Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Reducing Anxiety by letting life Unfold

The one thing we can be sure of in life is that things will change.  Nothing stays the same.  Some change is so gradual that we can hardly see it unless we witness some kind of time-lapse evidence such as video or photos that show us "quickly" what we cannot notice when in the middle of the event itself.

Changes that happen more abruptly are harder on we human beings because we spend a large portion of our time living in a delusion in which we convince ourselves that once things are "good", we can somehow keep them that way, or that change will disappear and happiness will remain.

We seem to want the good things to last forever, and the bad things to end as quickly as possible.  So we spend our time striving for things we consider pleasant, and running from things we consider unpleasant.

But here is the truth--and you don't have to believe it from me-- look at it for yourself.  Nothing does Not change!  Or said differently, Everything changes.  Everything!

The torture takes place the most when we try to get things we like to remain indefinitely, and when we try to get things we dislike, to be different from what they are.  How many times have you gone back to repeat something fun, only to find yourself disappointed because it "wasn't like last time"?

From the day we are born, until the day we die, change is happening and we suffer the most when we don't want that reality to be true.  Instead, learning to move more gracefully with change can increase  your sense of well-being and reduce your stress and anxiety.

One way to re-frame this never-ending cycle of change that comes with life, is to think of it more as an "unfolding".  When something is unfolding it has a perpetual movement to it.  You can label the movement "good" or "bad", but it's not really necessary.  It's just what is unfolding.  Some of the unfolding is pleasant, and some is unpleasant, but none of these states are permanent.  Be it pleasant or unpleasant, it will change.  It's only a matter of time.

Thanks to Liz West for the great photo - Melting

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Art of Relaxed Hurry

In today's modern world it's kinda hard to take things at the pace that our ancestors once did.  Though they woke and slept with the rising and setting sun and worked long days, they also breathed much cleaner air, ate cleaner food, and could sit for prolonged periods of time without TV, cell phone, internet, or constant stimulation other than the sound of a running stream or the occasional sound of the horses or cows in the fields.

Today, we are constantly on a time schedule.  Be it time to get up, or to be sure we're asleep to get enough rest for the next day.  From getting to work on time, to parental schedules of getting kids to school, or soccer games, or to the dentist.  Even relaxation coaches and Yoga teachers have to be someplace on time, and though they are not infallible to being late, they might just get there in a completely different way than most of us.

Living in a hurried world can take a toll on our health and eventually our mental and emotional well-being, but since this is the modern world after all, it's also not something we are fully ever going to escape.  The reality is that--outside of our need to schedule-in times of rest, vacation and relaxation--we must find ways to cope with a hurried world, and do well to ourselves by approaching our hurry with as much mindfulness and relaxation as possible.

If you think it's not possible to be fully present while rushing through life, take a look at this video of William Polly, a world champion cup stacker.  He shows his skill in slow motion as well, which is so fast that you most likely will still find yourself struggling to keep up with what's happening.  But if you look at the cup-stacker, he's as calm as can be.  Why?  Because he's trained himself "three hours a day" to be fully present.  That's what training in mindfulness is all about.

If your life and schedule are rushed and hurried, mindfulness practice is all the more important.  You will need to be fully present for each of the many things you have packed into your daily schedule.  Paying attention to your thoughts, to the present, to your breath, the colors around you, the feel of the temperature around you, etc.  Noticing what you see, smell, taste, feel in any given situation.  Staying mindful helps your attention no matter what the pace of your life.

Here's a challenge:  Sit in a comfortable position.  Closer your eyes and relax.  Begin to count your breath slowly.  One, as you breathe in.  Two, as you breathe out.  Three as you breathe in, and so on all the way to 10.  And then start over at "One".  Many people will begin to wander into thoughts and get distracted before they ever reach the number ten.  But with practice, you can train your mind to stay present and aware.

It took William "three hours a day" to get present enough to go so fast while stacking cups that when you watch him at full speed, it looks like someone has turned the film speed up to "fast".  For him it's "fun", but as he puts it, "it takes a lot of dedication and training".

Thanks to Hamza Butt for the great photos - "worker running with suitcase"

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Earth Day: Relaxation with Mother Nature

In April the world celebrates environmental awareness with Earth Day.

Mother Earth is the mother of us all.  Having given birth to the multitude of things that cling to her surface and swim the depths of her oceans.

There is a peacefulness in views like this one (image left) in which the blue planet glows with the gentle flow of water that makes up most of her surface.

There are many religions scattered among the people of this great planet and everyone seems to have a belief in what it all means, or doesn't mean.

According to Craig A James, author of The Religion Virus, "the earliest beliefs that can be identified as religious are animistic...".  He states that "Crops and trees, deer and bears, the sun and moon, rainclouds, a spear or axe - all of the things that were important to people - were imagined to have personalities and motivations."

Many of the earliest beliefs among humans somehow connected to this great planet Earth and to Mother Nature herself.  The plants, trees and water were assigned spirits and considered to be alive with the personality of that spirit.  But the world is much different now than it once was and the power of belief, unique to human beings, has become a power that can save or destroy this great planet we inhabit.

One way you can help lower your own anxiety about the increasingly, battle-weary clashes in beliefs around the world -- among countries, and inside your own communities, work places, and homes is to take a long look inside your own belief system and ask yourself this:  "Am I doing all I can to help bring peace to this world?"  "Does anything I consider to be my 'belief', 'faith' or 'doctrine' in life harm other people physically, emotionally, mentally, or psychologically?"

This great Mother Earth is suffering from the result of bickering, fighting, and arguing over differences of view among the people of this world, and because we are a part of her very breath, we are suffering as well.  "Earth Day" is and should be "every day" and every breath "you" take, is a breath she takes.  Which means, every moment you sit in meditation, she sits in meditation.  Every time you work to relax your body and mind, you are relaxing a part of her body and mind.  Every gentle thing you do to lower your anxiety, is something you are doing to lower the anxiety of the world.  So consider it a global act to work on your relaxation techniques.  Finding peace inside yourself, is the first step.

Whatever it is you believe, make sure it takes into account the whole of the planet and not just yourself.  Enjoy what Mother Nature has to offer and always act in kindness to her.. your one and only true Mother.

Thanks to Beth Scupham for her great photos - "Earth"

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