Friday, March 31, 2017

Relaxing with Essential Oils

Essential oils are "volatile aromatic compounds", which means they are oils that can change states quickly from liquid to gas.  Many people use essential oils in a diffuser with water to disperse the aroma into a room in order to enjoy pleasant scents.

As you can imagine, this is a relaxing form of aroma therapy that has grown in popularity over the years.  It's a great way to relax and can make a wonderful addition to a meditative environment or spa-like room.

You can read more about aroma therapy here in my May 2015 blog entry.

If you are looking to create an environment that is suited for relaxation, using a diffuser to disperse your Essential Oils is a great idea.  But keep in mind, you can also disperse the aroma by many other means:

*Spray bottle
*Cotton ball or tissue
*Heated on the stove
*Used in the bath
*A few drops on your furnace filter
*In your Potpourri warmer
**Be sure to always read instructions carefully so you use the appropriate amounts in any of these
    given methods.

Introducing pleasant fragrances to any room can add to the relaxing environment, and we know that certain scents can trigger both memories and moods.

Thanks to Sulen Lee for the great photo

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Relaxing Balance between Social Gatherings -v- Social Media

Statistics have shown that having friends and an active social life are important common factor in those who live longer and have higher levels of health as they age.

Unfortunately, at the exact same time, our modern world is moving more and more people toward social isolation and loneliness due to the Internet and social media.  But do we really want to be critical of the great modern technology that is simultaneously bringing us all closer together and moving us all apart, at the same time?

It boils down to finding a sense of balance between "reality" and "virtual reality".  Are your truly "with" others if you are only communicating with them on the Internet, but at the same time (in reality) sitting by yourself, night after night, in front of your computer screen, and not really physically interacting with anyone?  Not really.

It's important that we find balance between the two worlds in which we use the human body to move, walk, lift, stand, talk and make sound, and feel the ground beneath us, versus the other world in which we feel only the hard surface of our office chair on our bum as we sit for hours on end clicking with one hand and straining our eyes to see small font.

There are many remedies to solving this imbalance and here are a few of them:

1.  Consider joining a group of people who meet-up on a regular basis (weekly or monthly) to actually be together physically for talk, discussion, board games, dog walking, or any other physical activity such as hiking, walking, boating, etc.  This puts things on your schedule that force you out from behind the computer, so make sure it's not just a group of people gathering around a computer at someone's house!

2.  Look for reasons to meet your friend or friend(s) at the local coffee shop or restaurant for face-to-face talk time.  Agree to not bring your phones, laptops and tablets.  Make it real.

3.  Sign up for local walks that have been prearranged for various charity organizations.  The event will push you to gather sponsors for your event, and get you out among others for some needed exercise and conversation.

4.  Determine how much time you spend on social media and cut it in half.  Use the other half of the time to get up and go socialize with neighbors, friends, coworkers, or family.  Your kids might be shocked you've come out of your cave to spend time with them!

5.  Invite someone over for a cup of coffee or tea.  Don't head for the computer to show them your latest project.  Make sure it's face-to-face time with your guest.

**The main idea is not to stifle your social media completely, but to find more balance between the reality that it is (i.e., sitting alone in front of a electronic screen), and the reality that actually exists out there in the world.

Thanks to Betty Nudler for the great photo

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Finding Relaxation in the Stillness of the Present Moment

In a poem called East Coker, which is the first of four lengthy poems written by T.S Elliot called The Four Quartets, he wrote:

At the still point of the turning world.  Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement.  And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered.  Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline.  Except for the point, the still point,
there would be no dance, and there is only the dance.

We could almost think of Elliot's Still Point as the center of gravity where a surfer rides the wave.  Not really moving toward anything, or away from anything, but existing on a point of balance in the present moment.  The surfer dances atop the surfboard, but relative to it, is not moving.  And though the board stays atop the moving wave, the wave never leaves the surface of the earth.

