Mindfulness

How to Manage Stress? It’s All About Perspective.

Easter and Passover have come and gone, but do you know about the many other holidays in April?  Aside from National Cheeseball Day on the 17th and Look Alike Day on the 20th (dress like the person you admire; I pick Prince!!), April 16th happened to be National Stress Awareness Day.  Are you kidding me??  Started by the Health Resource Network in 1992 (whoa, the year in which my daughter was born…how did they know that parenting was a major stressor in my life???), it is touted as an opportunity to recognize and learn about the stress in your life AND to do something about it (not a coincidence that it comes just before the day that taxes are due to the IRS.)

Well, this is just too blog-olicious!  My mind spins back to the first time I heard my guru’s unique definition of stress.  “Stress is RESISTANCE.”  Resistance??  Hmm, let me consider that one.  Resistance……you mean when a colleague disagrees with my plans going forward and I look like I am calm but inside I am hating the entire scenario and fantasizing about ripping someone’s head off??  You mean when my daughter does NOT fold her clothes neatly but piles them on the floor of her bedroom and I am totally undone because that is NOT the way I would do it (and I am SURE she will be a slob for the rest of her life)??  Like when I wrestle with the “what if’s” as I try to orchestrate tomorrow and the next day and the next even though it is still TODAY??  Hmmmmm…..

It all starts with expectations. For much of my life, feeling irritated and annoyed really meant I expected everyone to think and act like I do.  If results did not turn out in my favor and on my side, I felt a sense of defeat and loss mixed with anger.  “Hey, I’m a smart gal; why doesn’t everyone else agree with me??” (especially that guy I married.)  I wasn’t getting what I thought I wanted and deserved.  Me (right) against you (wrong.)  Sometimes my expectations were totally personal and internal, trying to foresee the future so I could “cover all the bases” in my efforts to take care of every possible outcome (perfectionism disguised as “being the responsible one.”)

Through my mindfulness meditation practice, I better understand how “stress as resistance” affects my life.  Resistance equals push-pull, energy invested in future outcome and the anxiety that comes with it.  When stress begins to creep into my body (headache, shallow breathing, tight shoulders) in any number of situations or I become aware of uneven emotions, I stop and ask myself, “Where is the resistance?”  It is always there, hidden in expectations of myself and/or others that are of the future and simply not real.  While this might imply that I should give up the ghost and only aim for the bottom of the expectation barrel, I have learned to allow high expectations, but WITHOUT GETTING ATTACHED TO THEM.  Voila, no resistance.  Do the work that is in front of me that points in the direction I want to go, then LET IT GO and see what happens!  (And, by the way, what happens has so far been something I can always manage.)

So, with National Stress Day this month, I am reminded of the succinct lesson that dispels a lot of my resistance:  Listen (to myself, to the person with whom I am interacting), Accept (whatever the message is), then Let It Go (do not be attached to the results.)  That being said,  I think it’s time to go look for my Prince attire and my celebratory cheeseball.  Happy April!

Get Rid of Stress, Improve Productivity

I don’t know too many people who enthusiastically declare, “I just LOVE every single part of my job!”  More often I hear comments like “I enjoy my work most of the time, but I wish I didn’t have to (x,y,z) as part of it.”  For many people, the “x,y,z” has become such a stress-ball, it creates a negative cloud over all aspects of their working life and, since Americans work more than anyone else in the industrialized world, this can be a pervasive problem.

While my employment experience is not in the traditional “corporate” world, as a teacher in a private school for 29 years I have certainly felt the pangs of increased accountability, intense clients (picture “life or death panic mindset”), 24/7 unlimited email overload, impossible expectations from many agendas and “to-do” lists that never got shorter no matter how fast I peddled.

The result?

Feelings of inadequacy (“Hey, I was valedictorian of my class, my college GPA was 4.0 plus and I have experience….why do I feel so incompetent??”),  depression over not having enough time to complete any task thoroughly, fear that something would slip through the cracks, horror that my attitude was morphing into “me vs. you/ them”,  moments of paralysis,  a slowly boiling anger that I had been put in an unrelentingly stressful environment, and disappointment in myself that I couldn’t find my way out of this whirling vortex.  Whew!  I am exhausted just putting those words on paper.

