Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Transforming Suffering to Reduce Stress and Anxiety

In Buddhism the lotus flower is very symbolic for the path of enlightenment.  It's the lotus flower that grows up out of muddy water and represents a person's journey through suffering in life (i.e., rising up out of that mud to become a beautiful flower).  It's actually the mud itself that makes you strong.  Thich Nhat Hanh wrote a book about this called, "No Mud, No Lotus:  The Art of Transforming Suffering."  

Now, this doesn't mean we should go around looking for things to suffer about.  Life offers plenty of suffering just as it is.  What does happen, however, is that we need to be alert to the ways we make great, and even elaborate attempts to avoid suffering and this is what causes our suffering.  In other words, we can't avoid the realities of life.  Sickness and death come, and discomfort is sometimes a part of our daily living.  We can't always have what we'd like or live in the luxury we'd prefer.  And it is the desire for things to be other than what they actually are, that leads to the most suffering.

There are lots of ways we try to avoid suffering:  Drugs and alcohol, shopping, sex, gambling, entertainment, money, workaholism, eating, etc.  If we give these up, we return to experiencing the realities of life.  That is, that sometimes there might not be something to fill your time, or sometimes there are losses, breakups, empty feelings.  Sometimes we are depressed, sad, tearful, lonely, and yet if we try to escape these by filling the time with some of the above bad habits, it only makes life worse.

So learning to suffer through some of this mud in life is key to finding our way to reducing stress and anxiety, or challenging depression and sadness.  Learning to endure the discomforts that life can serve us is important and it's this "mud" that makes us strong enough to grow up out of it, and rise above the waterline in life to bloom as the lotus flowers we are.

The lotus flower grows up and out of the water and stands prominently above it with bright colors of white, red, pink, gold, etc.  These flowers shine in the sun and have multiple pedals which are also symbolic for the beauty of one's enlightenment.  But none of this would happen without the mud (the struggle and suffering) that this great flower is rooted in.

So too with you, that you must learn to endure the difficulties in life and not expect it to be other than what it really is.  Sometimes we have natural and normal anxiety and sometimes we are not always so happy.  The good news is that none of these states is permanent and you can be sure they (and you) will change and transform, just like the lotus flower does.

Thanks to Rajeev K for the great photo

Monday, August 5, 2019

Mass Shootings: Discouraged? Encourage others!

Oh boy... how many times have I written here in this blog about how we should take care of ourselves after mass shootings.  Seems I hardly get going on other topics, and back we are again on the topic of dealing with the stress of yet another mass shooting, again!

I continue to hear from more and more people about how discouraged they are about these kinds of things and how they are worried about "the state of the world" and "the way humanity is going".  It seems people are losing confidence in one another and giving up on hope for the potential of human kind.

I've heard that the way to become less discouraged, is to encourage others.  I suppose the reason is because when you need to encourage someone else about something you yourself feel a bit discouraged over, you have to dig deep and challenge your own discouraged thinking in order to see the places where things could get better or don't have to go so poorly.

So let me help myself, by helping you with the best anti-discouragement message I can find as I dig deep into the creative juices of my sense of self in order to help you the reader to not give up hope on humanity during a time in which most of us are quite baffled about how poorly some human beings are behaving.

First of all, if you are feeling powerless about the state of things in this world, I encourage you to take a second look at that belief and realize that you have more ability and power than you realize to make a difference.  You don't have to tackle the largest problem on the planet or in your state or even your community, but you do have the power to do something more about the problems you feel powerless over than you care to admit.

Second, believing that the tiny bit you can do is meaningless, unimportant, insignificant and won't even be a drop in the bucket of needs on this planet is also a belief that will stop you from even making a move on the few things you are capable of doing, which could actually make a difference and even soften your discouragement.

Third, it's imperative that you recognize where you fall on the scale of consciousness in this world.  If you are fairly unconscious, with head down and your sights set only on how to survive from moment to moment, you may be simply taking care of your basic survival needs.  And that's fine!  But if you are one of the many on this planet who is privileged enough to be more conscious than that, with less of your "basic needs" unmet, capable of looking up from the grindstone, and are able to do more to change this world, then you need to take more responsibility for your place in this world and stop waiting for someone else to take the first step.

Finally, put an end to thinking that "doing something" can't be too small, or has to be huge.  As if only some enormously famous, outstanding, massive piece of work, progress, or accomplishment, will be worthwhile or help to change this world.  Writing this article is something.  Can you write?  Paint?  Volunteer?  Offer?  Create?  Teach?  Donate?  Support?  Can you encourage someone else?

If you are feeling stressed by the state of the world or feeling discouraged by the negative events of your fellow human beings, recognize that you have the power to do something rather than nothing.  Don't wait for someone else to create a to-do list for you.  Make your own list.  Make it positive!  Do something instead of nothing, and don't buy into the discouraging beliefs that might convince you to not even try, or to hang it all up and shake your head in despair.

If you are a lit candle, light the candle next to you.  If you are lit by another, then light someone else on fire.  If you are not able to burn, or light the wick of someone else, that's okay too.  Encourage those who can and don't feed the fire of discouragement.  Take a deep breath and realize these massive problems we face cannot be ignored.  We must stay resilient and strong in the face of them and though we may feel discouragement, don't let it take root and don't give it your power.

Thanks to Luigi Mengato for the great photo

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Getting our Priorities Straight: The Difference between Will and Willing

What does it mean to "have our priorities straight"?

The questions basically asks each of us to look a little closer at what we are actually "doing" compared to what we are "saying".  If we place our health as one of the top priorities in our life, do our actions really reflect this?  Or are we spending our time eating poorly and sitting sedentary?

If we place our education or career-building at the top of the priority list, are we actually "doing" the things we need to do to make it happen?  Or are we spending our time on other things?

Not reflecting on our priorities can lead to neglect of some of the most precious things in our lives.  From loved ones to our everyday sense of peace.  That's why it's important to get our priorities straight and know what matters to us so we can make sure to carve out what limited time we each have on this planet, to make life what we want it to be.

If your stress reduction is of top priority to you, then it's important to get it at the top of your priority list--fast.  That means not just reading about the many great techniques out there for slowing down the breath, heart rate, and lowering blood pressure, but it also means the "actual doing".  Building the time into your schedule to learn things like meditation, sitting still, going for slow walks to synchronize your breath, taking a yoga class, and so on.  Talk is cheap, they say.  And they (whomever they are)  are right. the key.

So let's look at the difference between "will" and "willing".  If I am sitting in my chair and "willing" to get up out of it and go do something, I could be "willing" for years!  Sitting in a state of being "willing" to do something is not "doing".  I'm willing to do my laundry and housework right now, but that doesn't mean it's happening.  Yet.

So, moving our "willingness" to the next level is what "will" is all about.  "Will" is moving our desire to do something to the level of action, and therefore "do" the act, not just think about it.  Sometimes there is only one thing left to do... and that is the "doing".

Making your priority list is not the hard part.  Each of us seems to have a general idea of what we need to do and want to do to change our lives in the way we desire.  It's the "doing" that needs happen next.  So you know what that means.  It means it's time to get going now.  No more reading about it.  No more asking about it.  No more talking about it. 

Top priority!  You have an appointment with your top priority list.  What will you "do" next?

Thanks to Macro Verch professional photographer for the great photo

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