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Spiritual remedies for anxiety

Calm your nerves with the sacred arts

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Published: 21 Apr 2020


Time taken : ~10mins

Panic-buying, hoarding and all sorts of new phobias. Are they fight or flight tendencies kicking in or just some of the few mental afflictions thrust upon us as we feel the threat of an invisible enemy?

If anything, recent events have shown how anxiety can turn people to the dark side and make them do really irrational things—such as getting into fights over toilet rolls. Experts say that behaviours like that lie in the fear of the unknown and pandemics such as this one, dramatic as it sounds, produce equally dramatic responses. It further illustrates that fear is a much fiercer contagion than the disease itself. So in times of unstoppable pathogens, misinformation and situations beyond our control, how do we eliminate this anxiety that’s gnawing at us?

Ranked from the irrational to the rational, we take a look at some of the recent behaviours that have gripped the world. In these #stayathome days, travel the globe here on Offstage and discover sacred art forms and rituals that might get you through this challenging time and find some inner peace no amount of toilet paper can give you.

Panic-buying

 

Panic-buying is a natural response that triggers our desire to stock up on emergency supplies. What is irrational is how it can quickly escalate into fights and ugly altercations. If you've recently felt the urge to lash out at someone in line, there are ways to combat the feeling.

One of the main folk dances in the eastern part of India, chhau combines combat techniques, animal gaits, acrobatics and movements resembling household chores to bring dynamism to storytelling. As their faces are covered, performers undertake the important task of conveying emotions through body language. The masks are dramatic representations of deities, demons, animals and monsters, meant to leave a deep impression on spectators.

Hoarding

 

Again, stockpiling essentials during a crisis is a valid response. What is irrational is hoarding big quantities of non-essential items. For unknown reasons, toilet paper seems to be at the top of everyone’s list all over the world, above medicine and food. It has given rise to memes like #ToiletPaperApocalypse and #ToiletPaperPanic. Experts say that toilet paper signifies control, comfort and security, as well as people’s general lack of trust in authorities, as to whether they can contain the situation.

 

Rather than clutter up your home and give in to unwarranted fears, clear your mind, sharpen your focus and meditate the uncertainty away. Practised by many religions including Taoism, Buddhism and Hinduism, meditation helps centre the mind to achieve inner peace and harmony of the mind, body and spirit.

Mask a la mode

Okay, we’ve seen them, probably laughed a little, maybe thought of making our own. Images of people in homemade masks are circulating all over the social sphere. Studies of the previous SARS epidemic, however, have shown that mask culture fosters a sense of solidarity, a sense of shared fate and civic duty, which brings people together.

If masks are on your mind, watch khon dancers enact episodes from the Ramayana—complete with intricate masks, gorgeous costumes and more.

Thai khon is a visually spectacular dance theatre based off the Ramakien (the Thai version of Ramayana), combining drama, dance, music, pantomime and martial arts. Its elaborate masks are its most distinguishing feature. There are 311 characters in the story and masks for all of them, each with their own look, expression and colour.

Fear of handshaking

 

Science has shown that handshaking spreads germs more than you probably think, so in the current social climate, it’s perfectly fine if you don’t stretch your hand out to greet someone. Anyway, why shake hands when you can elbow bump, footshake or do the finger pistol point and wink.

Alternatively, you can immerse yourself in a mesmeric qawwali performance and lift your hands in ecstasy like a qawwali singer.

Qawwali is the ecstasy-inducing form of devotional singing where the aim for performers is not only to evoke their spiritual emotionality through music, but also arouse this devotion within their listeners in the act of musical communion such that they become receptive to the hidden messages of the songs.

Cabin fever

If your city is in lockdown, you may be finding yourself staring wistfully at your old travel snaps.

For the travel-hungry who are stuck at home, here’s a simple exercise to escape this mental rut. 

Imagine a cool gentle wind blowing all that panic and rage away. Hula dancers fade into view as the rhythmic side-swaying motion of their grass skirts sweep up the last bits of negative energy. 

La’a Maomao is the Hawaiian god of wind who controls the tides of change. He is among a pantheon of gods whom the Hawaiians believe they are descendants of. Since time immemorial, the stories of these spiritual ancestors have been passed down through the  ancient tradition of hula, a ritualistic dance accompanied by sacred chants and music. Deeply connected to the nature and history of the land, each movement reverberates with power, beauty and grace. It is earthy and transformational. Feel the awakening of the gods as you discover peace in hula.

 

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