Playing tennis with the universe: One, love

Published 12:58 pm Tuesday, October 10, 2017

I’m exhausted.

Not just sleep deprived, but existentially tired.

I experience a soul-crushing malaise every time I pick up my phone and see the latest news reports.

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This week it’s about Las Vegas, Puerto Rico, Tom Petty.

Next week it will be something else, too many other hurtful things, so many other hurtful things.

I’m developing a tic, a deep revulsion to the sight of my phone, a tightening of my shoulders and a clenching of my jaw as if preparing myself for battle. I recognize these physical reactions as chronic stress.

My fatigue isn’t from any diagnosable condition and medication won’t help. It’s borne from attempting to exist in a world fraught with stressors, trying to remain upright on a planet tilting toward chaos.

Staying current on the news is a fatigue cocktail these days.

You don’t have to be a practicing Buddhist to recognize that suffering is a given in life.

A World Mental Health Study found of the 14 countries studied, Americans were the most anxious.

Almost one in five Americans now has an anxiety disorder. We spend more than $2 billion a year on medications to calm our nerves. This is not winning, y’all.

But I get it. I’m stressed too, despite all attempts to practice self-care.

Prolonged stress wreaks havoc on our bodies and minds.

According to the American Psychological Association, stress is considered chronic when you feel anxious for an extended period of time and there seems to be no solution in sight.

It often exists on such a low level it becomes an accepted part of our days; we don’t even realize how frayed we have become until we get sick or have a complete mental meltdown.

This sustained stress signals the body to release cortisol into the bloodstream all day long. Excess cortisol leads to weight gain, osteoporosis, digestive problems, hormone imbalances, cancer, heart disease and diabetes. We are left feeling wired but tired, the sort that no amount of sleep can fix.

Chronic stress also destroys our beautiful minds.

Cortisol creates a surplus of the neurotransmitter glutamate, which in turn creates free radicals that attack brain cells much in the same way that oxygen attacks metal.

Basically, staying current on all the bad news is making our brains rust.

Before you fall completely to pieces in the face of such hopelessness, take a deep breath. Then another. Better, right?

If there is an answer to any of the devastatingly worrisome news, it’s that we are constantly being afforded the opportunity to deepen our connection to love and gratitude.

The world can seem so full of hatred, injustice and despair. It’s tempting to just raise your white flag and face-plant in a bowl of pasta. Delete your social media apps and shut out the world. Curl up on the couch and stay there for days, alternately crying and stuffing your face with ice cream. And sometimes this is the best way to process; my meditation practice has helped me know when I personally need to unplug and power down.

But eventually we all have to confront the fragility of life.

The Buddha taught that a broken heart and an open heart are the same thing. He believed that heartbreak is a gift we are given in order to become more loving.

The more we feel the heartbreak of our fellow humans, the deeper our well of love becomes.

The more we experience love, the more connected we feel to others. The more connected we are, the more gratitude and joy becomes our default setting.

It’s a beautiful cycle.

Here is another beautiful truth. You can’t have a grateful thought and a fearful or angry thought simultaneously.

You can only think one thing at a time and you can control, to some extent, what you think.

In her book “Big Magic,” Elizabeth Gilbert describes playing a cosmic tennis match with her creative endeavors. Every time she receives a rejection letter for her work, she just lobs it back out there to a different editor, making sure the universe realizes that “no” isn’t acceptable to her.

I’ve started doing this, too.

Monday morning, when I picked up my phone and read about the mass shooting in Las Vegas, I cried.

But then I spent the next few days reaching out to my people, reminding them how much I love them and how grateful I am for their presence in my life.

The world sent me misery, and I lobbed it back out there as love.

I felt my stress levels plummet and my sense of meaning recalibrate. With each hug, each text, each call, the tilting planet righted itself just a bit.

It isn’t that I’m denying the gravity of Las Vegas. It’s that I’m actively choosing to balance the cosmic scales a bit.

Every time the world throws despair my way, I’m going to try to love harder, to be more grateful. Diffuse the hate with more kindness and compassion.

Try it yourself. The next time you see something flash across your screen that breaks your heart, feel the heartbreak. Send up a prayer to those affected.

Then send a quick love note to your people. And wave to the stress in your rear-view.

It heals you, your people and the world.

Erin Smith is the owner of the OM place in Winchester, the author of “Sensible Wellness for Women” and the online host of a yoga and mindfulness channel for Eppic Films. Send her a shout out at or play along at