Category Archives: Anxiety

Overwhelmed and Under Water

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Overwhelmed and Under Water

A little earlier today, I experienced a moment – really, it was no longer than a minute – during which I thought of about 15 things that I need to do sooner rather than later. That unbidden to-do list was followed by a wave of despair: “How would I ever get all of it done? I just can handle it all. Maybe I should just quit.”

And just like a snap of the fingers, it was gone. But the damage was done. I was feeling panicked – it felt like my neck was on fire, I was nauseated, and the seat felt unsteady below me. The specific symptoms we experience when anxious or panicky may vary but most of us are familiar with that underlying dread that our situation is hopeless.

The rest of my day – during which I had intended to get a lot done, like finishing grading papers and making more progress on my tax returns – was imperiled. I had thought about quitting. Quitting what, exactly? My job, paying taxes, living? Thinking about that made me laugh a little too loudly for someone sitting at a corner table at Starbucks.

So, what did I do? I focused first and foremost on getting my breathing under control. At this point, the entire episode had lasted just a few minutes, but I was close to hyperventilating the whole time. I closed my eyes, rested my hands in my lap and unclenched them, and slowed my breathing bit by bit. Inhaling more slowly and deeply, exhaling more slowly and completely. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Until it felt natural.

That freak-out of a to-do list was waiting for me but I had the benefit of some semblance of calm to consider it more rationally. It was a long list, to be certain, full of things that need to be done sooner rather than later. But not right this minute, not in this moment, not all of them, not even all of one of them. 

Taking a mindful approach to life, living in each successive moment, we can observe a daunting task and recognize without judgment that it will take a while to accomplish, that we cannot bite it all off in one chew, and that that does not make us insufficient or incapable. The task is what it is, and we are what we are.

I personally find that a task performed mindfully finishes more quickly than expected. Or that the time spent did not seem as long. It doesn’t really matter which. The likely outcome is better than if it had been achieved with much angst and drama. Certainly, we feel better afterward, and in suitable condition to move onto the next task, if need be.

Of course, the other thing I did to cope with that moment of panic was to blog about it. (For better or worse, this post is the product. Hope it’s better.) Blogging is not necessary, but it’s important to pause and look at what we just experienced in those moments of anxiety. Our impulse is to move along as quickly as possible and leave the wreckage in the rearview mirror, but that doesn’t really benefit us in any way. It is insufficient to deal with the present moment’s disturbance, and doesn’t help us to cope with future incidents.

We should take a moment, once our breath has returned to normal, to think about what just happened and why. What triggered it? Why did that list scroll through my brain at that particular moment? I’m not certain, even after having taken the time to write this post. But I’m open to finding out, so I can move on for now without knowing the answer, because I feel like I can handle it when it arrives and I don’t need to dwell on it in the interim.

Thanks for hanging with my while I re-centered myself and reestablished balance and mindfulness.

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Been gone, been down, still am

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It has been a while since I last posted on this blog. I have not been active on my Facebook page either. Why? I think because I am having trouble making sense of the world right now. I simply do not understand the hate and violence that are so pervasive at this moment.

I used to think I understood people who express their anger demonstrably, because I used to manage my own anger so poorly. I thought I had some insight, based on my own struggles as a young man, when it was so easy for rage to rise up inside of me and spill forth. Maybe I did, but I don’t feel like I do anymore.

I don’t understand most of the anger I witness on social media and on TV. On my worst days, when anger overwhelmed me completely, when I literally shook from the negative energy boiling up from deep inside, I never displayed such naked aggression, never verbally savaged another being, never even considered doing either. So I try to imagine what torment these angry people must be suffering, I try to put myself in their place, to contemplate their plight, to fathom what could possibly propel them to these states of frothing, thrashing, tearing, unbridled fury. But I fail repeatedly, fully unenlightened.

I am left distraught by my confusion, by my utter inability to grasp what is happening in the world, in this country, in my own backyard. I cannot comprehend the acts of violence that take place every day, many times a day. I am even more confounded by the eagerness of so many people to act on their violent impulses, by their hair-trigger readiness to lash out with deadly force.

I fear that I am despairing, losing sight of humanity’s inherent goodness, losing touch with creation’s core of love. I do not love my fellow beings any less, but I admit I sometimes wonder what good it does. Am I helping at all? Am I contributing, in any way, to stemming the angry tide? Could it possibly be any worse if I weren’t here at all?

