U.S.'s Independence Day. For a lot of us, this is a time of slower work flow and relaxing vacations, but in yoga class, there's a lot to do!
For the past week in classes, I talked about the (then) upcoming July 4th Independence Day holiday. Independence, of course, also means "freedom," and I think this is the best time of year to work to expand our own freedom. For most of us, new freedom becomes accessible most easily when we let go of fear.
It sounds so simple, letting go of fear. In reality, however, it can be a tough proposition. Fear is not necessarily a bad thing. It helps to protect us from making bad decisions that might endanger our safety. If we did not have a healthy fear of moving traffic, we might see no problem with taking a little stroll across a busy freeway. If we didn't fear getting sick, we might decide to drink the old milk in the fridge instead of pouring it out.
But each of us holds onto a lot of small fears that no longer serve any useful purpose for us. Or, in some cases, our grown-up ability to read a situation makes that fear less useful than it once was. Think, for example, about what your parents certainly told you as a kid: don't talk to strangers. They told you this for good reason. Kids can't read a situation as well as mindful adults can, and might approach someone who is obviously out to hurt them, without thinking twice. So that parental directive served us well then.
But think about how you go about your day now. Are there people you see or run into whom you don't know, and therefore never speak to? Could that be a lingering result of that long-ago lesson from your parents? Is it still useful to you? Or might you gain something by talking to people you normally don't talk to -- or might they gain something by you approaching them?
It's a simple example, but one worth thinking about. We all fall into habits, we let ingrained behaviors drive our decisions a lot of the time -- this is part of being human, and there's nothing wrong with it.
But we can gain so much when we look beyond those ingrained thoughts and behaviors and ask ourselves, "Am I now able to tell the difference between people who might mean me harm and people who certainly mean me no harm, and might even benefit from a conversation?" If you answered a resolute "Yes," go out of your way this week to talk to someone you wouldn't normally talk to. Maybe someone you see in the elevator at work most days. Maybe the clerk behind the counter at a store you frequent. Maybe even a homeless person asking for change who you pass every day.
Is a conversation too much? A little too scary? Start with simple eye contact! Work up to eye contact and a smile. Then eye contact, a smile, and a simple "Hello!" or "Good morning." The rest will flow from there.
Taking these few simples steps provide an easy way to pay it forward a little, and even better, they break us out of our old fearful patterns that we no longer need, helping us find some new freedom along the way.
There's no better way to celebrate the summer than that!