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Posts Tagged ‘stress’

I am getting ready to present a workshop for Career Source Broward the audience will be people that are working with them to find employment. The title of my workshop is “Reduce Stress…Increase Success with Mindfulness.” My desire is to share with each one of them the principles of mindfulness and breath work that can help them decrease their stress in mind, body, and spirit even in these trying times.

It is easy to be relaxed and joyous when your life is moving forward with a good job, personal health, and family members doing well, and when you have time for recreation, hobbies and the like. But for the unemployed or underemployed that is not always possible. Many times they are filled with emotions of fear, anxiety, depression, and panic–some in a small way and for others in a big way where they are probably going to need the help of the medical community. But for many some simple mindfulness, stress reduction, and time management techniques integrated into their daily lives on a regular basis can help them immensely.

One of my colleagues recommended a book to me, Mindfulness an Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World (2011) by Mark Williams and Danny Penman so I ordered it online and was highly impressed by the content and the information and tips shared in it.

In Chapter 2 “Why Do We Attack Ourselves?” they shared with the reader an illustration they titled “What makes an emotion?” I thought this would be great information for the participants in my stress and mindfulness training since I was sure they were having the gamut of every emotion on the planet during this trying time in their lives.

They define emotions this way”

Emotions are “bundles” of thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and impulses to act. Next time you experience pleasant or unpleasant emotions, you might check in with what’s going on, and notice the interplay of the different aspects of the bundle (page 20).[1]

These ideas: Thoughts (I’m getting nowhere with this.”), feelings (tense, upset), impulses (Escaping; crawling into bed; pulling the covers over your head) and bodily sensations (Tense shoulders, churning stomach) (page 20)[2] can come in any order and move round and round leaving you sick in mind, body, and spirit. You are probably relating to this idea and wondering what the heck you can do about it.

The authors recommend some simple things that anyone can do at any time to turn the switch from one negative thought, feeling, impulse, or sensation to a better one. Here is one simple thing they recommend that you can do at any time and in any place to bring “peace” back into your life.

Something as subtle as frowning, smiling or altering posture can have a dramatic impact on mood and the types of thoughts flickering across the mind.

. . .the act of smiling can itself make you happy. It’s a perfect illustration of just how close the links are between mind and body. Smiling is infectious too. When you see someone grin, you almost invariably smile back. You can’t help it (pages 20-23).[3]

So if you want to make peace with yourself to see more peace in your life—even in the most difficult times and situations—observe your facial expressions and body language and make a simple adjustment. Put a smile on your face and stand up tall with your shoulders back and head held high and watch what happens to your “feelings” and your “attitude” you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Plus, you’ll feel more peaceful and your mind will feel sharper and ready to handle anything that anyone throws at you! Try it today and let me know what happens!

[1] Williams, M. and Penman, D. (2011) Mindfulness An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World. Rodale: NY, NY

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

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As I looked for something to begin my newest blog post on peace a small green book caught my eye hidden between two larger books on the shelf behind my desk. It called out to me to open it up to discover what Frances W. Foulkes, Unity Minister and author, might have written in her book Effectual Prayer about peace. Here is what I found as I opened the book:

“My heart is at peace with God, and man and beats in unison with the great heart of the universe. As Thy [the] spirit of peace and love pervades my whole being, all that was weary in me is refreshed, all that was sick is made whole, all that was limited is made free and full (page 116).”[1]

Her writing is clear that peace begins within; peace is not something that you can buy in the store, or get from a doctor, priest, imam or website.

Peace lives in me every day if I would just take the time to notice it, to look for it, and appreciate it. Even in the most god awful traffic jam, when you are late for work, school, or an appointment you can find peace within you. Somewhere deep down inside of you is a secret sacred space that knows only peace. Some call it the heart chakra, some call it the unconscious mind, some call it God, some emptiness or oneness. Deepak Chopra calls it “pure potentiality.” My friend Erick at our study group in the Zendo last night said it this way. Mozart is to have said: “The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between.” That is where peace lives.

