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

Monday, November 12, 2018

We're all in this Stress Together

You've heard it said that we are all in this life together, and so it follows that we may also experience stress at the same time as our fellow humans, which makes it also true that making attempts to relieve others of their stress can at the same time help to reduce our own.

Unfortunately, I'm once again writing just after another set of mass shootings in the United States, as well as just after the American midterm elections of 2018.  If you don't think your fellow citizens in the US are stressed out, think again.  This stress has reverberations that travel around the world as well, making people uneasy in every country and small community.

It's tempting to pull inside, close the shutters, and let your anxiety get the best of you, but this is actually not a time for that.  Part of the problem is a growing lack of community and support among people, and so trusting less is not the solution.

Instead, I encourage you to see that it's important right now to lift one another up and support one another so that fear does not get the best us.  There are little things you can do every day that help to reduce the stress of your fellow neighbor.  From complimenting them on something they do well, to thanking them for something they've done for you or for others.

Since the holiday season is coming fast, we will be giving thanks for all that we are grateful for, as well as celebrating a festive and even spiritual idea of what this time of year means to each of us, personally. I encourage you to recognize your connection to others and to heighten your awareness that your stress is a reflection of their stress as well.  Try to do things that help to reduce the stress of others.  In doing so, you recognize you are in this world right alongside them and in reducing their stress, you also reduce your own.

Here are some ideas for you to try that could reduce your stress, and the stress of those around you:

*Consider having a holiday gathering that includes the widest array of diverse people you can think of.  This can bring people together, let those in targeted groups feel welcome, assure others that there are safe places, and remind us all that not every situation must include conflict.

*If you see people in the community who seem frightened right now, find a way to let them know you are a safe person.  That you are not hate filled, rejecting, or unable to discuss an issue or hear a view you disagree with without raising your voice or becoming violent.

*Learn as much as you can about the concept of compromise

*Practice your listening skills which, by the way, are not just sitting silent and nodding.  They include active participation, questions of interest, engaged body language, and requests for clarification so you can more deeply understand what another person is saying.

*Show genuine interest in the views of others and how they came to them.  Even if you disagree.

*Pay compliments to others that are not just about looks, success, money, or accomplishments.  Tell them you loved a meal they made, or thank them for something they did, or let them know what qualities you appreciate about them.

*Let people know what you are hopeful about in life.  Do you see things will get better?  Do you have confidence in your fellow humans?  Are there signs of life you can point out to those who are discouraged?  Don't be a Pollyanna, but if you have a positive outlook, try to help the discouraged see what you see. 

Keep in mind that you are not the only one that is stress out about the way things are going right now in the United States.  However, you are a part of the solution.  By actively participating in bringing down the stress level of those around you, you actively work to bring yours down as well.

Thanks to oatsy40 for the great photo (cropped)

Monday, October 15, 2018

Reduce Stress through the Art of Compromises

Polarization seems to be a growing fad in the United States, and even globally, really.  Opponents of one side of an issue dig in their heels and close their minds and ears to hearing from those who disagree with them, or who may have differing views to present.

A lot of stress is created when those who disagree with each other refuse to take steps to meet halfway.  This can only be done by means of the apparent lost art of compromise, which is something we are in short supply of lately.  Yet compromise could be the solution to a lot of situations that are leading to a growing amount of stress in communities across the country.  Learning about compromise and improving your skill at it can help you be a part of the solution in your own community, family, and workplace.  And we all know that getting things corrected in these smaller arenas leads to correction nationally.

Let's begin with the definition of compromise:  "an agreement or a settlement of a dispute that is reached by each side making concessions."  What does concessions mean?  It means that you give in a little bit by giving up something.  Notice that compromise is not that each side makes more demands, or more insistences, or is more forceful than the other side, or even attempts to "win" by any means possible.  Instead, a compromise is when opponents of BOTH sides of an issue, give up something in order to give in just enough to meet the other side halfway.  Also notice, it does not mean that just one side gives in, but that BOTH sides give in.

If Sue wants dinner at 7pm and Sarah wants dinner at 5pm, a compromise is to meet halfway and have dinner at 6pm.  If Bill wants a salary raise of $5000 a year and the budget suggests only $4000, maybe a compromise could be made to raise Bill's salary by $4500 to keep a good employee and not break the bank.  These kinds of compromises happen because each side is willing to give in a little bit (i.e., make concessions).

Where problems begin to happen is when one or both sides refuse to give up their demands and feel entitled to get their way without compromises.  In fact, more and more we hear the phrase, "We are not willing to make concessions."  Which is basically saying that one is not willing to give up anything at all in order to meet another halfway.

Here are some ideas to help you practice learning to compromise on a more frequent basis in order to prevent relationship or conversational problems from bogging down into stagnation.

*Before approaching a conflict, debate, conversation, ask yourself what areas of the topic or issue at hand you would be willing to give up or let go of a little, as these are the least significant areas in which you would have concessions to offer.

