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Put your own Oxygen Mask on first

Developing the capacity to take care of your own mind and emotions, is the first step in helping others

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A few weeks ago I saw Arianna on a BBC World interview and was delighted to hear the message that she shared: Put your own oxygen mask on first, before helping others.


This is a view that I have subscribed to throughout my life, having been introduced to meditation and self awareness at the age of 8, through my parents. Growing up, I was surprised how little attention people pay to taking care of their minds, and the result is the stress and complications that come in relationships.  I have found that the most important relationship you can have is with your own self. The state of your Self Relationship impacts every other relationship that you have with others.


When it comes to stress, we can all make a list of regular causes of stress in our lives. Often seen on that list are other people’s behaviours, financial woes, future uncertainty, traffic etc. However, the truth is that none of these are stress causes – they are all potential stress triggers, and when we pull the trigger, either consciously or subconsciously, then we get shot by the stress. The pulling of the trigger happens when we try to control people, situations and events. The reality is that you cannot control anything outside of you – but you can certainly control and choose how you want to respond to the world around you.  To be free of stress, rather than just temporarily manage it, I have found the following equation helpful: Stress = Pressure divided by Resilience. 

To reduce our stress, we often try to only reduce the pressure related events in our lives , eg  making adjustments in our work life, moving to a quieter neighbourhood or changing our relationships/friendships. These changes do bring some relief from stress, but only temporarily. Plus it may not be possible or easy for everyone to make these changes, especially if you have dependants. However, what we can all do, is to increase the personal resilience of our minds,  which comes from the inside


Through a daily practice of meditation and self awareness, you  learn to observe your own emotions, rather than being absorbed and overwhelmed by them. As a result, certain stress related behaviours and tendencies begin to leave our lives – such as blaming, criticising and complaining about others for the way that we feel. A person who is self aware learns how to handle the mind and emotions – and embraces what is perhaps  the first principle of Inner Wellness : I am responsible for my own thoughts and feelings  – and therefore, my life and relationships will improve when I choose to own my emotions,  rather than when other people change their behaviour towards me.  When we are caught in an emotional blame game with others, or embroiled in an ego fight,  it is a sure sign of being spiritually asleep.


If I learn to own my peace and happiness, then naturally I will be in a position to help and support others, in their moments of need. If I cannot control my anger, irritation, fears , stress etc, then I will be relatively unavailable for others. True self respect begins with choosing to keep my mind at peace, steady, happy and positive – and with practice , this becomes natural and then I can radiate and share that pleasant attitude / energy wherever I am, be it at home,  work or in social settings. This is perhaps the greatest gift that we can give to each other.


Like any machine, the mind needs to be respected and taken care of well. When we buy a machine , be it a phone, a fridge or a car etc,  along with that we also receive a user manual, which tells us how to use the machine correctly and how to maintain it. The question arises – where is the user manual for the mind? As we move through life, we tend to develop some bad habits, largely connected  to what I consider to be the worst habit of the human race: Overthinking. This causes the mind to get tired – and the result is that our ability to tolerate those different to us, to understand and forgive others and to be patient,  suffer. …and when this happens , then problems enter our relationships.


In big city life especially, it seems to me that we don’t value the morning time enough. With our gadgets and toys of technology,  as soon as we awaken we instantly engage with the outside world.  What I have found useful is to first engage with myself and my inner world, before engaging with the outer world. This means to start the day with even just a few minutes of silence and meditation, to visit the peace which is already inside each one of us, and then to read and ponder upon some rich, uplifting thoughts –  before launching into the day and checking up on the news,weather,  traffic reports, family members, breakfast etc.


It was so beautifully sad by Marcus Aurelius: : “You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”
Indeed, it is often stated that sports is a mind game, business is a mind game, politics is a mind game…..and I would say, Life is the Ultimate Mind Game.

(Yogesh Sharda is a teacher of meditation and self awareness, based in Istanbul)

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    People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

    - MARCUS AURELIUS

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