So the next time you feel stress, anxiety, anger, hate, or fear go within quietly and find that secret sacred place within you where the “peace that passes all understanding” abides. It is there quietly, silently waiting for you to recognize it, remember it, to be with it in mind, body, and spirit.

To find it begin with your breath. The breath is the life force energy you were given at birth, the energy that pervades every cell of your body, powers your mind, muscles, and cells. Simply take three long breaths, slow breaths, counting one on the in breath and two on the out breath and watch your heart beat slow down, your mind begin to clear, and your body begin to relax. You can do it anywhere, anytime, regardless of the outside situation or circumstances.

The breath will find the peace center in you and help you reside there as long as you like or as long as you can, or until the traffic begins to move or the light turns green or the person leaves your presence. You may even want to memorize Rev. Foulkes affirmation even if just a portion, such as “my heart beats in unison with the great heart of the universe” or “the spirit of peace and love pervades my whole being.” These things I wish for you every moment of every day! Why not start today?

[1] Foulks, F.W. (1966) Effectual Prayer, Unity School of Christianity, Lee Summit, MO.

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In The Dhammapada as translated by Irving Babbitt (1936) he writes, “Difficult is it to obtain birth as a human being, difficult is the life of mortals, difficult is the hearing of the true Law, difficult is the rise of the Buddhas (page 30).”  When I read that a little light went on in my brain and I just sat quietly for a few minutes reading and reading over and over again this small yet powerful phrase.

It has been many years since I thought about this concept.  We used to say that in another way in Unity.  We would let our students know how hard it was for that one tiny sperm out of the huge number (20 to 100 million of them) that went swimming up the fallopian tubes to meet with the egg and create you.  What were those chances—one in a hundred million?!  That surely makes everyone on this planet extra special and as hard as it was for the sperm to fight gravity and rush up that tube toward the egg—it is just as hard a life for many of you.

Each of us has had to swim upstream against the current at times whether it was as a child who may have been bullied or did not do well in school, or had to move from place to place because of the parent ‘s jobs or financial difficulties.  As adults we often find ourselves in many of those same predicaments, but now as the adult we are supposed to solve the problems and create a safe, healthy, and prosperous life for ourselves and our families.

These words by Zeami may be a little solace for you.

Ten thousand fold are the roads on which we pass through life

Our eyes are caught by many things

Darkness and light come and go

Far over the mountains we walked

Clouds are hiding our traces

The path that we traveled we no longer know.

Zeami (1363-1443)

It is not the difficulties in life I’m worried about, but how I handle those difficulties as I travel the ten thousand roads.  How I handle them is what has created my life and my character. Those thoughts, actions, and desires empower, help, or hinder me and affect those who are in my life, from family, to friends, to co-workers.  They even affect total strangers who may encounter me on this road of life. Those thoughts cause me to suffer greatly or to be filled with joy and peace.

Babbitt continues to translate The Dhammapada and offers us a path to relieve our suffering, “Suffering, the origin of suffering, the destruction of suffering, and the eightfold noble path that leads to the release from suffering. That is the safe refuge, that is the best refuge; having gone to that refuge, a man is delivered from all suffering (page 31).”  As I have written before the Buddha did say that there would always be suffering in the world.  So that being true, how can we deal with it so that it does not take us over and destroy our lives?

Practice the eight fold path as it says in the Dhammapada.  Try taking one of the things each week and working on it until you see some relief and lightening up in your life.  Even if the light only appears for a minute it is better to spend that minute in the light than in the darkness and sorrow.

The Eightfold Path: Teaching of Siddhartha Gautama the Buddha

  1. Know the truth.
  2. Say nothing to hurt others.
  3. Practice meditation.
  4. Control your thoughts.
  5. Resist evil.
  6. Free your mind of evil.
  7. Work for the good of others.
  8. Respect life.

With this simple weekly practice soon you will no longer know that old path that you had traveled, but a new one will have taken its place and you will be born anew.

