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July 24, 2011

Just Breathe, Dammit! Why Stress and Seva Don’t Mix. ~ Christy Freer

“I wrote a post last month telling the story of how I got involved in the Off the Mat, Into the Word Global Seva Challenge.  It was good.  You should read it. No, really.  I’ll send it to you – what’s your address?”

That kind of aggressive boldness is, unfortunately, the way I normally blaze through my life.  And, umm, everyone in my path.  Participating in the Global Seva Challenge this year means that I have committed to raise at least $20,000 for sustainable relief efforts in Haiti through Off the Mat, Into the World.  That’s not going to be easy, so it also means that I’ve got a tough road ahead of me with a lot of lessons to learn about myself, how I communicate and how I collaborate.  I know those lessons will be humbling, especially when I realize they are the lessons I struggle to learn over and over again in my life.

Have you ever forced yourself into a yoga pose and then realized you weren’t breathing? (Come on, we’ve all done this.)  Or worse, have you ever forced yourself, unsuccessfully, to breathe a certain way in a pranayama exercise only to realize later that your forced approach was probably why you couldn’t get the hang of it?  Yeah, that’s my life, except usually without the realization part.  I have a very outgoing personality and I’m a very hard worker. I know what I want and I will always find a way to get it.  Whatever “it” is.  I push, push, push past the fatigue and all the signs telling me to give up, and I ignore my family and my health, and I get things done.  This approach usually works for me, at least in reaching whatever impossible goal I’ve set out for myself.  It made me a superstar as a lawyer, and that kind of drive is a hallmark of traditionally “successful” people.  Of course, the universe must have a different plan for me because this approach doesn’t work at all in the context of what I’m really trying to do this year with my seva!

I got a major reality check in the course of planning my first big fundraising event last month.  Somehow along the way, I lost my focus on the real goal and got tied up in the details of planning.  I found myself repeating the same old patterns of stress and reaction that characterized my life as a lawyer.  And I unintentionally tainted all my own hard work with a lot of negative, frantic energy.  It’s no wonder my efforts weren’t bearing fruit when that’s what my approach dragged into the mix.

I somehow allowed myself to forget that it doesn’t matter whether the end result jives with the perfect idea of “success” that I had in my head.  What matters is that I am doing what I can to help people who are in desperate need and that I am doing so in a way that is sustainable for me and carries the best of my intentions.  The true measure of success will be looking back on the year and being able to see how much love I’ve shared, how positive all of my interactions have been and how much of an impact I’ve made in the lives of real people, both here and in Haiti, who have somehow been involved in my efforts.  Thank goodness a gentle friend helped me to see that my approach from a place of adrenaline-driven fear of failure was choking all the positive intentions that I otherwise brought to this work.

I wish I had that friend with me in every minute of my life to save me from self-induced and self-destructive stress, but I now know that this is one of my lessons this year.  I have to cultivate that friend within myself.  I have to allow myself to fail, whatever that means, so that I can learn from it.  I have to redefine “success” to focus on whatever positive lessons I can take from every experience.  I have to learn to recognize this inner critic and control freak and stop her in her tracks—not with a steam-roller for a change, but for once in my life, with love, acceptance and forgiving kindness.

I don’t think I’ve ever tried to accomplish something so big while allowing myself even an inch for self-care and sustainability within my own life, but I am done with clawing my way to my goals.  It’s time for a new approach.  It’ll be interesting to see how this experiment in truly living my yoga turns out.

Christy Freer is a yogini, singer, mom and recovering lawyer in the DC metro area.  When she is not hosting a dance party for a one-year-old in her living room, Christy does legal work for 501(c)(3) non-profits and works tirelessly to raise funds and awareness for Haiti through Off the Mat’s Global Seva Challenge. You can learn more about Christy and her Haiti work here.

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