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Asking the Clergy: How does your faith help with fear, anxiety and sadness?

Michel Engu Dobbs Roshi of Ocean Zendo meditation

Michel Engu Dobbs Roshi of Ocean Zendo meditation center, Rabbi Shalom Ber Cohen of Chabad at Stony Brook, and Narinder Kapoor of the Multi-Faith Forum of Long Island. Credit: Michel Engu Dobbs Roshi; Chanie Cohen; Narinder Kapoor

If you’re feeling stressed out by the constant barrage of bad news, you’re not alone. This week’s clergy discuss how they find calm in the current storms by replacing negative thoughts with positive ones, by meditating and trusting in God.

Rabbi Shalom Ber Cohen

Village Chabad (Stony Brook)

The common denominator among these feelings is that they are generated from our thoughts. How can we stop such negativity?

The human soul can express itself through thought, speech and action. We can stop our speech and action, but we cannot stop our thoughts. In fact, studies suggest that if you try not to think of something for even a short period, it will only continue to hound you. What’s the solution? We can replace the thought. We need to grab hold of our negative thoughts, replacing them with positive, pleasant notions. Like a muscle, the more we exercise it, the better we get at it.

Sometimes, we may need to change what we’re doing to busy ourselves with more productive thoughts. Faith can serve to help eradicate negativity. The dollar bill reminds us: In God we trust. Trust is different from belief. Trust means that I not only believe that God exists, but I trust that He is looking out for me, He loves me and cares for me. I’m in great hands, the hands of my loving creator. This helps diminish worry and fear. “Blessed is the man who trusts in God; God will be his reassurance.” (Jeremiah 17:7)

Michel Engu Dobbs Roshi

Zen priest, Ocean Zendo meditation center, Bridgehampton

Zen is more about practice than faith. Two practices I’ve been doing and recommending are sussokan (breath practice) and metta (loving kindness). Sussokan refocuses our attention from our ideas and opinions — the source of our anxiety — into our bodies. Metta opens our hearts and reveals our connection to the world.

Begin by sitting comfortably with your back straight. Now, breathe out the tension in your back, shoulders, neck and arms, and stretch your head upward. Quietly inhale fully through your nose and deep into your belly, letting it rise as the air fills it. Then exhale fully and slowly, pulling in your belly to push the breath out, and breathing out all your worries, just for now. Do this for five minutes, then sit and breathe naturally for a bit.

A short metta practice begins by turning our attention toward ourselves and silently, on the outbreath, saying, “May I be well,” on the next outbreath, “May I be peaceful,” and on the next, “May my heart be open.” Next, turn your attention to the people you love: “May they be well. May they be peaceful. May their hearts be open.” Continue doing this, and you may notice a feeling of kindness arising.

Narinder Kapoor

Member, board of directors, Multi-Faith Forum of Long Island, Melville

According to the wisdom in Srimad Bhagavad-Gita, a holy treatise of Hinduism, the concepts of fear, worry and sadness are deeply rooted in the fear of death.

We have three types of bodies: the physical body, the emotional body and the spiritual body. The physical body is controlled by the emotional body, the emotional body by the mind. In essence, it is the mind that is controlling our emotional as well as physical bodies.

Loneliness is fertile ground for sadness, and excessive sadness leads to worry and fear. Fear can also be triggered by a perception of danger, real or imagined. If we take care of our mind through the time-tested techniques of meditation and yoga, feelings of sadness, worry and fear can be diminished. According to Chapter II of Srimad Bhagavad-Gita, verses 20 to 28, we are not the body, we are living in the body. Our aatma, or inner spirit, is an integral part of the supreme cosmic energy (God). Almighty God is seated in the heart of everyone. He is always with us.

DO YOU HAVE QUESTIONS you’d like Newsday to ask the clergy? Email them to LILife@newsday.com.

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