In many Zen stories a comparison is made between the mind, and the surface of water.  A busy mind--it is said--is like the surface of rough moving water; but a still and calm mind is like the surface of calm water that has settled to the point of stillness, where--like the surface of a mirror--a bird flying above could be seen as a reflection in the surface of the water below.

But stillness is not easy to realize for many of us in today's modern world.  Trying to see the reflection of anything on the surface of our minds is getting harder and harder as people's minds are frequently distracted by the rough waters of the over-stimulating effects of technology and a busy world.

But, as Elliot said, "there is only the dance".  In other words, there is only this moment, "where past and future are gathered".  Stillness is getting more and more difficult for many who--when sitting themselves down to relax--find that the churning waters of their minds continue to move.

Finding your own place of stillness can take time, but it's important to work on it a little bit every day.  Slowing down the body in a fast-paced world isn't simple, but it facilitates the slowing down of the mind, even if it takes the mind awhile to catch up with the stillness of the body.  Tai Chi, Qigong, Yoga, Meditation, are all means to work towards this goal.

If you traditionally have a hard time sitting still, start by at least slowing down.  Try to slow your pace, walk more calmly, eat more slowly, or develop a slow and intentional ritual before bed or rising in the morning.  Try reading more slowly and intentionally.  Try grocery shopping more slowly.  Try everything from your morning shower to washing the car at a pace that moves your closer to stillness.

In time you may find that you become more accustomed to stillness.  But stillness is not just physical.  It's also mental, emotional, and psychological.  Stillness means to not always be looking for the next thing to do, or get, or be.

Another good poet by the name of Chris McCombs wrote in his poem, Go Deeper:

Go deeper
Past thought
Into silence
Past silence
Into stillness
Past stillness
Into the Heart
Let the Love
Whatever is left of you

Thanks to Hefin Owen for his great photo - Misty Sunrise Padarn Lake

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Can Buddha wear a Santa Claus hat? Stress Reduction for the Holidays

Over the years I've heard an increasing number of people express how much they "don't" like the holiday season anymore.  The reasons are varied: The crowds, the expectations for expensive gifts, the capitalism and marketing, that it comes earlier and earlier each year due to mass media and retail marketing ads, dealing with difficult relatives, the alcoholism and other substance abuse, or the greed and exploitation that surrounds the holidays.

There are arguments about which religion the holiday season really belongs to, or if it should belong to a religion at all.  The celebration of this seasonal time of year has its ancestral roots in ancient celebrations of the Winter Solstice and the observations by humans of the seasons, skies and earth.  In reality, this festive time of year belongs to all of us, from all walks of life, whether we celebrate it for celestial reasons, or religious ones.

One thing we've learned from our years of knowledge about stress reduction, is that letting go of control is a major component in learning to relax, and this can't be more true during the holiday season as most of us find ourselves wanting the holidays to be only what we think they "should" be.  But "peace on earth" doesn't come when we try to control others and make them celebrate the holidays the same way we do.  Peace comes from tolerating diversity, which is a reality that the 2016 Presidential election revealed is still shockingly slow to be learned in the United States.

It's hard sometimes to keep in mind that the holidays are supposed to be a time of peace, giving, and thinking of others, not necessarily of ourselves so much.  We can each find a meaning to the holiday season, and traditional forms of celebration build memories and repetition.  We must keep in mind that many people may celebrate the holidays differently, and yes, the Buddha can wear a Santa Claus hat, just as the "birth of the son/sun" can mean more than one thing this time of year.

In allowing others to celebrate the holidays as they so choose, we also honor our right to celebrate it as we so choose, and without hate, argument, conflict and demands.  There are many minds and cultures in this world and so too, many interpretations of what this festive time of year might mean.  Perhaps one thing we might all agree on is that we want it to be a peaceful and giving time of year.

"Our ability to reach unity in diversity
will be the beauty and the test
of our civilization"
     ~Mahatma Gandhi

Thanks to Justin Mazza for the great photo - Christmas Buddha 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Post 2016 Election Stress Reduction

The 2016 campaign and election was one of the most stressful in American history.

