Tuesday, June 18, 2019

The Relaxing Quality of Nature

As the world continues to advance and turn to technology to function, the human beings that create the technology search for ways to get back to nature and unplug whenever possible.  The goal is to not get bogged down in the gadgets that were initially meant to make life simpler, but that have instead, created a faster and more demanding world.

No matter how much technology has helped humans to simplify their lives, it has also reminded them that humans are still a part of nature, and also a part of all of the other living beings on this planet that move and function with the forces of nature.

In other words, humans are not the machines they create!  A human being continues to move with the seasons and the natural rise and set of the sun.  Humans need sleep, sunshine, and enough relaxation to renew the changing human body that works tirelessly sometimes to meet its needs.  That's why it's important for human beings to get back out and into nature whenever possible.

There is no debate that it's not natural for the human body to sit at a computer all day.  It's not even natural for it to sit at a desk all day.  For example, it's not natural for the human eyes to focus on an office wall or computer screen all day that is only inches or feet away.  The human eye is meant to look close and far, and sometimes within the same task, such as looking at the mountain tops in the distance and then at the flowers at one's feet.  It's important to step away from your desk now and then and aim your eyes at a distant target such as the horizon or distant landscape.

The human body begins to become unstable when it doesn't walk enough or stand enough or move enough.  And the various senses that the human body uses, need to be exercised frequently in order to stay sharp and function well.  Human instincts can't be sharp if they are not used for anything more than scrolling up and down a computer screen, or for typing.

When looking at what the various culprits are that contribute to your stress, measure the list of items that put demand on your body in the way we might put demand on a machine.  Machines are expected to function non-stop, repeatedly, and many times as fast as they can possibly function.  But human beings can't function that way for long.  Think of getting out and into nature as a way to recalibrate your body and instincts so as to help you remember you are human, and not a machine.

Thanks to Elisa Bracco for the wonderful photo

Monday, May 13, 2019

Relaxation and the Joy of Missing Out (JOMO)

We've all heard of the term FOMO, meaning "Fear of Missing Out", but not everyone has heard of the term JOMO, the "Joy of Missing Out". 

FOMO is the idea that whatever others have, or are doing, is somehow better than what you have, or are doing (even if it's not really true), and that you are somehow missing out on something.

FOMO tends to lead many of us to try to live life to its fullest and take in all we can--while we can.  But eventually choosing one activity, piece of information, or item means we are NOT choosing all of the other possibilities.  Trying to choose everything doesn't really work and trying to say "yes" to all options can eventually wear a person down.  It can lead to overloaded schedules, overwhelming amounts of information, and eventual burnout.

Where one individual may feel compelled to photograph proof of all the activities they have actually participated in, others may view the posted photos from social media with a gnawing belief that they must be missing out on something.  This ongoing frustration causes a sense of unease and internal pressure to constantly be on the go, while paralyzed by the indecisiveness of having too many options.

JOMO is the realization that sometimes it's perfectly fine to miss out on stuff other people are doing.  Sometimes it's okay to just unplug, unwind, and relax from the attentive, ongoing comparisons with others and what they are up to.  You don't have to unplug all the time, but taking breaks in order to appreciate the Joy of Missing Out, can be good for your mental health and psychological well being.

Sometimes we need to go offline, or say no to an activity we don't want to do, for which we might otherwise say yes to.  We don't always have to be at the bar, party, social gathering, game, concert, etc.  It's okay to read a book, have a quiet conversation with a friend, soak in the tub, or just listening to some music.

The bottom line is to make the best use of your time and try to reduce your comparison shopping among the many activities available in the world.  The Joy of Missing Out means you don't have to be a part of every gathering, event, or activity.  You don't have to have every piece of information, or be a part of every forum, email list, or social gathering.  Finding the joy in missing out means finding the peace and relaxation of choosing a slower pace now and then that isn't about comparisons or missing out.

Thanks to Ron Mader for the great image

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Reducing Stress with Local Travel Trips

Sometimes traveling can be an adventure, and it's a goal many of us seek in life.  However, it can also lead to a lot of stress and complicated planning that can increase anxiety as the details and intricate pieces of a complicated trip unfold.  That's why considering more simplified local travel trips in your own area can be much more enjoyable and a lot less expensive and taxing.