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Chill out I said to my 92-year-old mother with Alzheimer’s as she was pacing around the house for about one hour saying “let’s get out of here.”   Needless-to-say, we had just come home from running errands, volunteering at her church with the clean-up committee, grocery shopping, and visiting the library.  I thought about her and 99.9% of the rest of us running away from silence, quiet, peace, sitting and simply enjoying doing nothing!

When did we unlearn the art of leisure?  If we watch some old black-and-white movies we often see people in lawn chairs reading, or writing a note to a long lost friend, or sharing a glass of lemonade with a family member or neighbor.  We may even see them taking a leisurely stroll on the shore, through the woods, or across a large green expanse with wild flowers strewn about.

My best friend Pat gave me a wonderful little book by David Baird, A Thousand Paths to enlightenment (2000), and in it he wrote, “There is no greater curse than the lack of contentment.”  What does contentment mean to you?  If you were asked to define it what would you say?  If you were asked to give an example out of your life what would it be?  How long would it take you to remember it?  How long ago was it?  Mine was just last night.

As I waited to pick up a friend from his new job I gave myself time to listen to a beautiful CD that I checked out from the library entitled “Holy Harmony” by Jonathan Goldman.  When I read the back of the case it said it was specifically written for deep relaxation and healing.  After a busy day of work and errands and helping my mom and my friend I sure could use some relaxation.   And boy did I get it!  The CD is one track that lasts 72 minutes.

I turned down the lights, propped myself up on my bed with a bundle of lovely pillows, put the ear buds in and spent the next 72 minutes in another world.  Only a few times did any thoughts enter my mind beyond the thought of how relaxed I was, or how beautiful the chant was. I repeated the words a few times to embed them in my memory, creating new synapses that I could recall when I needed the relaxation and did not have access to the CD.

How fantastic the mind is when we just let it relax for a few minutes.  Les Kaye in his insightful book, Zen at Work (1996), writes, “Our minds move constantly: we cannot stop them.  If we try to stop our minds, we do not understand their nature.  Zen practice is to stay aware of our moving minds to recognize their movement but not be distracted by it.  Not being distracted by our moving minds is how we quiet them.  So there is no need to try to stop our minds.  We just try not to be caught by their movement.  Then we can see how things really are (page 129).”

Whether you practice Zen or any other contemplative practice you can still learn how to “chill-out.” I read a book many years ago that asked the reader to spend 24 hours in bed when they were NOT sick—just to see if they could do it.  The author said that most people cannot do it!  We have this Puritan work ethic drilled in us that tells us that unless we are “doing” we are “nothing” or “no one.”  Yet, all the great thinkers, philosophers, and spiritual leaders throughout time took many hours and even many years just sitting,  or meditating,  or praying, or walking, or hiking around their countries contemplating the beauty of their mind and spirit.

Let’s take the time this year to find as many places and ways as possible to simply “chill out.”  Discover for yourself what that word means, what it looks like, what it feels like, and respect and love yourself enough to go forward with your chill-out time!  If you don’t you just may end up dead in mind, body, or spirit from the stress of non-chilling!  Goodness gracious that would not be an adventure you would want to embark upon for 2013—would it now?!

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The holidays are a very stressful time for most people.  Holidays are also times when those who suffer from depression, suffer even more acutely.  Patterns of the past brought into the present often harm us more than they help us.  The ideas below are not meant to replace your prescription medication or advice from your doctor– they are simply to be in addition to them.

Williams, Teasdale, Segal, and Kabat-Zinn wrote these wonderful words in their book The Mindful Way through Depression (2007). “What if, like virtually everybody else who suffers repeatedly from depression, you have become a victim of your own very sensible, even heroic, efforts to free yourself—like someone pulled even deeper into quicksand by the struggling intended to get you out?”

This may seem like a very disheartening idea, and you are right—it is.  But there is a way out if you will only take the time to look at this very difficult life’s situation through new eyes, with new thoughts, with new information, and with new light.  You all have heard this funny yet ironic definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different end result.  Today is the day to begin anew, to begin doing something differently and watching and waiting for a fantastic, positive, new end result: peace, prosperity, and happiness!