Hopefully, I can write this blog without revealing which candidate I was cheering for.  The main thing, is to help YOU with your post election stress.

Whether you voted for one candidate or the other, most likely your stress level was high, as it was for most Americans.

Post election stress, is also high among folks within both of the main parties, as well as the smaller outlier parties.  It doesn't matter if you voted for Hillary or Trump, you most likely were scared, confused, hopeful at some point, and totally surprised in the end.

So what do you do now?

Well, if you are a Trump supporter--unless you live in a dominantly Republican state--you most likely are frequently hiding that you voted for him.  Witnessing the many people around you who are angry and upset that their candidate, Hillary Clinton, did not win, is upsetting.  Especially if it is friends or family members who you can't even talk to about your glee and celebration.  Maybe you've even had doubt about whether you did the right thing or not.  You might also feel confused that many of those who disagree with you consider you now to be a racist, homophobic, xenophobic, and white-supremacists.

If you had hoped that Hillary would win, you are most likely suffering from what many other Hillary supporters feel, which is a combination of shock, sadness, fear, anger, disgust, and depression at what seems to be a realization that so many Americans seem to still carry so much prejudice and hate in their hearts.  You might worry that--as has been reported--you might be the victim of post-election bullying, prejudice, hate crimes like misogyny or attacks on gays and lesbians, or accused of just whining and not being able to accept the outcome.

One of the things many of us can agree on is that we would like to come together now that the election is over.  If you can't stand that Trump won, it's important to remember that not all Trump supporters are hate mongers.  And if you were a Trump supporter, the burden might be on your shoulders now to prove to others that you are not a hate monger.

So how do we deal with the stress of this outcome?

Nothing feeds open wounds more than poor winners, or poor losers.  Many of us were taught that when we competed in sports in school, it was appropriate to shake the hands of those we just beat or lost to.  In addition, debate education taught us all to graciously listen to those who have views that differ from our own, and to politely acknowledge what it is we agree on with our debate opponents.  Disagreeing does not mean dominance and demeaning other people who disagree with us.

We all want to do good in the world, but sometimes we disagree on what "good" is.  We differ in our religious and philosophical views, but that doesn't mean we need to fight with each other, be disrespectful or violent with one another, or call one another names. 

Sit down today and take a deep inventory of your thoughts and feelings.  Have you already begun to demonize those with views that oppose your own?  Are you calling them names like "whiners, hate mongers, racists, or babies"?  Think about how these titles and views will never bring us back together as a nation.

It's important to exercise a high dose of empathy right now.  A means of getting inside the head and perception of those that disagree with us, and seeing the world from their mind-set.  It does not mean we agree with them!  It simply means we are making an effort to see how they view the world so we can come to the table in decent conversation, and not arguing with hate in our hearts.

Take into consideration three views which you are at least willing to try to see from those who disagree with you.  Then, try it without rushing in to defend your own view.  Seriously TRY to see your opponents view without arguing about it.  It does not mean you agree with them, you simply say... if I were in your head, I can see how you see it that way.

All we can do at this point is try our best to improve our communication skills as much as possible.  Brainstorm to see where we are willing to bend or be flexible, because compromise means we all have to give a little.  Polarization only gets worse when we can't compromise or meet others half-way.

Thank you to Beverly & Pack for the great photo of the Peace Flag

Friday, October 28, 2016

Meditation and Stress Reduction: Avoiding the Monkey Mind

Meditation is very common.  Maybe we all know at least one person by now who does it.  For many, it just means sitting still and being quite for awhile.  For others, it's a way to slow the breath, lower the heart rate, and reduce anxiety.  But what a lot of people don't realize about meditation is that its main purpose is not only to become aware of the thinking that races on inside of our heads, but to practise the art of not getting carried away by that thinking.

One common analogy is to imagine yourself looking out at the horizon while sitting on a beach.  As you look out over the ocean's surface, you imagine a boat entering your view from the left.  You notice the boat as it meanders across the surface of the horizon to the right, until slowly it vanishes off the screen of your mind, out of sight and "out of mind".

