How To Stay Positive In A Negative World

Recently, a friend asked me: “How do you stay optimistic when the world seems to be going so badly?”

It’s a question I asked myself often while I worked in Afghanistan, witnessing conflict, suffering and injustice. How can I continue to believe in goodness, when there is so much evil in the world? How can I be happy when my friends are suffering?

After the 9/11 attacks a boy asked his grandfather what would happen to the world. The grandfather said there were two wolves fighting inside his heart. One was vengeful and full of anger, ready to strike against the ‘enemy’. The other wolf was filled with love and belief in the basic goodness of all, ready to seek peace. The grandson asked, “Which wolf will win?” His grandfather answered, “The one I choose to feed.”

But how do we feed the right wolf? Here are four ways to stay positive in a negative world.


1. Choose where you place your attention

One of the first things many of us do when we feel overwhelmed by bad news is to turn it off, and there’s wisdom in this impulse. Choose carefully what you watch and listen to, but don’t switch off completely. Find a news source you trust, and stay aware. The world needs you to be aware.


2. Cultivate a compassionate heart

Allowing ourselves to be aware of suffering within and around us is essential for cultivating compassion. By feeling the pain of others, we increase our capacity for compassion and feed the right wolf. One meditation practice that helps this is simply to wish ourselves well and then extend that wish to others around us.


3. Train a steady mind

An open heart can leave us feeling unstable. We balance this by cultivating a steady mind. Meditation trains our mind to hold steady under the onslaught of disturbing images, thoughts and feelings, helping us maintain a sense of centre when the world spins out of control. Meditation helps me keep my attention on what is happening now – a powerful tool when fears about the future threaten to overwhelm us.


4. Take action

Taking action to promote peace and justice is one of the best ways to respond to a world of pain. If you don’t know what to do, find someone already taking action and ask how you can help. And remember: cultivating compassion, peace and faith in our own hearts and minds is also an action.


Best described as a “zen peacekeeper,” Marianne Elliott is an acclaimed author, human rights advocate and international yoga instructor who writes and teaches on creating, developing and sustaining real change in personal life, work and the world. She is the creator of the popular “30 Days of Yoga” courses and author of Zen Under Fire, a memoir about doing good and being well in war-torn Afghanistan. Click here  for more on the special offer for pre-orders of Zen Under Fire, available until June 1! 



A Dose Of My Own Medicine

One of the lessons I’ve learned in my life is that we each have our own unique way of being of service in the world. The combination of our personality, our character and our experiences, whether wonderful or excruciating, give us the ability to serve the world in a way nobody else could. 

Pam Slim has a wonderful metaphor for this truth, she says

‘We each have our unique medicine for the world.’

Isn’t that beautiful? Isn’t it powerful?

Imagine how your life might be different if you really believed that. If you believed that your life up to this moment, and everything about who you are in this moment, constitute the ingredients for a potent and entirely unique medicine for what ails the world.

The best part is that this only works if we really include everything that makes up who we are in this moment. Not just the parts that we think are admirable, or beautiful or presentable, but also the parts that we generally think we need to keep out of the public eye.

Because here’s how I think it works…

I believe we each develop our own unique medicine in the same way that a vaccine works, through being exposed to the pathogen.

As a yoga teacher my particular medicine is the medicine of kindness. I teach the power of entering into a new relationship with our bodies and ourselves grounded in kindness. Kindness is the medicine I have to offer.

How did I get this medicine?

I got it by repeatedly exposing myself to the pathogen of self-criticism. I can’t say that I recommend this, but for some (probably most) of us it is pretty much unavoidable. Like in a vaccination, I was exposed to the pathogen and my immune system developed ways of responding. My unique medicine has grown directly out of my own ‘weakness’.

I also think we find the medicine that we need. The people who need your particular kind of medicine will be drawn to you. As a yoga student I found myself drawn to teachers who had just the right kind of medicine for what ailed me.

Now, as a teacher, over and over again I hear my students describing the challenges they are encountering in their practice and they are exactly the challenges I have encountered in my own practice.

This might be what some people call finding your ‘right people’. I find it very liberating. I don’t have to worry too much about whether everyone will love my 30 days of yoga. I can trust that the people who are drawn to me will be the people who need my kind of medicine.

If you think that you could do with a shot of kindness, especially when it comes to your relationship to your body, then my course is probably for you. If you don’t think kindness is what you need, well I’d love to give you a big hug because I’m convinced that we all need kindness, but I’m also more than cool with the fact that my course might not be for you.

I also find it liberating to be reminded that I don’t need to be ‘perfect’ to be of service. My medicine, my unique way to be of service, has grown and continues to grow out of those very parts of me that I tend to think of as less than perfect.

I’m also always up for a dose of my own medicine!


Zen Under Fire (trailer) from Marianne Elliott on Vimeo.

Zen Under Fire is a vivid account of Marianne’s experience living and working in the world’s most notorious battlefield. As well as sharing the incredible details of her UN role, Marianne tells the very personal story of the shattering effect that the high-stress environment had on her and her relationships, and asks what it really means to do good in a country that is under siege from within. This is an honest, moving and at times terrifying true story of a woman’s time peacekeeping in one of the most dangerous places on earth.

Marianne’s book is currently only available for sale in New Zealand.  However, you can pre-order through Amazon for a June 1st 2013 book release.  You can pre-order (via Amazon) through the Inspirational Storyteller Book Store.