So how DOES one find the way out of this personal inferno?  It is easy to think that downright QUITTING would solve the problem (and sometimes it does, I can’t deny that), but for most of us, dealing with what’s in front of us is the real job to be done.  And so I turned to mindfulness meditation.

While not an overnight cure, I look back at how my meditation practice has changed my work attitude.  (1)  I am not nearly as emotionally attached to results.  You know how everything in a corporation/business/school is all ABOUT results???  What a mind-blowing concept to simply do the hard work in front of you and then let it go, knowing the results will come.  (2)  This leads to more relaxation, focus and creative thinking.  My mind feels refreshed and I see options; it’s as though a thousand-pound weight about yesterday and/ or tomorrow has dropped away.  (3)  I am more able to listen openly to colleagues and administration without going right to “blow a gasket–right/wrong–me vs. you” mode. (Meditation is proven to increase compassion!)  Add to that not being attached to the outcome (see #1) and communication is immediately improved.  (4)  I am learning that cheesy, old-school lesson about putting myself first and, as much of a work warrior as I am, it is the key to my positive mindset.  Being aware when I am feeling anxious, then taking breaks to breathe and reflect or to put emails on hiatus and give me MY space to regroup are an essential part of the daily routine.

It took mindfulness meditation to re-set and re-energize myself in the workplace.  Sure, there are days when directives from top-down make me think, “Well, THAT’S totally impossible” but instead of jumping immediately to anxiety about the future and how things MUST turn out, I breathe deeply, relax and carry on, focusing on the present tasks at hand.  Research shows that mindfulness meditation in the workplace leads to resilience, productivity, camaraderie and happy, peppy people.  Why not give it a try?

Reduce Your Stress, Improve Your Love Life

“My love life would totally improve if S/HE would just ______ (fill in the blank).” Listen to me? Show some emotion? Not complain about 24/7 sports on the tube? Stop leaving used dental floss on the coffee table?? Although I acknowledged I played a role in our imperfect relationship, I cannot tell you how many times I was quite certain that HE needed to change a few (thousand) things to fix it.

Then mindfulness meditation came along.

Just when I thought it was all HIS fault, I started learning how to connect with myself and discovered “the cause of my suffering.” In the process of mindful exploration, I became very aware how much I lacked self-love. Yup, cheesy but true. My lifelong habit of helping others AT THE EXPENSE OF MYSELF was affecting all areas of my life. I uncovered the anger I felt as I allowed others to drain my spirit. (Keeping a smile on my face while wanting to rip someone’s head off takes a LOT of energy.) That old adage about “charity starts at home” began to make more sense than ever and meditation gave me the freedom to let it happen. After all, the most important relationship is the one I have with myself.

As my awareness grew, I discovered the things I do that give me less stress and began to do MORE of those things. Feeling relaxed and cared for from the inside, I began to feel compassion and less judgment on the outside. And so it spilled over into my marriage.

I didn’t plan it that way. I just went to get lessons in meditation and, miraculously, by learning to take care of myself and relax, my marriage feels like an opportunity instead of a project to fix. Are things always hunky-dory? Not always, but most of the time and, if any conflicts do arise, I have my mindfulness tools to help me navigate those waters. What I know is that most days my husband’s dental floss on the coffee table seems like a funny habit I can laugh at now. Besides, why waste my time worrying? I am way too busy doing the things that give me energy and fill my soul!

Happy Holidaze

“I should be basking in gratitude for my family and friends during this holiday season.  I should feel the joy of the loftier things in life.”  That’s what my rational mind tells me but right now I’m at the mall and I’m eyeing the other frantic shoppers, hoping they don’t get to the discounts before I do.  To heck with joyful and grateful.  My breathing is ragged, my heart is pounding; I am on the hunt for the Perfect Gifts and you’d better not get in my way. My spiritual practice has gone awry and I am totally caught up in a stress reaction.

A good idea hits me:  take a breath, lady.  Take a few breaths.  Settle down.  Relax.  Observe yourself like a movie. “I am ridiculously anxious.”  Let’s track this.  “I have to get the perfect gifts for everyone.  I gotta be a gift-giving Rockstar.”  Breathing in and out, the ah-ha’s start to hit me.  Time to remember my mindfulness tool kit.

