Several years ago, we were asked to take personality tests at our law firm. I was one of the most vocal protesters, complaining that it was a waste of time and silly. I guess I should not have been surprised that I scored very high as to cynicism.
I became more aware of my cynicism and I decided in the last several years that I do not want to be cynical anymore. Cynicism has a negative element to it, and I want to be positive. Can you change a personality trait?
As part of my journey to improve myself, I tried reading some of the inspirational or self-help books that are so popular, such as “The Secret” and “Eat, Pray, Love”. Cynical me couldn’t do it. I wanted to throw “The Secret” out the window, onto my driveway and then run over it with my car – twice. I had to stop reading it as I was afraid my eyes would spasm from rolling back in my head so often. With “Eat, Pray, Love”, my problem was – knowing that I couldn’t take the huge chunk of time and travel the world like she did, what good was it going to do me to read about the amazing personal growth she was able to reach when she took such a journey? I am sure that these books have value; for whatever reasons, I just could not get to it – my failings, not theirs.
About six months ago, I picked up a book called “Fortytude” by Sarah Brokaw (Tom’s daughter). The introduction grabbed my attention: “It takes courage to look within, but this is what we must do. By examining ourselves closely and coming to a deeper understanding of what matters most to us as unique individuals, we can separate the societal messages from our own hearts’ calling, let go of ideas of what should be, and instead embrace what is. You can take a stand and say proudly: ‘This is who I am.” Or, if you’re at a point where you’re reinventing your life, you can say: ‘This is who I want to be – and I’m going to go for it!” This process takes a kind of strength that I call ‘fortytude.'”
Sarah identifies five core values that women need to navigate their lives with health and happiness:
At the same time I was reading “Fortytude”, I started at a new power yoga studio. One instructor often spoke of the importance of equanimity and how it is a fundamental concept of this practice of yoga. I must admit that I had to come home the first time and look it up (“Equanimity is a state of mental or emotional stability or composure arising from a deep awareness and acceptance of the present moment” – per Wikipedia).
Sarah writes this about the core value of Grace: “When we make peace with life events, even when things don’t go the way we want, we exhibit grace. When we manage stressful situations with humor, we exhibit grace. When we are accepting of others, we exhibit grace. Grace is not about physical beauty or having a ballerina’s poise. It is composed of generosity, forgiveness, and equanimity in the face of trying times.”
Coincidence? Cynical me would have said yes. I chose to take it as a sign that I needed to work on it. And the more equanimous that I am, the less cynical I will be.
I love the example given by my yoga teacher – she said that at first she had problems getting her arms around the concept of equanimity and asked her instructor if it meant that she could never be enthusiastic about things again – such as being so excited about eating the chocolate brownie waiting for you in your refrigerator. His response was no, it didn’t mean that – but what it did mean is that if you look forward to the brownie all day, then at the end of the day when you go to get the brownie and discover that your husband ate it, your reaction should be a calm acceptance that it was meant to be that way.
I have always been an emotional person, so calming my reactions takes a huge effort. But I have noticed that, at the end of the day, I am exhausted if I have had an emotional day; whereas I have much more energy if I have had a calm day. I anticipate that it will be some time before I can react consistently with equanimity, but I am going to continue to try.
In the meantime, I think some yogi may have just saved my husband’s life.