The sadness I feel is nearly unbearable. My heart aches for the beloved of the brutally murdered. Compassion continues to swell up even for the perpetrators, even though I don’t understand them, even though I believed that well had run dry, even though their acts are so repugnant and inexplicable that I begin to fear that my own loved ones are no longer safe.

Today and yesterday and the day before, each brought more unwelcome news, more tragedy, more devastation. Unremitting, incessant, unflagging, unstoppable. At least it seems that way. Though I hope, I do, I really hope. And I do what for a Buddhist passes for prayer, and I cling to the possibility that the storm will be a little less fierce at dawn, and I focus on the inevitability of the sun rising, and I remind myself that the powerful, unquenchable power that fuels creation is still there. Love remains and, if we can manage to get out of its way, will prevail.

I believe that, I honestly do, even now, even when it is so terribly difficult to make sense from any of it.

Mindfulness and Work

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MindfulnessMeditation

I have written in the past about the wonderful advancement of meditation and mindfulness practice in elementary and secondary schools and in colleges and universities. The pace at which they have infiltrated the business world may be even more rapid.

The need for these practices in the workplace should be evident. Is there any environment more prone to inducing anxiety and causing stress than the job site? As adults, that is where we spend the largest portion of our waking hours. Can meditation and mindfulness make you more successful and richer? Perhaps, but they’re greatest value is enabling you to cope effectively with worry and stress at work, which lessens the dread we connect with the daily grind (thereby further lifting our spirits), and makes us healthier in mind, body, and spirit.

However, there is a tendency, I think, for mindfulness and meditation in the workplace to be treated as the latest management fad. They get lumped in with a great mass of self-help, empowerment, how-to-succeed-in-business approaches that become super-popular for a few years and then are discarded in favor of the next big thing. Meditation and mindfulness have staying power as personal tools because their efficacy and benefits are demonstrable, even though they may eventually fall by the wayside as business tools. In truth, most successful management and professional practices contain components that are applications of both mindfulness and meditation – they’re just called something else.

The following are a sampling of recent articles about the inroads that meditation and mindfulness are making in the business world.

4 Easy Ways to Be More Mindful at Work – “Bringing more mindfulness into my working days is one of the best things I can do for my enjoyment, productivity and creativity. Rather than spending time counting down the clock, allowing frustration to grow, or taking work stresses home with me, I use several techniques to create a more mindful work environment. Four powerful ways you can also incorporate mindfulness into your working days include tuning into gratitude, taking short and regular mindful breaks, journaling mindfully at the end of the day and using a mindfulness tool.”

Just Breathe: Using the Power of Mindfulness to Achieve Peace in Business – “I first started my mindfulness journey several years ago when I was a junior in college. After getting into a car accident that left me horrified over just the thought of getting into a car again, I found myself in cognitive behavioral therapy. My prescription? Meditation – a mindfulness exercise.”

The Mindful Board – “Directors facing complex corporate governance challenges can develop their capacity to think together about the implications of their decisions.”

5 ways leaders can help their teams manage stress and burnout – “Train the brain to manage chaos. Practicing mindfulness can instill useful mental habits that enhance resiliency and productivity at work and in one’s personal life. Leaders and teams who prioritize mindfulness collaborate better, control stress more effectively and improve performance, according to the report.”

Reduce constant worry while job hunting – “Brain science has demonstrated that practicing mindfulness may actually train the brain to think in other ways. For job seekers, it potentially provides welcome relief from the stress of self-defeating, anxious thoughts, such as the fear of having left out an important point in an interview or of not finding jobs at all.”

Mindfulness: An Holistic Approach to Business – “Everyone stresses at work, and that might not be your responsibility, but you can definitely account for your own stress! Be mindful. For instance, some people use meditation to improve their work performance, or excel in life. Some have even found their true calling. So how can you be mindful? Mindful in the sense of being aware of oneself but also able to focus fully on the task at hand. This encompasses emotions and thoughts, being aware of the distractions but being concentrated on the work to be done.”

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Everyone Suffers

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We are apt to compare our suffering with that of others, and to think things like, “He’s in much better shape than I am. My problems are much worse.” And we somethings convince ourselves that some other people don’t suffer at all.

Everyone suffers, even the people who seem to have it made in the shade. We cannot see their suffering, so we do not, in fact, really know.

The Buddha taught that all people suffer, even those who appear to be very wealthy and healthy and happy. Those people suffer, for example, from fear and anxiety over losing those good things they have, to the point that they cannot even enjoy their blessings.

