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Emotional Pinball

Dammit! I picked up my shattered iPhone off the kitchen floor. I had swept my phone off the counter as I grabbed my lunch in a rush to leave for work, and it did not have a soft landing.

Sigh. I had woken up in a great mood, too. I quickly resigned myself that I’d be spending a couple hundred bucks or so to fix it, shoved the phone in my pocket, and raced out the door. I worked at an Apple Store at the time, so at least I wouldn’t have to go out of my way to get a new one. And thankfully, I wasn’t late for work.

When I got to the office, I set my phone on the desk and logged in to one of the computers to check email and get ready for the day. Within a few minutes I heard, “Whose phone is this? Arjuna, is this your phone?” as a coworker gently chided me. I didn’t even notice her taking it with her as she stepped out, but she returned shortly with a new phone from the genius bar. In a very generous bending of the rules, they replaced it for free.

And in the span of an hour I’d gone from great mood, to annoyed and frustrated, to relieved and grateful and good mood again!

But the day went on.

A couple hours later, I headed out to lunch with my new phone. (Usually I’d have stayed in the break room with my packed lunch, but in the rush of the morning I forgot to include the bread for my sandwich.) So I’m sitting in the Original Farmers Market, reading something on my phone, and I turn away for a second to take a bite of my noodles, and… someone snatches the phone off the table.

And just like that, I’m without a phone again. It was infuriating, but it already felt a little absurd too, like a moment from a recurring time movie — if something didn’t happen one way, it was going to happen another. (And, no joke, this was February 2nd. Yep, Groundhog Day.)

I rushed back to the office to check Find My iPhone, but the thief had already turned it off (and this was well before Apple made stolen phones unusable), so no luck. Now I was resigning myself again, this time to spending even more and buying a brand new phone. But just a short while later, before I had the chance to buy my own, my coworkers got together and got one for me. I worked with some pretty wonderful people.

So now, in just half a day, I’d already bounced from great mood, to frustrated, to great mood, to infuriated and frustrated, to super, super grateful and great mood again.

Sometimes our emotions just knock us around like a pinball.

When I finally wasn’t feeling thrown around anymore, the day started to look almost comical. I was so caught up in the winds of each moment, when the very next moment was just going to flip it around. But of course, since I could never know what that next moment was going to hold, getting so caught up in any moment started to feel a little foolish. Or maybe just unnecessary. We grasp so tightly, when the only thing we know is that things will change.

Yes, some moments are hard. But you deal with them and they pass. That day, getting upset when it was just going to pass in an hour, I felt kind of silly. But an hour or a day or a month, most things still pass. Whether you get worked up about them or not.


In yoga, we do get worked up. We choose to. We put ourselves in deliberately challenging poses, introduce tension to the body, so we can practice finding a steadiness and a softness. So we can try to maintain an even breath. That way, when life puts challenges in front of us, we might be just a little bit better at finding that same steadiness as we do what needs to be done, or as we allow things to pass.

Yoga is a moving meditation. It’s not just what you do, but how you do it. It’s not just the pose, but the steady breath within the pose and the modifications we make to adjust the pose to our body that day. It’s in what we notice, which lets us make those adjustments.

And whether it’s in the physical practice (the asanas), or the subtler, concentration (dharana) and mindfulness (dhyana) yoga practices we might do in seated meditation, when you take the time to notice — notice your thoughts, notice your emotions, notice your body and your physical reactions — you train yourself to hold a broader perspective. You start to notice that things do pass.

And with that awareness, you give yourself the chance, the choice, to step back and maybe just watch the pinball for a while.

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