Posts tagged ‘Reminders’

Vacation

1: a respite or a time of respite from something : intermission
2: a scheduled period during which activity (as of a court or school) is suspended
3: a period spent away from home or business in travel or recreation <had a restful vacation at the beach>

— Merriam-Webster Dictionary

The kids are out of school. The weather is warm. It is summertime and a common season of the year during which to take a vacation. All too often, however, the vacation that ensues has the same quality of busyness and demands that people are intending to escape. People often joke that upon their return, they really need a vacation to recover from their “vacation.”

Instead of choosing travel or highly active recreation for your vacation, in a manner that continues the busyness reflected in your day-to-day life, consider truly taking some time off. If your life is filled with a demanding schedule, the most effective vacation may be one in which activity is suspended for a period of time. Taking time for reflection, rest, and relaxation may be called for. Rather than adding stimulation to an overextended lifestyle, this kind of “down-time” can be rejuvenating and nourishing for your body and mind. In addition, you don’t have to wait until you’ve accrued a week or more of vacation to take this kind of “down-time” for yourself – even a quiet three day weekend from time-to-time spent in the presence of nature can be a breath of fresh air as a break from the non-stop activity of everyday life.

Henry David Thoreau (from Walden, Chapter 4) can serve as a role model for recharging your batteries with a vacation of suspended activity:

“I did not read books the first summer; I hoed beans. Nay, I often did better than this. There were times when I could not afford to sacrifice the bloom of the present moment to any work, whether of the head or hands. I love a broad margin to my life. Sometimes, in a summer morning, having taken my accustomed bath, I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise till noon, rapt in a reverie, amidst the pines and hickories and sumachs, in undisturbed solitude and stillness, while the birds sing around or flitted noiseless through the house, until by the sun falling in at my west window, or the noise of some traveller’s wagon on the distant highway, I was reminded of the lapse of time. I grew in those seasons like corn in the night, and they were far better than any work of the hands would have been. They were not time subtracted from my life, but so much over and above my usual allowance. I realized what the Orientals mean by contemplation and the forsaking of works. For the most part, I minded not how the hours went. The day advanced as if to light some work of mine; it was morning, and lo, now it is evening, and nothing memorable is accomplished. Instead of singing like the birds, I silently smiled at my incessant good fortune. As the sparrow had its trill, sitting on the hickory before my door, so had I my chuckle or suppressed warble which he might hear out of my nest. My days were not days of the week, bearing the stamp of any heathen deity, nor were they minced into hours and fretted by the ticking of a clock; for I lived like the Puri Indians, of whom it is said that “for yesterday, today, and tomorrow they have only one word, and they express the variety of meaning by pointing backward for yesterday forward for tomorrow, and overhead for the passing day.” This was sheer idleness to my fellow-townsmen, no doubt; but if the birds and flowers had tried me by their standard, I should not have been found wanting. A man must find his occasions in himself, it is true. The natural day is very calm, and will hardly reprove his indolence.”

July 1, 2008 at 5:31 pm Leave a comment

Seeing More Clearly

“If you let cloudy water settle, it will become clear. If you let your upset mind settle, your course will also become clear.”

— From Buddha’s Little Instruction Book
(Kornfield: Bantum Books, 1994)

The word “Mindfulness” comes from the Pali word “Vipassana,” which, if translated directly into English, means “to see clearly.” Accordingly, the practice of Mindfulness consists of cultivating the ability to see our experience more clearly. As we develop Mindfulness, we become aware of our patterns of reaction, which are otherwise unconscious or automatic. Instead of getting caught in these automatic patterns of reacting, from this place of clear seeing, we can make choices that are more effective – that serve us better. By reducing our tendency to get caught in the automatic reactions of pushing away what we don’t want or holding onto what we do want (in other words: wanting things to be different), and instead seeing what is true and responding to that, we can minimize the stress and maximize the well-being in our lives. This is the possibility that developing greater awareness provides us.

Applying an analogy may help to understand this dynamic better. Imagine that your mind is like a pond full of water. If you stir up the water in a pond, it becomes muddy, cloudy and opaque; likewise, your constantly agitated mind becomes busy and murky. However, if you stop stirring up the water in the pond and let it sit idle, the sediment will sink to the bottom, leaving the water clear. Through this clear water, you can begin to see what is actually in the pond: rocks, fish, plants, etc. In the same way, if you sit for a period without agitating your mind, your thoughts will settle down, allowing you to see more clearly what your experience truly is. You will have the opportunity to notice what is underneath all of the busyness of your life so that you can respond to it more effectively.

In order to make positive changes in your life towards improved well-being, you first need to recognize what is keeping you stuck where you are; then you can make new, constructive choices. Taking time each day to practice Mindfulness, cultivating awareness of the present moment, is a process that can take you in this direction. At risk of quoting Dr. Phil, “You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge.”

April 6, 2008 at 5:22 pm Leave a comment

Independence Day

Unconditional

Willing to experience aloneness,
I discover connection everywhere;

Turning to face my fear,
I meet the warrior who lives within;

Opening to my loss,
I gain the embrace of the universe;

Surrendering into emptiness,
I find fullness without end.

Each condition I flee from pursues me,
Each condition I welcome transforms me.

— Jennifer Paine Welwood

In the United States, Independence Day commemorates the day the Declaration of Independence was first adopted by the Continental Congress – declaring independence of the United States from the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1776. This was the day our democracy was born. This legacy of freedom has had a major impact on the manner in which citizens of this country live our lives, our values, and our responsibilities.

In spite of the external independence that a democracy provides us, most of us are not truly liberated. Instead, we have become imprisoned by patterns of unconscious reactions that have become habituated and, although at some point earlier in our lives they worked to help us survive, they are no longer serving us well.

To put these unconscious habituated patterns in context, first it is important to acknowledge that there is inevitable pain (an affliction) that comes with being alive. It is not possible to be born, to live, and to die without experiencing a variety of pain.

Additionally, and even more impactful, there is often an enormous amount of optional suffering that accompanies the core pain – it is related to our experience of the pain itself. This option suffering arises when we react to the pain either with aversion (pushing away what we don’t want) or attachment (holding on to what we want to maintain). We are frequently unaware of these reactions of aversion and attachment that are the source of our suffering; they are part of the automatic patterns we’ve internalized. Although we cannot avoid the affliction of pain that arises in life, we do have the ability to free ourselves from the optional suffering that results from our reactions to this pain.

The key to freedom from optional suffering is to develop greater awareness of our automatic patterns of reaction. In seeing these reactions with our own eyes, we develop the skill to respond with choice rather than to be stuck, reacting out of habit. Ultimately, we have the capability of relating differently to the pain in our lives – the potential to meet it directly, without adding optional suffering – letting go of the habitual reactions that have kept us trapped. Freeing ourselves from this optional suffering, to whatever extent we can, we can approach true independence.

“Freedom is what you do with what’s been done to you.”
— Jean-Paul Sartre

July 3, 2007 at 5:01 pm Leave a comment

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.”

References:
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:

FRESH AIR INTAKE

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

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Julie Forbes, Ph.D. photo
Julie Forbes, Ph.D.

STRESS MANAGEMENT
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