We tend to always think that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, or at least in someone else's state or country besides our own.  But if you do a little digging, you might realize that many people work to try and come to your own area for things you never knew existed.  Festivals, parades, annual celebrations and gatherings, lakes, mountains, sporting events, unique geological spots like hot springs, and volcanic rock formations.  Most places have some kind of history that makes them special, be that for wildlife, camping and hiking, or just for the local life of breweries, restaurants and unique architecture.

If you tend to feel like you need another entire vacation just to rest up after returning from your vacations, you might need to rethink what you consider a relaxing getaway, and consider new ways to make your plans a lot less stressful.  Staying fairly local, or within your own surrounding state can be less expensive as it doesn't require as much time spent in flight, train or car.  In fact, you can actually spend more time enjoying whatever it is you've gone to do or see.  And if it saves you so much to stay local that you have extra vacation funds left over, then you can spend that on more local things like boating, helicopter tours, museums, interesting new foods, and the plentiful spa, massage, and relaxation offerings in most vacation spots.

We can get stuck believing that a real vacation is one that is loaded with lots of expensive new and unique activities we should bring back to tell others about--as if it's not a real getaway if you can't say that you lived it up, tried new things (i.e. zip lining, skydiving, bungee jumping, scuba diving, etc.), saw every famous spot and checked one more item off of your bucket list.  But your next vacation getaway does not have to be so elaborate (and stressful).  It's just as fine to bring home stories of full bodied relaxation, soaks in hot natural mineral water, beautiful sunsets, and peaceful mountain lakes that look like glass.

Thanks to Christian Collins for the great photo of Lake of Glass, Rocky Mtn Nat Park, Colorado

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Relaxation and the Power of Beliefs

The human being has a tremendous capacity to be influenced--and to influence--depending on beliefs.  What one believes will have direct bearing on what that individual does, says, teaches, and acts upon.  That's why what we believe needs to be filtered through some sort of reality check that has its finger on the pulse of fact, and at least on the notion of care for all life on earth.

What you believe is what becomes real to you and history has shown that the human being is flawed in its ability to always know what is real, or what is good for it and for human kind.  That's why it's very important to take frequent reality checks into your belief systems to determine what is superstition and what is faulty thinking--what is real and what is yet to be determined?  All will influence the outcome of your life, level of stress, and anxiety.  In addition, it can't be done in a vacuum.  Meaning, you must step outside of your circle, family, group, religion, friends, neighborhood,  and yes--your beliefs, in order to look around a little bit (visually, psychologically, mentally, emotionally) and see what's really going on.

It's always easy for most of us to observe the delusional quality of a cult-like group and its mesmerized members, but much harder for us to see when we ourselves are submerged in such a similar mentality.  Think of elections and your devotion to your political party.  Or your home team.  Or how blinders can come on when a member of your own circle (i.e., family, friend, community) has done something wrong.  Group think has been studied at length and proves that the human mind can be swayed, convinced, and moved to believe things that are not good for it or for others, and that may not even true.

These points are also true when it comes to the reasons that your body becomes anxious and tense.  In most cases, it's based on what you are believing at the present moment.  If you are truly in danger and your body is truly reacting to that danger, then there is no malfunction (i.e., what you believe and what you feel are real).  But when your thinking is faulty, the reaction can be faulty as well.  So anxiety and tension can frequently be attributed to false beliefs about danger that only exists in one's mind, but not in reality.

In cognitive behavioral therapy, people are challenged to take another look at their beliefs.  There are plenty of identified faulty thinking styles that are common with we humans.  Check out the list here and see if you can identify the ones you use the most.  We can't always know things conclusively, but we can work to dispute false beliefs, and search for evidence that those things we believe actually have some foundation to stand on.  It takes practice and time, so be patient with yourself.  We all have faulty thinking of some kind.  The goal is to clear up the fuzzy view the best you can in order to clear up anxiety symptoms that are happening for no realistic reason.