The authors share with us these two very important ideas:

  • At the very earliest stages in which mood starts to spiral downward, it is not the mood that does the damage, but how we react to it.
  • Our habitual efforts to extricate ourselves, far from freeing us, actually keep us locked in the pain we’re trying to escape (page 2).

They also caution us as well when they write: “Exactly how you will experience the profoundly healthy shift in your relationship to negative moods and what will unfold for you in its aftermath are difficult to predict because they are different for everyone.  The only way anyone can really know what benefits such an approach offers is to suspend judgment temporarily and engage in the process wholeheartedly over an extended period of time—in this case for eight weeks—to see what happens (page 3).”

You may be saying, “Eight weeks! Yikes I can’t do anything for eight weeks are they crazy?”  Maybe, but how about trying it out by starting with one day, and if you feel even one tiny bit better, do it for another day, and if that day goes just a little better why not try it for a third day?  Make no plans or promises longer than 24 hours.  No one wants to get depressed about setting a goal and then not achieving it that’s for sure!  So let’s not set ourselves up for failure once again.

So let’s begin with one simple mindfulness exercise that we can do beginning today.  The authors go on to write, “Mindfulness is not paying more attention but paying attention differently and more wisely—with the whole mind and heart, using the full resources of the body and its senses (page 55).”  So there are several different exercises that you can do to practice mindfulness even when you feel sad or depressed.  You can focus on your breathing, eating, or singing for a start.

One of the ways I get my mother, who has Alzheimer’s disease, out of one of her loops is to do what we call “pattern interruption.”  I ask her to sing one of the songs I know she can sing or to recite one of the poems that she has written and memorized.  Within a few short minutes she is able to go onto something different and her breathing slows down, her mind is less confused, and she can think more clearly.

The authors also share some important information with us when they write, “The difficulty occurs when we confuse the thoughts about things with the things themselves.  Thoughts involve interpretations and judgments, which are not in themselves facts; they are merely more thoughts (page 59).”

As a teacher many times my students have shared with me the fears and thoughts that they have about taking tests, writing papers, or giving presentations in class.  For them the thoughts about those things are making them more difficult than they should be, especially if they have prepared well for them beforehand.

For these students I have them use the “Three Breaths Exercise” from Jan Chozen Bays wonderful book How to Train a Wild Elephant & Other Adventures in Mindfulness (2011).  Dr. Bays says, “As many times a day as you are able, give the mind a short rest.  For the duration of three breaths ask the inner voices to be silent.  It’s like turning off the inner radio or TV for a few minutes.  Then open all your senses and just be aware—of color, sound, touch, and smell (page 76).”   Begin by closing your eyes, and counting one on the in breath, and two on the out breath, just for three full breaths.  Once you have done that observe how your mind and body feel.  If three breaths don’t work, take four, or five.  Then observe how your mind and body feels.

Do this as many times a day as you feel the need to.  When you get stressed, the mind starts to get into that “monkey talk” or “fear talk” or “anger talk.”  This is a perfect time to stop and take the three breaths.  You can even do them right in the middle of a meeting with your eyes open, or you can take a break and go back to your office or desk or to the bathroom and do it—then  observe the results.

For me I find that after only three breaths my blood pressure calms down, my mind calms down, and I feel significantly better than I did before the three breaths.  I am now able to go back to what I was doing with calmness and peacefulness.

If I am eating I take the time to eat mindfully, focusing on each mouthful, the taste, smell, texture, and feel of the food.  Doing this helps me focus on the food instead of my thoughts, and helps me quiet my body, mind, and spirit.  Try it.  I think you’ll like it.

Anyone of these things can help you in a small way during this holiday season to return your focus to the good, the wonderful, and the new opportunities that lie just ahead. Being mindful about simple things can help you be mindful about complex things when they enter your life.  Stop the struggling—start the mindfulness—and watch that depression melt away slowly like caramel in your mouth—with sweetness and light.

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