Category Archives: Balance

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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Meditation Is What Works for You

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Meditation Is What Works for You
Our natural state as beings is centeredness and balance. The many stimuli we encounter in a typical day of living threaten to push us off center and throw us off balance.
 
Meditation and mindfulness are tools for restoring and maintaining a centered and balanced life. Whether we realize it or not, we yearn to be restored to centeredness and balance.
 
So when I hear someone say that meditation just isn’t for them, it sounds as if they are saying they do not want to be centered and balanced. Whatever habits and routines support centering and balance in our lives, those are the components of our meditation and mindfulness practice.
 
For some people, it involves sitting on a cushion with their legs crossed and their eyes closed. For others, it is walking through the woods, or coloring, or riding a playground swing, or a million other activities. Sometimes, there are several activities that may work for us.
 
The point is, meditation and mindfulness practice consists of whatever activities center and balance you. The trick is to figure out what those activities are that work best for you. There is no right way to meditate—there is only the right way for you.

Meditation and Mindfulness at Work

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Is there a place that is a greater source of stress than the workplace? Maybe, but not much greater. Yet, the workplace is one of the last places that many people think of to practice their meditation and to act mindfully.

I very much enjoy my job and the people I work with are special to me. Nonetheless, work can be intense, burdensome, and tiring. At least once or twice a day, I need to reset my brain with a little meditation, to refocus myself and set my sight back on the present moment. I have a cushion in the corner of my office; I close my door when I feel the need for relief and I sit there for 5 to 10 minutes. It is remarkably refreshing mentally and physically.

Of course, many people don’t have the luxury of a space to put a meditation cushion, or even a door to close, at their place of work. If you are not bombarded by noise and coworkers at your desk, then simply sitting up straight in your desk chair, feet planted flat on the ground, can be a serviceable meditation posture. Or step outside for a walk around the building or the block.

The idea is to break the flow that develops during the work day in which we focus intently on our work and tune out the world around us. That kind of focus is terrific for productivity but not so much for a healthy, aware mind. It is very easy to plunge headlong into that flow and lose track of time, not coming up for air until the proverbial factory whistle blows. A pause for meditation once or twice during the day – or just lifting your head up from the desk or computer, unfocusing your eyes and taking some long, deep, cleansing breaths – brings your mind back to the present and wakes you up to your surroundings and the beings around you. The result should be both a healthier mind and a better work product.

For more thoughts about mindfulness in the workplace, check out this post by Daniel Goleman. Rachel Nickless of Financial Review recently wrote, “How being mindful makes for a happier workplace.” 

And check out the Dharma Beginner page on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @dharmabeginner.

Be well and have peace in your mind and heart.

Are thinking and meditation incompatible?

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“It’s a very deep misconception that meditation is about making your mind blank, that it involves shutting off or pushing away things so that you can achieve some kind of deeper, more desirable state of clarity and calmness. It’s not that those deeper, more desirable states of clarity and calmness do not exist and cannot be cultivated—they can. But it is a kind of learning that in some ways is akin to falling asleep—although meditation is really about ‘falling awake.’ If you try too hard to sleep, chances are you are not going to fall asleep at all. … I like to describe the mind as being like the surface of the ocean—it’s just in the nature of water to wave. And it is part of the nature of our minds to wave as well. The mind waves virtually all the time. If you try to shut off the waves, it’s a bit like trying to put a glass plate over the ocean to stop it from being as it is. It’s not going to work very well.” ~ Jon Kabat-Zinn, The Power of Meditation and Prayer

I think I know exactly what Dr. Kabat-Zinn is talking about, from my own experience and from what I have heard from others who have experience both failure and success with meditation. Sometimes my meditation can leave me kind of agitated, rather than calm, if I try to fight the thoughts that arise, to stuff them down or block them out. You know, the moment you determine not to think about something, that’s all you can think about. Likewise, the moment you decide not to think at all, thoughts come streaming in from every direction! Only by accepting that thoughts arise and treating them—and myself—with compassion can I fully benefit from my meditation practice.

Pema Chodron suggests that when you notice your mind thinking thoughts, just say quietly, “Thinking,” and let the thought go. Don’t scold yourself for doing what comes naturally to your mind. I do this sometimes, and when I do I always hear the word “Thinking” in Pema’s voice, which never fails to make me smile. And smiling is the perfect medium for letting thoughts slide away easily and without labeling them as something “bad” or antithetical to proper meditation.

If a thought is persistent, then maybe I ought to pay attention to it. If I am routinely feeling a pain in my tooth, shouldn’t I go to the dentist and have it looked at? The pain may be a signal that there is a physical ailment that requires attention. If a thought keeps popping up during meditation—even when I treat it kindly, imagine Pema saying “Thinking,” and let it go—then perhaps it is something that requires attention. Why not let the thought run its course naturally and see where it leads? Following the thought to its resolution may be the only way to keep it from coming back.

As with most things, expectations play a role in meditation. If we expect to achieve an out-of-body experience, we are likely to be disappointed. If we enter meditation, though, with the expectation that thoughts will arise, with acceptance that thoughts arising is totally normal, then we can more fully benefit from our meditation practice. In my opinion, the goal of meditation is not to experience balance and peace during meditation, but rather to experience balance and peace in our lives away from the cushion. Accept that your mind may be noisy sometimes during meditation and you are more likely to reap the benefits of meditation—a life that is more mindful, peaceful and, yes, less noisy.

Balance

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Life can seem so delicately balanced. Events and circumstances may rush by like a river, and if we grasp at them they may topple us over. To not be carried along with the flow, to retain our balance, requires being mindful of that balance and focusing on staying in balance no matter what rushes by.

Meanwhile, all around us seek the same balance. Occasionally, one topples into another, and both collapse. Reclaiming that balance can then seem so laborious, stone laid upon stone; one cannot simply stand the pile of rocks upright again en masse.

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[photos: Dean Michael Mead]