1)  OK, just acknowledge that I am anxious because this is the holiday habit I have embraced over the years.  Now I can accept it, laugh a bit, and let it go.  (It might take more than one try!)

2)  There is a reason I am anxious.  Fear that I won’t provide the Best Holiday Ever?  Greed in wanting to get the bargain before other shoppers and show off as the Rockstar Gift Giver? Obligation to give others the perfect holiday? Yes, yes and yes.  Now I can let go of these attachments more easily.  Awareness rocks!

3)  Now that I know WHY I am anxious, it is time to accept my human nature.

4)  Expectations have ruled my holiday insanity since forever and are causing my stress.  See #1-3 above!

5)  I am projecting way ahead instead of just being HERE.  Will hubby like his new iPhone?  Will daughter approve of the color of her new scarf?  I remind myself to stay in the present and, by doing so, I will have clear, creative thinking (and shopping!)  By staying here and now, my worry about the future melts away and I start to enjoy my day.

I continue my shopping with deep breathing as my companion.  Staying in the present, I put less weight on choosing the “right” gifts or on creating the perfect holiday and more importance on taking care of myself right here, right now.   A new tradition?  I feel free.

–Kathy B

My Guru

You remember in a very recent post with the Holy Grail being laid out as three simple words:

 

Relax

Live Longer

Well, I was too tired to lay it all out and explain this subtly complex but ridiculously simple belief system.  But I’ve got the energy now.  The point in life is not to obligate yourself or discipline yourself or put expectations on yourself but just live.  That’s it.

Breathe and meditate for 15 minutes morning and night.

Eat well.

That’s it.  Just live.  Relax and live.  Long life will follow.

We always complicate things, don’t we?

When someone tells you your terminal cancer is growing like a Colorado wildfire and another person tells you shark cartilage plus aloe plus an acid killing agent is THE KEY, you go for it.  Right?  Wouldn’t you?  Even if it cost over $1,000 but had some good track record data?  I mean, this guy tells me sharks never, ever get cancer.  I found out much later, after I’ve ordered the crap, that they do, indeed, get cancer.

When someone tells you this person is a great healer, you want to believe it when you pray together over the phone…and you even take away some useful things and visualize accordingly.

When someone tells you you have terminal cancer you will open up your pocketbook to any charlatan, snake oil salesmen and well-intentioned goofball on the planet.

Almost all of them convince you their cure will be the one.  (Except my guru.) They are always careful not to make you think it’s a silver bullet because who believes in Silver Bullets?  But when I was up in Wilkesboro the chiropractor there told us his vitamin C treatment was the only one to penetrate the blood-brain barrier.  That’s some serious she-yot if that’s what was actually happening.  What was most likely happening was that the vitamin C, a wickedly high anti-oxident, especially at his 5-hour infusion 5 times a week dosage, was just counteracting the oxidizing effects of my chemotherapy, Temodar.  You see, almost all chemos use oxidization to kill cancer cells.  We think of oxygen as great but in this case you need to think of it as rust.  Oxygen is actually one of the most destructive compounds on the planet — hence the obsession with antioxidents.  My chemo was meant to rust my cancer but I was putting tons of vitamin C to offset that rusting process.  I was killing the killer of my chemo.

So, the point is, that when you feel you’re on death row you’ll open up your wallet and devote hours and hours a day (Hell, Whatever It Takes!) doing some “alternative,” natural cures, if it might be the one, it just might NOT be the one more often than it is actually THE ONE.  The fact is that being an alternative, natural guy, these things appealed to me and sounded silver-bullet-esque in the face of death.

Not so says my Guru.  Chemo is the answer.  No alternative “healer” has ever said that to me.  Chemo.  Good?  Whaaat?

He’s probably the only guy who tells me he has no cure for my cancer.  Even the acupuncturist tells me the acupuncture world is not allowed to say they have a cure, implying that repeated visits will result in a cure.

He’s not one to foist ideas on you.  Instead, he asks, “do you have any questions for me, Adam?”

