Posts tagged ‘Reminders’

Secure Your Oxygen Mask Before Assisting Others

“Self-love, my liege, is not so vile a sin as self- neglect.”

— William Shakespeare

As one of your flight attendants on this journey of life, I am reminding you that in case of a change of cabin pressure, the oxygen masks will drop down from the compartment above your head. If this should happen, secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others.

No matter how many times you may have heard this advice you may not have applied it to your day-to-day life, where it is very relevant. In our 21st-century life-style, there are so many demands upon our time and energy: family responsibilities (spouses, children, pets, parents, siblings, grandchildren), work requirements, household tasks, financial activities, friendship commitments, to mention a few. Amidst the attempts to meet these ongoing demands, it is not uncommon for us to become depleted, burned-out, exhausted. When the cabin pressure changes in your day-to-day life, what can you turn to as your oxygen mask? And do you secure it for yourself before assisting others?

The first step in taking care of yourself is to learn to recognize when you are feeling depleted and acknowledge that fact.

The second step is to notice what nourishes you in your life. Are there activities you can participate in that restore your energy? Or, do you need to find ways to take time by yourself, and if so, what are the conditions that suit you for alone time?

The third step is to explicitly carve out time in your daily life to make sure you are meeting your needs for renewal. Often this requires creating a routine in your weekly schedule and sticking to it regardless of how you are feeling.

If you get stuck because you feel guilty taking time for yourself when there are other demands that require your attention, understand that none of those demands will be met adequately, or at all, if you are not OK first and foremost. The truth is that taking care of yourself first is the best way to meet all of the other demands in your life.

“You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere.”

— The Buddha

April 3, 2007 at 4:55 pm Leave a comment

The Challenge of Impermanence

“A breeze does not last the whole morning.
A shower does not go on for the whole day.
Natural occurrences do not last forever;
Nor does a man”

— Tao Te Ching

Impermanence is an overriding characteristic of life – it is a universal law. Big or small, everything in our life is constantly changing. Whether it is a sound that comes and goes, the loss of something or someone, or even our own body aging, each thing in life is fleeting.

In contradiction, as human beings, we have the tendency to seek security. We try to make things in our life stable and solid – even if this is an illusion. We find it hard to accept the actual nature of our lives, the truth of impermanence. And yet, we cannot stop things from changing.

Failure to acknowledge the truth of change is a source of suffering in our lives, a source of conflict. Essentially, when things in our life change we often want things to be different than they are, and this causes frustration, at best, even depression. Over time, physical wear and tear on our body and/or emotional breakdown may occur due to the habitual ways we react in attempt to avoid dealing with this discomfort.

If this is our tendency as human beings, what is the alternative? Instead of trying to deny change by attempting to create an unchanging world to hold on to (ultimately living in conflict), we can acknowledge the truth of each changing moment. We can live in harmony with, and try to understand more deeply, the impermanence in life. This is what Alan Watts called, “the wisdom of insecurity.” It entails a practice of letting go when we feel the need to grasp and hold on. Coming to terms with change is not an easy task but a worthwhile one, and for some, a necessity for well-being. It is an on-going process.

To reinforce the truth of impermanence, the following phrase can be a helpful tool:

“May I experience peace amid the changes in my life, and may I experience peace amid the changes in others’ lives.”

The Beginner’s Guide to Insight Meditation, Arinna Weisman and Jean Smith, Bell Tower: New York (2001)
Seeking the Heart of Wisdom, Joseph Goldstein & Jack Kornfield, Shambhala Publications: Boston (1987)

October 1, 2006 at 4:42 pm Leave a comment

Support Systems

“I used to sit on the banks with a raft and watch the water roll lazily by. One day I pushed my raft into the shallows of the water and found the water moved swifter than I thought. My raft was actually a boat. Then, after some time, I rowed my little boat into deeper water. There were great storms. Mighty winds, tremendous waves, and sometimes I felt so alone. But I have noticed my little rowboat is now a mighty ship manned by my friends and loved ones; and beautiful calm seas, warm sunny days, and nights filled with comfortable dreams always double after a storm. Now I could never go back and sit on the bank. In fact, I search for deeper water. Such is life when lived.”

— B.D. Gulledge

Life is filled with inevitable ups and downs: stormy experiences and also sometimes calm periods. Support systems can help us survive – even thrive – through challenging times, encourage us while we attempt to make changes in our life, and share the joy of our successes. Moreover, “new evidence supports what we feel instinctively: People need people. Inadequate social support is as dangerous to your health as smoking, lack of exercise, and obesity. … People with weakened social connections have higher rates of cancer, heart disease, infections, depression, arthritis, and problems during pregnancy.”1

Support systems are an ongoing need; they come into play whether or not you are in crisis. For example, when you are clear about your values and priorities in life, you might find support in being with people who not only embrace those same values and priorities, but also reinforce them in your life. When you are trying to learn new behaviors or make changes in your life, change is much easier if friends or family support your effort. Others can also provide us with roles modeling, showing us new options, or inspiration to stay with our efforts if they become challenging. “When we forget, we are reminded. When we have remembered, we become the reminders for others.”2 Also, as you attempt to make changes in your life, those who support you can provide a safe place to experiment with new ways of being.

