Column - Reflect or react?

THE first part of this year was filled with news about Donald Trump, the 45th president of the United States. People discussed his policies, his social faux pas, his immigration ban and all they perceived as the good and the bad of Trump. From my perspective, the internet was generally filled with negativity, fuelled by antagonism in retaliation from Trump supporters towards past Democrat presidents. There couldn't be a more negative time to be online or on social media.

Amid all this, a yogi on Instagram, called Banyan Gallagher, had a photo of his little altar with an image of Patanjali, together with his incense. Right in front of all this was a photograph of Trump.

He wrote, "Some of you may be wondering what The Donald is doing on my altar, frowning in front of Patanjali. I'm kind of wondering myself. This guy seems to represent everything I disagree with, and I fear the effects of his thoughts, words and actions may harm this planet beyond repair … And I guess that's why I want to spend a few minutes every day looking at his face. It's clear by my reaction to his image that I'm afraid. I'm angry. And that means there is still work to be done."

This made me feel shameful that I had been so annoyed with Trump and his supporters. It brought back the philosophy I learnt during my yoga teacher training. It is so easy to learn things and not apply them. At that moment, it felt like something broke inside me. I no longer felt unhappy going online and looking at the news.

The thing is, often when we find ourselves disliking somebody, it really is more to do with us than it is to do with them. For example, let's say someone said to me, "Wow, you're as cute and chubby as the baby you're carrying!" I could well go away with a frown and pout and spend the rest of the week mourning the fact that someone said I was fat. Or be happy that someone finds me as adorable and as amusing as the baby.

There are two ways of looking at things. How we look at it is based on our choice. It is the same with one's outlook on life, or boss or spouse or parents or colleagues. We can choose to allow our interactions to enrich us, or to bring us down. The choice is ours.

Sometimes it may seem like it is not a choice. The reaction is instant: distrust, suspicion, joy, fear, relief, but we must understand that the reaction comes from within us, not without. It is not the outside factor that creates the reaction, rather our perception of that factor.

Once, our yoga guru Manoj said something along the lines that when we see him or someone we care about or really like, we might experience joy and happiness. But this arose because we recognised our greater self in the other person, or our greater qualities. Could it be that when we react to somebody negatively, it is because we recognise our own qualities in that person that we do not like?

I would say often it is. I had an acquaintance that I really couldn't be around with for too long. Later, close friends were surprised to learn that I didn't like him. "But you guys are so alike!" This made me take a step back and wonder whether there was some qualities that we shared that I didn't like. On reflection, I realised there were a lot. And now I feel far less antagonistic towards him.

If you think about it, if we spent a little more time reflecting and a little less time reacting, life would be a little sweeter. And I guess for me at least, the Trump presidency was a revision of that lesson.

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