QUESTION:  I am tired of all the stuff in my house and tired of the clutter and want to keep things neat and uncluttered.

EXPECTED RESPONSE:  Yes, there is much worthiness in an ascetic lifestyle and an ascetic home.

HE THROWS ME A RIDICULOUS MARIANO RIVERA CUT FASTBALL:  No, that is not important.  In fact, it is irrelevant. Buy more stuff!”

QUESTION:  I have a hard time emptying my mind when I meditate.

EXPECTED RESPONSE:  It takes years to get to that point but we’ll get there.

ACTUAL RESPONSE:  What is the the brain’s job, Adam?  To think.  Your brain creates over one million thoughts in a day, most of which we aren’t even aware of.  Why stop something from doing its job?

QUESTION:  I’m supposed to breathe in for 7 seconds, hold for 4 and breathe out twice as long through my nostrils for 14 seconds.  At least that’s what I learned in yoga.

EXPECTED:  Yes, that is what is preferred.

ACTUAL:  Just breathe naturally.  (He then shows me how to breathe in and out.  It is SO natural).  NOTHING FORCED!!!!  Not at all disciplined like yoga.

In talking he offers up this comment:  “This lady comes to me and says which of these supplements should I take?

EXPECTED RESPONSE:  A, B, not C but definitely D.

ACTUAL RESPONSE:  Eat a healthy diet and you don’t need supplements.  In fact, they’re worthless.  Throw them away now!

MY RESPONSE:  So I should take my shark cartilage and aloe and…

RESPONSE:  No.  Just meditate and eat well.

Relax.  Live a long life.

A-ha!  The sneaky bastard was promising longer life.  He just didn’t offer something HE could give to ME.  I would have to find it.  With his caring guidance, of course.

That’s what it’s all about.  Relax.  Live long life.

This guy offers Laughter Yoga tomorrow and since laughter stimulates the immune system much more than anything they’ve ever found, I’ll be there.

Just ready to bust a gut!

TODAY’S POST

I’m Staying Put

Written a minute ago

At the first appointment, my guru claimed he couldn’t cure me of cancer.

Today I told him I knew fear and stress were the main enemies of the immune system and I’ve been afraid and stressed.

He tells me I’m staying put.

We talk through it.  Why would you pack your suitcase for New York if you’re not going.  You’re staying put and do nothing to prepare for going anywhere.

We meditate.  He answers a few questions.

I think he’s right.

Wooten & Adam

Link to Adam’s Obituary from Observer

How to Live Mindfully

Mindful living is an ancient practice which is very relevant for life today. Mindfulness is a very simple concept.  Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way:  on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.  This presence increases awareness and clarity; it frees us from the anxiety and worry that robs us of joy and peace.  When we are living in the present we are not living in fear of the future or in the regrets of the past.

Mindfulness Exercises
The following exercises will help you to develop a Mindful awareness of your environment, body, breath, thoughts and emotions.  You can practice the exercises as a whole, or in parts – using any part of the exercise.

  • Be kind to yourself
    Encourage rather than criticize yourself.  Treat yourself the way you would treat a friend in the same situation.
  • Relax
    Make time for yourself.  Allow yourself to chill out and relax.  Find something that suits you – different things work for different people.
  • Learn to Meditate Daily
    Meditation gives clarity of mind. Wisdom brightens and opens our lives.
  • Breathe
    Imagine a balloon in your belly, inflating and deflating as you breathe in and out.
  • Balance sleep
    Get into a healthy sleep routine – including going to bed and getting up at the same time each day.
  • Diet/ Nutrition
    Listen to your body and modify your eating patterns. As you explore what your body truly needs, you’ll discover new ways of moving, breathing and eating that will help you realize your ideal life.
  • Connect with others
    Stay in touch with family and friends – make regular and frequent contact with them.

Guru Ranjit has been teaching mindfulness meditation, corporate wellness programs and Laughter Yoga in major cities, such as New York and Charlotte for many years. Ranjit has educated many professionals and businesses, on how to use meditation therapy to manage stress, anxiety and sleep disorder problems.

Phone:  704-277-6049 Rdeora@charlottemeditation.com

(image from Mikko Luntiala)