There are several types of social support: emotional, information, physical and financial. Social support also takes many forms: relationships with family, friends, neighbors, casual acquaintances, memberships in groups and organizations, contacts at work, and pets. “When you seek support, first identify what type you really need. Then decide who might be able to provide it. Try answering the following questions to identify your sources of support:

When you are feeling upset, who can you share your most private fears and worries with?

Is there someone who takes pride in your accomplishments and thinks highly of you?

When you have a problem, who would you go to for practical advice or information?

If you needed a loan of $100 for an emergency, who would you go to?

Who would bring you dinner if you were sick (or even if you weren’t sick)?1

Although we may be able to get through much of life on our own efforts, seeking appropriate social support may help us to maintain “the best of ourselves and also supports the abandoning of the worst of ourselves. What greater gift can we give each other than that?”2

1. The Healthy Mind Healthy Body Handbook, David Sobel, MD and Robert Ornstein, PhD, Patient Education Media, Inc.: New York (1996)
2. The Beginner’s Guide to Insight Meditation, Arinna Weisman and Jean Smith, Bell Tower: New York (2001)

March 27, 2006 at 4:28 pm Leave a comment

Fresh Air Intake

“The true journey of discovery does not consist in searching for new territories, but in having new eyes.”

— Marcel Proust

Along side the driveway outside of the cafeteria at El Camino Hospital in Mountain View, where I periodically teach a one-day stress reduction retreat, there is a sign that reads:


No Parking or Idling Engines in This Area

Each time I see this sign it is a helpful reminder of how easily I get caught in and recycle my thoughts and behaviors, and how this keeps me stuck: parked or idling. Most of us have patterns of thoughts and behaviors that cycle through our minds over and over, much like tapes that we replay once they get triggered. Although this is a common human condition, it leaves us little chance for new responses and, more often, we find ourselves reacting automatically out of these conditioned thoughts and behaviors. At times, our automatic reacting causes us a great deal of stress or suffering, even if we are not aware of it at the time. More effective responses may arise if we can free ourselves from these automatic thoughts and patterns to see new options.

Just as most cars have a button on the dashboard which allows the driver to manage whether the air in the car is “fresh” (coming into the car from outside) or recycled (reprocessing the air already inside the car), each of us, too, can learn to chose whether we allow ourselves to take in new information, experiencing each situation with a “beginner’s mind” (seeing it as if for the very first time), or whether we merely react to each situation based on our preexisting thoughts, out of what we already think we know about the situation.

  • In what way(s) might you be recycling old thoughts and behaviors as you react to situations/challenges in your life?
  • Can you shift to a “fresh air intake,” allowing yourself to see these situations/challenges from a new perspective – to perceive new options for your response?

September 25, 2005 at 4:12 pm Leave a comment


“To allow oneself to be carried away
by a multitude of conflicting concerns,
To surrender to too many demands,
To commit oneself to too many projects,
To want to help everyone with everything
Is to succumb to violence.”

— Thomas Merton

Fall is arriving, and soon to follow comes the holiday season. This is a time of year that brings with it extremes. There are occasions for celebration, but also added busyness of preparation and events. Some people become filled with a sense of obligation to meet the expectations that may surround the holidays, related to friends and family. Other people become faced with a sense of loneliness and wanting, perhaps missing a loved one with whom to share the celebrations.

In either case, it is a time of year in which our energy often goes out to other people and events in our lives. With so much energy focuses outward, we can become depleted, stressed, and even depressed. Instead of enjoying the spirit of the holidays, we can become resentful, rundown, and look forward to them being over.

Self-care, although essential to our well-being throughout the year, can be especially important during the holiday season. The reality is that it is unlikely for us to be able to give to others or participate fully in celebratory events if we are feeling empty.

Self-care begins with the basics. None of this is likely news to you but it may serve as a helpful reminder nonetheless:

· Sleep
6 or more hours of sleep each night (depending on the individual) can help to keep you alert, your mood up, your irritability down and your immune system functioning well. (Sobel and Ornstein, The Healthy Mind Healthy Body, 1996, Patient Education Media, Inc.: New York)

· Nutrition
Maintaining a balanced diet of food is not just about your weight and body image. The quality and quantity of food you take in also has an impact on your ability to function most effectively, including your mood, your self-esteem, your energy level, and your immune system.

· Exercise
Exercise helps to improve your mood, lessening anxiety, depression, and stress. It can also boost optimism, self-esteem, confidence, and give you a greater sense of control. Physical activity can be a healthful coping strategy because it can also strengthen your immune system. (Sobel and Ornstein, 1996)

· Relaxation
“Relaxation doesn’t always require twenty minutes of meditation or muscle relaxation, as useful though they may be. Look for quick and easy opportunities in your everyday life to rapidly relax and refresh yourself.” “Take advantage of the attainable pleasures in life whenever you can—good films, baseball games, autumn foliage, sunsets. Indulging in personal pleasures does a lot to keep you relaxed, happy and healthy.” (p. 88, Sobel and Ornstein, 1996)

The bottom line is that even though the holiday season may bring up events that revolve around giving your energy and attention to others, if you start with yourself you may actually have something left to give them. According to the Buddha,

“You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe deserve your love and affection.”

September 21, 2003 at 3:08 pm Leave a comment

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