So treat everyone with compassion and, thereby, avoid exacerbating anyone’s suffering.

be kind

An Epiphany in Casper, Wyoming

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Difficult situations are a barometer of the depth of one’s meditation and mindfulness practice and, conversely, a GPS that tells us how far we still have to go. (Technically, I guess depth would be measured with sonar and not a barometer, so sue me.) Reflection afterwards allows us to consider our behavior in the moment of the difficulty and provides insight into the role that our practice has played.

Most days dish out the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” – or less dramatic and more commonplace indignities and inconveniences . Which means we have ample opportunity to put our practice into…um, practice, and to reflect on the results.

I’m thinking about this right now because I am in the midst of a very difficult travel situation. I travel a lot and, consequently, encounter every form of travel mishap known to humankind. But this trip…oy. I was flying from Milwaukee to Denver, then on to Los Angeles. Bad weather shut down the airport in Denver and we were diverted to Casper, Wyoming. After more than two hours waiting in what passes for a terminal (three beverage vending machines and a nearly empty snack machine), we were loaded back onto the plane, only to discover there was a major mechanical problem. Off the plan again. It being a Saturday and we being in Casper, it would be three hours before someone could get there to make the repairs. By that time, the flight crew would be past its 16 hours and therefore not allowed to fly. We were stuck.

So, I got to see downtown Casper. In the dark of night. Check off another state I’ve visited (using the broadest possible term for visit, obviously); only four states left to go. Maybe next time United will divert me to Honolulu.

Stayed overnight in the Casper Ramada. Back to the airport for a 12:40 flight to Denver, 2 hours and 10 minutes after the flight I was rebooked on from Denver to Los Angeles. There are five more flights to LA after I arrive in Denver (presuming I arrive – I’m taking nothing for granted, considering it’s 12:25 right now and boarding has not begun – heck, I don’t even see a plane outside to board). I’ll be on one of them, right? Think positive!

There was a time, not too long ago it seems, when this rigmarole would have set me off like a nuclear bomb. I would have ranted at everyone who would listen and everyone who tried not to. I would have acted as if the entire mess was a plot against me, as if I were being victimized.

So here’s the amazing thing: I didn’t experience any anger at all. Not once did I think, “Why is this happening to me?” I didn’t fret over whether I’d make my connecting flight or when we’d hear an update from air traffic control. I admit to being a tad annoyed when the person at Enterprise told me, when I called to say I would be picking up the car today instead of yesterday, that my cost went from $191 to $327 – for one less day. I politely – seriously, I was polite – told him to cancel the reservation, and I called another company and got a cheaper rental. Okay, I also admit that, when we got back on the plane, and the pilot told us the bad mechanical news, I muttered under my breath, “Oh stop it.” I’m not sure who I was talking to. Other than that, though, I was a paragon of calm.

That realization made me feel pretty good, I confess. I consider it a major silver lining to an otherwise fogged-in travel day to have recognized this measure of the benefits of meditation and mindfulness. Really, despite everything that happened, I am grateful for the epiphany, and thankful for a million other things that make me a very content, happy, and lucky person.

 

Why not spend a little time at the Dharma Beginner page on Facebook, where a whole herd of people interested in mindfulness, meditation, spiritual growth, healthy living, and acting compassionately like to gather. And follow us on Twitter @dharmabeginner.

Everyone feels stress, everyone suffers. Thank goodness for meditation!

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Everyone gets stressed out, even the “experts.”

How do you think they became so adept in the first place? They needed what meditation had to offer so much that they made a concerted effort to practice it. Meditation teachers are not superhuman, unless by superhuman you mean “even more subject to the frailties and flaws of being human.” They’ve been in the same place we all have, and they’ve survived in no small part because of their meditation practice.

So take heart: if they can do it, so can you. You have the very same ingredients in your being that they do, all the elements necessary to pursue a beneficial meditation practice and lead a mindful and compassionate life. Buddhists might say that we all have the same essential Buddha-nature inside us and, therefore, the same potential to achieve enlightenment.

All of us suffer and all of us desire to be free of suffering. That’s all that is necessary to begin meditating and for meditation to bear fruit.

Along those lines, here’s an article from Pooma Bell of Huffington Post titled, “What Does The Founder Of Meditation App ‘Headspace’ Do When He Gets Stressed Out?

Check us out at the Dharma Beginner Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @dharmabeginner.