Faulty Thinking Styles:

Mental Filtering
Black and White Thinking
Jumping to Conclusions
Control Fallacy
Fallacy of Fairness
Emotional Reasoning
Fallacy of Change
Global Labeling
Always Being Right
Heaven's Reward Fallacy

You can find a free printable copy of these at the following link:

Thanks to Charlie Sedanayasa for the great photo

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Reduce Stress and Anxiety with Moderation

What does it mean to "avoid excessive extremes"?  That's what moderation is.  But how can we know if we've lost our balance with concepts, behavior or activity in a way that has tosses us off balance and moved us into "excess" in one direction or the other?

Learning to practice the Buddhist philosophy of moderation is one way to actively work to maintain balance in life and find peace, which will in turn lead to reduced stress and anxiety.  This concept is folded into something called The Eightfold Path in Buddhism.

The Eightfold Path (also called the Middle Way) has many parts to it, but its main message is to live in moderation so as to not lean toward an extreme in any direction.  Just after Buddha had his awakening or "enlightenment", he immediately began to teach this concept of moderation.  He had experienced firsthand what it was like to live in extremes of self-neglect and starvation, as well as in excessive wealth and sensual indulgence.  He realized that happiness rests somewhere in the middle.

Just after marijuana became legal here in Colorado I began to see an upswing in clients coming to see me who weren't sure anymore how much pot was too much pot.  Once it had become okay to buy and use all they wanted, many folk began to use in excess and had to figure out where their own sense of balance was going to be with it.  But this example holds true for many other things, including alcohol use, eating, gambling, spending, sleeping, sex, working, running, dieting, or really just about anything human beings can and will think, do or believe.  Excess can show up in religious beliefs, in marketing, in war, in meditation, in politics, in working out, and even in intellectualized discourse.  Buddha called the excesses "addictions".  So, it's very important that we stay aware of our need to practice moderation no matter what it is we are doing from moment to moment, and this is done by staying mindful of each of those moments.

There is, of course, much more to the Eightfold Path (which can be studied separately from this article) than just the topic of moderation, but this writing is focusing on the concept of moderation itself.  Try to stay mindful of your own behaviors and desires to repeat what feels good until it becomes excessive.  That's what "chasing a high" is all about.  But also notice how we humans can run from what doesn't feel good, as well.  We move in extremes to avoid discomforts that sometimes would be best for us to learn to endure a little bit, such as cravings, sitting for meditation, patience with rude drivers, tolerating that someone disagrees with us, or the discomfort that comes when we know we need to assert ourselves.

Moderation means we don't isolate or socialize in excess, we don't drink or do drugs to excess, and yet we can still recognize statistics that say a glass of red wine a day can be good for you.  With moderation we are realistic about anxiety and depression, knowing they won't stick around forever and they probably aren't the kinds of human events you will get to the end of your life never having experienced.  But to think they should never come, or that you should never experience them, or that they will always stay, is also excessive.  Our thinking can be excessive as well, as we can see in our unrealistic expectations of partners and friends, or of ourselves.  Just as excessive sleep doesn't help you get to work on time, but lack of sleep can cause you to make dangerous errors if you do get there.

Try to focus more on finding a place of balance in your daily life.  Moderation is a wonderful insight and practice.  It's not easy, and you won't do it perfectly, and trying to do it perfectly is just excessive anyway.  All you can do is try to stay as mindful of moderation in your life as you can.  That's good enough.

Thanks to Ryan Adams for the great photo

Monday, January 21, 2019

Peace of Mind

What does it really mean to "find peace"?  By definition, peace means a state of quiet tranquility where there are no disturbances, no war, no aggression, and no conflict or hostility.  It's a place of harmony or perhaps a time of calm contentment.

When we are seeking peace we might be looking for a quiet place or gentle environment.  Maybe a break from noise and human congestion.  Peace can be that small coffee shop where not a lot of people go, or it can be your own home library or patio get away where water fountains gently trickle and birds click away in the trees.

Finding peace within the mind, however, is a little tougher and requires training ourselves to stay in the present rather than allowing the mind to wandering off into worry, rumination, or dwelling on regrets about the past.  By the same definition, peace of mind also seeks to find a place of quiet mental tranquility where we are not disturbed by our noisy or aggressive thoughts.  Finding a cognitive place of harmony and calm contentment means staying mindful of what is happening right at this moment.