*Determine where your own moral and ethical boundary will be on any given issue so you know where you are able to give in a little and let some things go.  Don't dwell on what you refuse to give up, but on what you are willing to let go of.

*Try to determine in what areas you actually agree or could agree partially with any opposing view so that you are able to verbalize that you can see, or partially see, your opponent's point of view.  This is a place you can honestly say, "I give you that."  That is a concession.

*Keep the end goal in mind.  This helps you push yourself a little harder to try for a compromise instead of tossing the end goal out the window because you can't have your way.  The aim is to move things forward through compromise, not get bogged down in stubborn refusals.

Creating a system of compromise in your family, workplace and community helps to create a system that lets everyone know they will be treated fairly.  If only one person in the family, community or workplace always got their way and no compromises were ever made, others would feel slighted and only stress would follow.  Compromise is a great art to develop individually and collectively.  It's what democracy is all about.

Thanks to Amtecphotos for the great photo

Monday, September 17, 2018

Creating Your Own Set of Stress Management Techniques

Stress Management techniques are the set of methods each of us reaches for to manage stress in our lives.  Everyone has a different bag of tricks and not all techniques used for stress management fit everyone.  The important thing to know is that just having some stress management techniques to reach for is the first step in coping well when these life events arise.  To be unprepared is to ignore that sometimes life is stressful and to avoid healthy coping techniques is an invitation to anxiety, exhaustion, and depression.

Knowing your source of stress is a great place to begin.  It can be the job, the kids, health concerns, or any number of things that contribute to your daily stress.  If you have not yet identified what it is that leads to your stress, try to spend some time journaling about when your stress is more prominent or when it begins and ends.  This can help you identify where it's coming from.  Once you know the source or cause of your stress, you can identify what needs to change or what needs to be added to your life in order to better cope with the stress, reduce the stress, or completely eliminate the stress entirely.

Coping with the stress might mean that while staying in the stress, you practice ways to reduce your physical symptoms without removing yourself from the event.  For instance, you might learn breathing techniques that slow the breath and therefore slow the heart rate and blood pressure.  Reducing the stress can include breathing retraining used in coping with stress, but it might also include other kinds of adjustments such as reducing hours at work, reducing the frequency of exposure to stressful events, reducing productivity, and working with cognitive behavioral techniques to reduce the amount of time you worry.  Eliminating stress can mean that it might be time to let that current job go and find a better one with less pressure.  It can also mean moving if the area you live in is stressful and unlikely to change.  Eliminating stress means just that, removing it from your life and making a change for good.

Taking the time to develop a set of stress management techniques for yourself is well worth the time.  Once you know what works for you, it's easy to reach for and easy to apply.

Thanks to Dimitar Nikolov for the great photo

Monday, August 27, 2018

Personalizing your Relaxation

Everyone has a different idea of what relaxation is.  Where one person might believe that heading out to sea on a lovely sailboat to catch a glimpse of the sunset on the ocean horizon is all they need to quiet their mind and slow their breath, another might feel that heading out on the ocean in any vessel, at all, is the equivalent of being trapped on a floating, inescapable prison cell.

The point is that no one else can tell you what relaxation "should" be--for you.  Each individual will need to come to an awareness on their own as to what it is in life that brings them a state of calm, meditative peace.

Each of us does need to keep in mind, however, that we do not have to adhere to the expectations of others that what they find to be personally relaxing, is what we should find to be relaxing, too.  Just as important, is to know that we have a right to enjoy the things we find relaxing, without others telling us we should not find those things to be relaxing just because they do not find them to be relaxing for themselves.

Though a beekeeper may find it very relaxing to suit up and spend time working with their bees and honey, someone else might find it difficult to understand how spending time with hundreds or thousands of flying insects, with the potential of stinging, could possibly be relaxing.

At the same time, there are many who find massage therapy to be very relaxing, healing, and calming.  Yet, for others, the notion of being touched in this way by a stranger is more stress and anxiety inducing that it is relaxing.

When it comes to relaxation, self-trust and self-knowledge is key to making the best of your time and effort, but for this you may have to explore a little bit and try a few new things in order to discover what things may bring you the most sense of relaxation and peace.  In the end, it is you who will be the decision maker about what is and is not relaxing for you personally.  In this way you give your body your full attention and let it know you are listening to what it has to say.

Here are a few (non-animal-harming) ideas for things that some have found relaxing:

*Rock Climbing
*Sailing, canoeing, kayaking
*Hot Springs
*Massage Therapy
*Tea Ceremony
*Sauna, Hot Tub, or Steam Room
*Art (Painting, drawing, pottery, etc.)
*Day Spa
*Tai Chi and Qigong
*Peaceful time with animals
*Conversation with friends

Thanks to JacobEnos for the great photo

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Relaxing Art of Conversational Meditation

Many time we think of meditation as something one might do solo, in private, with silence and without the distraction of others.  However, meditative conversation is a relaxing way to be fully present and in the company of a good friend, while also relaxing and reducing stress.

