Distress is a word that usually makes me feel uncomfortable simply upon hearing it. Distress is something I tend to avoid, which to me seems like natural animal behaviour: avoid that which could be unpleasant. The word distress means “to cause anxiety, sorrow or pain” and is based on Latin verb Distringere which means “to stretch apart."
I recently had the opportunity to spend some time with horses. It was a beautiful warm spring day, and in this area of the world that means flies. These flies were hanging around the horses, mostly landing in and around their eyes. The horses would move their heads occasionally but it was to little avail. I waved my hand near the horses to discourage the flies from bothering them but realized the futility of it, they just came back.
What struck me was that this could potentially be a distressing situation for the horses, and perhaps it was, but they still seemed playful, curious and excited. I walked away from this encounter wondering how I embrace distress in my own life.
Can I find the joy and love even during life’s challenges? Or do I allow them to overcome me? I can think of experiences of distress when I was so overwhelmed I could do nothing else, but the practice of yoga has helped this to lessen over the years.
Krishna makes mention of a similar concept to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita, “Notions of heat and cold, of pain and pleasure, are born, O son of Kunti, only of the contact of the senses with their objects. They have a beginning and an end. They are impermanent in their nature. Bear them patiently, O descendant of Bharata.” (Bhagavad Gita 2.14). It’s important to note, here, that Krishna mentions the impermanence and passing nature of these events, good or bad.
Looking back at the Latin verb Distringere can give some insight into other ways I can approach distress as it appears. “To stretch apart” is a wonderful way to look at life’s challenges that are out of my control. When I’m stretching, I’m making new space, growing, and learning more about myself. I feel a great shift when I can turn a challenge or moment of distress into an opportunity to grow.
How has yoga challenged the way you habitually deal with distress?