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