Traditional definitions of meditation include things such as "concentration on one's breath" or "repeating a mantra".  They can also include activities such as staring at a candle flame or using a guided imagery in one's mind.

But when it comes right down to it, meditation is actually all of these as they all have one thing in common, and that is that they train the mind and consciousness to be fully present and focused on whatever it is that is happening right now.

In meditative conversation, one must work to sharpen their listening skills so they can remain fully present.  It's not uncommon to talk about oneself too much, or change the topic your companion is presenting to be all about "me, myself, and I".  Other common mistakes that distract from being fully present in conversation are things like talking over the top of your friend, rushing to reply before your conversation companion has finished their sentence, and continually changing the topic to focus on your own life and events.  There is a common misconception that conversation is made up of, "I talk about me, then you talk about you".  Which is not really a conversation.  It's two people talking about themselves in the presence of another person. It's talking "at" someone, not with them.

Here are some tips for meditative conversation you can try the next time you plan to get together with a good friend, companion, acquaintance, or partner.

*Meditative conversation is best done in a quieter, relaxed setting where complete focus can be directed at listening and responding to what is heard.  A bar scene is for other kinds of communication, and the loud music and distraction does not make for truly focused discussions.

*Practiced listening skills are key, in that one cannot be listening to another if they are already trying to figure out what their own next sentence will be.  Actively work to not just remain silent (which is not all that "listening" is), but to also hear what is being said.  Active listening involves responses that let others know we are following them, are curious about details, want to know more, can relate to what they are saying, and are truly interested and have heard what they've just said.  Rushing in to turn the topic focus to oneself is not the idea.

*Eye contact, or at least facing one another if outdoors or wearing sunglasses, is a way of showing interest.  Looking away, or over the top of someone's shoulder only says, "I'm not really interested in whatever it is you are saying."  Today we have a very big problem with people looking down at their phones or computers and not really demonstrating attention when others are speaking to them.  Bragging that you are only "multi-tasking" doesn't help the other person feel you are truly present for them.  So put gadgets away and bring your full attention into the present.  When it comes to meditational conversation you are either "fully" present, or you are not.  Partial presence is not fully present.

*When it's your turn to speak, don't dominate the airspace too much, but also don't deadpan or respond with one-word replies.  That causes an imbalance in conversation in which the other person has to "carry the load" of the entire conversation by themselves, and it also says you are not bringing yourself to the moment and are not participating fairly in conversation.

*A good conversation is done with just one other person.  Many good talks can come with more people present, but all involved would need to practice these meditative skills and as the crowd grows, the listening skills and etiquette tends to meander. 

Meditative conversation with another can be relaxing and enjoyable, especially if both individuals are fully present.  Try this with a good friend or companion and see how different a conversation can be.

Thanks to vxla for the great photo

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Reducing Stress by Unplugging

In an era that revolves around computers and cell phones, we sometimes just need to unplug.  But what does that really mean?

It's not just the physical presence of a computer--its screen and keyboard; or a cell phone, with its thumb typing and scrolling that keeps us distracted from the life that exists right in front of us.  It's everything that comes with those machines.  Such as emails that fill our message box.  Voice messages that must be listened to and replied to.  Updates that require our attention.  Battery charging that has to be addressed throughout the day.  Tones and sounds that alert us all day to who is trying to reach us or what message type we just received (i.e., voice, email, page, etc.).

And then, there is the constant, unquenched human sense of curiosity that keeps us glued to our devices in order to extract endless information.  Anything at all we might be curious about can be typed in to one of our handy devices at any time, and it will produce enough information for us to feel we've gathered at least a piece of the answer.  Right there.  On the spot.

But we are forgetting what it really means to be human beings, and since we aren't the machines our machines push us to be, we need to go back now and then and remember to just be human.

Human is much more non-mechanical than a machine is.  Human beings need rest and it's clear we don't go as fast as machines do.  When we try to, we exhaust ourselves and then wonder why we are so tired.  Much of today's stress is caused when human beings attempt to keep up with a world pace that has exceeded their ability.  When this world pace pushes us on a daily basis to constantly stay plugged in, it's imperative that we take the initiative to intentionally unplug now and then.  This means putting the phone down, leaving the laptop at home, shutting off alerts, and yes, even unplugging completely sometimes.

If you find that just one day is more than you can handle to be away from your electronic connection to the world, then start out slow.  Try going for just one hour to begin with, and work you way up.  Leave the phone in the car during some events, or shut it off and set a timer in order to not turn it back on until the timer goes off.  Consider unplugging your computer an hour before bed and not plugging it back in until morning.  See how you do.

The point is that machines and humans are not the same thing.  A human being is not a machine.  It's a living organism and living things need rest and restoration periods in order to prevent and reduce stress.  When we become identified with our machines, we forget that they are not who we are and to put them down now and then and let the body rest, is one of the best things you can do to reduce your anxiety and stress level.

Thanks to theilr for the great photo