In the same way, thoughts also enter our mind as we meditate.  For instance, the grocery list might come to mind just like the boat when it entered your view.  If we are skilled at meditation, we can notice the thought and then watch it fade from our mind, just like watching the boat on the horizon as it meandered out of view.

However, what tends to happen with many of us instead, is that we might notice the thought of the grocery list, and that makes us think of something else which distracts our thinking mind.  The thought of the list leads to thinking about getting gas in the car while we're out, and then we recall we haven't put a certain item on that list and we worry we might forget.  That might lead us to think about an elderly relative that had memory problems and so we wonder what we will be like when we get old.

On and on the thoughts go until we are off track and the mind is racing.  This is commonly called the Monkey Mind, because it is jumping from "branch to branch" (or thought to thought), just like a monkey does.  And where the mind goes, the feelings follow.  So if the mind is jumping from one stressful thought to another, the body will not be as relaxed as it might be if we were doing something more focused with our mind, such as counting the breath.

Meditation takes practise, but you can get much better at it with steady repetition.  Here is a simple exercise to try when you have a little time:

After you've settled into your usual meditation posture and taken a few breaths, imagine that as you breathe, you can actually see each number right in front of you, as if each were projected on the back of your closed eyelids.  1...2...3... and so on.  When you get to 10, begin to see the numbers in reverse order, such as 10...9...8... and so on, until you are back to 1, and then repeat.  If you are not really a visual person, or have problems imagining things visually, then imagine the sound instead.  Imagine your voice, or another woman or man's voice saying the numbers as you count, "one"..."two"..."three", etc.  If you find that you have gotten off track or some distracting thought (like the grocery list) has entered your mind, just notice it, and then return to the beginning and start all over again.

It's very important to not be too hard on yourself when doing these exercises.  They should be done with a nonjudgmental intention, and a large dose of self compassion.  Don't beat  yourself up with thoughts like, "I messed up again", or "I just can't get this right".  Just notice when you've gone off track, and return to the beginning and start over.

Thanks to Brian Carson for his great photo - Morning Meditation

Monday, September 19, 2016

Pausing to reduce Stress and Anxiety

A fabulous stress reduction idea was created by meaning to pause®.  It's called the pause braclet.  It gives a "private but deliberate" reminder (by means of a gentle vibration) periodically to help people stay focused and present.  The reminder helps people to stay aware and perhaps take an inventory of where they are with their thinking, breathing, or behavior in the present moment.

Staying focused in the present is not an easy task, but with practice we can get better at it as time goes on.  There are many methods like the pause bracelet that can help us to bring our awareness to the present moment.

At the Zen monastery of Plum Village in the south of France--a monastery created by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh--there is something called The Bell of Mindfulness.  At the monastery, a bell tone is made periodically so everyone in the village can hear it and at which time they pause momentarily.  On their website they have posted,  "When we hear one of these mindfulness bells ring, we stop all of our conversations and whatever we are doing, and bring our awareness to our breathing.  The ringing bell has called out to us:  Listen, listen.  This wonderful sound brings me back to my true home."

The point is, that we can use many things throughout our day to nudge us a bit to take a moment and pause.  The sound of an airplane going overhead.  The ding of a new incoming email on our phone.  The sound of the engine in our car as we turn the key.

Reminders don't have to be just auditory, either.  They can be from a variety of our senses, such as each time we see a red light and slow our car to a stop.  Pause.  Each time we smell the aroma of our neighbor's fireplace.  Pause.  Each time we feel the warmth of clothes freshly being lifted from the dryer.  Pause.  When the cat meows.  When you hear a door close or open.  Pause.

You can decide what your "Mindfulness Bell", or bell(s) will be, but whatever they are, be sure they have associations for you with your willingness to pause for just a moment so that you can become aware of your true self, which only exists... right now.

Thanks to Eric Walker for his lovely photo - Pause