One method for finding a mindful place of peace is to focus on the senses.  Noticing in this present moment what it is you feel, smell, hear, taste, and see can help to keep your mind from wandering off into the noise and disturbance of thoughts about the past and worries about the future that take you away from this very moment.

Focusing on the senses in the present moment can bring you to full awareness of the meal you are eating, the music you are listening to, the feel of the temperature in the room, the beauty of your surroundings, or the aroma of everything in front of you, be it a cup of coffee or a beautiful flower.

When the mind is trained to stay present it is at a higher state of peace than when it is untrained and living in the past or the future.  A mind that is dwelling on the past, where it lives out the hour or day ruminating about how things "should" have been, or "could" have been, is a mind at war with itself.  And a mind living in the future, where it dwells on the "what ifs" and contemplates the catastrophes that may come, is a mind that can never rest due to that jackhammer noise called "worry".

Peace, and better yet... Peace of Mind, is a quiet and tranquil place, free of unwanted and disturbing thoughts.  It's a place of harmony and calm contentment, in the mind.  You have no greater task in this lifetime than to bring your mind to a place of peace, and there is no greater peace than being fully present in this very moment.

Thanks to Ray MacLean for the great photo

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Stress Reduction and The Quiet Therapy of Morita

In America, starting right around Halloween in October, the energy and activity around the country tends to ramp up and stay that way well through the first of the year.  Consumerism and capitalism show themselves in all their glory as citizens begin to eat more, spend more, do more, drink more, gamble more, shop more and run the race to please all their friends and family with gifts and entertainment they can't afford to give.

People travel and put up real or artificial evergreen trees and decorate everything from home and office, to shop and community center.  They plan large meals for the November and December holiday gatherings of family, friends and coworkers.  And as you can imagine, stress levels rise right along with all the festive activities.

Lucky for us, Mindfulness and Mindfulness Meditation practice made its way to our shores in the 1960's and 70's and has made its mark in helping many people learn to try to stay focused and not let the mind run amok even during times of stress.  But there is another therapy that is very similar to--and includes--mindfulness and mindfulness based cognitive therapy concepts that is not frequently talked about.  A gentle and graceful method that originated in Japan called, Morita.  Morita is one of the best known of five "Quiet Therapies" in Japan, and was created by Shoma Morita.  Like the concepts found in other mindfulness based therapies, its goal is to help people "accept life as it is".

Shoma Morita was a researcher and philosopher who was also trained in Zen Buddhism, so some of his own methods for confronting life are built into Morita Therapy, including that his method has its foundations in ecology or nature, thus helping people learn to follow the natural order of things instead of battle against them.  Morita is one of five Quiet Therapist, which include naikan, seiza, shadan, and Zen.

I like to think of this kind of Quiet Therapy as a "reboot", in the same way one might reboot a computer.  The idea is to shut down first and then gradually reintroduce the realities of life in order to get a fresh start.  Of course the original idea with the four stages of this therapy was to "shut down" the human being by means of hospitalize, and then begin to slowly reintroduce life to that individual in increments, but very few of us really ever need to be hospitalized due to our stress, and so what we mean in everyday life by "shut down" has to be taken as it is relative to your personal life.  Maybe it means a vacation from work and family, maybe it means going on a retreat, maybe it means nothing more than one day off from work for a mental health day.  No matter what method you use to shut off the constant flow of stress that streams into your life on a regular basis, the first stage of shutting down is then followed by a second stage of light activity, and a third stage of heavy activity, and finally a fourth stage of re-entry to life "as it is".  You can read more about Morita Therapy here:  Morita Therapy, and through a book by David Reynolds, called  The Quiet Therapies

So what does this mean for the holidays?  It means that much can be done with a holiday week off.  The week can include a mini "shut down" and restart.  Or, if you don't get the holiday off to shut off the stressors of daily life, consider what you can do come the new year in order to get a brief break to restart your system.  The bombardment of activity, pressures, requirements, stressors and demands (especially in America) cannot constantly go unchecked.  There needs to be an occasional shut down and restart in order for you to stay connected to life as it really is.  Real life has a sunrise and sunset, flowers to see and smell, a body that needs rest, and time limitations that remind you life does not last forever... and you are missing it.

Thanks to Robert Couse-Baker for the excellent photo