Posts tagged ‘Tools’

Taking a Time-Out

“When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound,
in fear of what my life and my children’s life may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water,
and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives
with forethought of grief.

I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light.

For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”

— Wendell Berry

Summer solstice, the longest day of the year, has recently passed. The longer days of summer, bringing more sunlight, warmth and time spent outdoors, help to lift our spirits. Many people reserve time during the summer to take a vacation, get away, or in some way experience a change of environment and pace. Even so, the challenges of our everyday life persist or are most likely waiting for us when we return.

Just as a vacation can serve as a break from the routine of your day-to-day life, whenever you become aware that you are stressed or angry, taking a “time-out” can shift the progression of either of these two uncomfortable and destructive states of mind and body. A “time-out” may perhaps be the single most useful strategy in stopping the escalation of stress and anger.

McKay, Rogers, and McKay describe the process for taking a “time-out” in their book, When Anger Hurts. Although the authors describe this process based on anger or stress experienced while you are engaged interpersonally, with some simple modifications you can use the same process individually. Here are four steps they suggest as part of this technique:

1. “T” Time:
When you realize that your stress or anger is rising, communicate verbally or through a simple neutral gesture that you need (or want) to take a time-out.

2. Leaving and Returning:
Leave the stressful situation for an agreed period of time. “Agreeing ahead of time will prevent any misconception that this necessary separation is a form of running away or a means of punishing the other person with abandonment.” “It is important to allow yourself an adequate amount of time to cool off. It is even more important to return when the time is up.”

3. While You’re Gone:
While you are away from the stressful situation do something physically challenging that will help to reduce the tension in your body, such as taking a long walk or going for a run. Or use a relaxation technique that works for you, such as abdominal breathing, or meditation. “If angry thoughts come to your mind, let them come. And then let them go. … Don’t hang on to angry thoughts or wasting time building a case. The more you focus on proving how wrong and awful the offender is, the angrier you get. Resist getting stuck in rehearsing what you should say. If you do, you may return more upset than when you left. Don’t drink or use drugs while you’re away. Please don’t drive. Angry drivers are a real danger to themselves and others.”

4. When You Get Back:
“When you come back be sure to ‘check-in.’ More than anything else, this will help to build trust in the relationship. The check-in involves a willingness on both sides to communicate. See if you’re ready to talk about the issue. If not, set a specific time when you’ll be ready to do so. Talking about what made you angry will help you both to reduce the possibility of escalating anger in the future.”

Finally, the authors suggest that “the best way to get into the swing of taking time-outs is to practice when you are not angry. … The more you practice taking time-outs, the easier it will be when the real thing happens.”

For more details about this and related practices, I recommend McKay, Rogers, and McKay’s book: When Anger Hurts, McKay, Rogers and McKay, New Harbinger Publications, Inc.: Oakland, CA (1989)

June 23, 2003 at 2:56 pm Leave a comment

Live the Questions

“Be patient toward all that is unresolved in your heart
And try to love the questions themselves
Like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue

Do not seek for the answers that cannot be given
For you would not be able to live them

And the point is to live everything

Live the questions now
And perhaps without knowing it
You will live along some day into the answers”

— Rainer Maria Rilke

As we “spring forward” this weekend and we change the clock, officially marking this seasonal transition, many of us are feeling the uncertainty of personal, local, and global circumstances. One thing that we can count on is the uncertainty of life.

Perhaps one of the best ways we can take care of ourselves throughout the uncertainty that living brings is to stay in the present moment rather than getting caught up in the speculation of what may occur in the future, or ruminating about what has happened in the past. “But how do we do this amidst the challenges that face us each day?,” you might ask? How do we respond to all of the worries that arise?

Lewis Richmond states in his book, Work as a Spiritual Practice, “Worry is the mind’s way of trying to deal with a fear, to explain it, verbalize it, define it, and organize it, so the fear is not so shapeless and menacing. Worry can be exhausting and destructive. But it can also be creative. Which one it will be depends on our attitude toward it and how we use it. In the same sense that fear is courage in the making, worry is wisdom in the making. It seems to threaten us, but it is also trying to help us. … Worry helps. Worry lets us know what is important.”

Lew makes the observation that “worry manifests itself as a question.” Therefore, to deal with worry, we can work with the question. Here are four steps Lew suggests for doing that:

1. Raise the Question: Ask yourself, “What is the question?”
“Construct a simple declarative sentence that states, as simply as possible, what the question is.”

2. Repeat the Question: “Whenever it occurs to you, repeat that phrase to yourself.”
Just the simple exercise of verbalizing the question can have a significant impact. The worst kind of worry is the inarticulate kind. Giving shape to our fear, giving it verbal form, can help.”

3. Follow the Question: “It means remembering the question and bringing it repeatedly back into consciousness … not obsessively, but attentively.”
If it transforms, then let it become the new question and follow it. Sometimes the question becomes a statement or becomes shorter, even compressing itself overtime into a single word. “Over time, the question takes on a life of its own. It moves under, around, and through your life, looking for a way through.”

4. Settle the Question:
“Either the question resolves itself into some kind of answer or else it subsides and dies away. If an answer comes, that’s good! But if the question dies away, if over time you forget about it, that’s all right too. Then the energy of the question gets put away, stored as though in a desk drawer, until the time comes for it to reemerge in another form.”

Engaging this practice, Lew suggests that we can “use the question as a digging tool, to excavate something buried within.” “The questioning spirit says, ‘I will stay with this question regardless of whether an answer ever comes. This question, for now is my life.’”

For more details about this and related practices, I recommend Lew’s book:
Work as a Spiritual Practice, Lewis Richmond, Broadway Books: NY (1999)

April 3, 2003 at 2:50 pm 2 comments

Affirmative Aspirations: Positive statements of self-worth and acceptance

2002 has been a stressful time for so many people and the holiday season can add to that stress. While the holidays may offer joyous festivities with family and friends, it’s not unusual to feel additional stress during this time of tight schedules with so many things to do.

Acknowledging the stresses of the holiday season, I’d like to suggest affirmative aspirations as an alternative to the tradition of making resolutions to start the New Year.

New Year’s resolutions often derive from the negative judgments we hold about ourselves, the “shoulds” that we feel we are not living up to. We end up deriding ourselves when we find that we have abandoned these resolutions weeks or months later.

Instead of setting these types of resolutions, I encourage you to reflect on what is most important to you and to affirm that in your daily life. Affirmative aspirations are most effective when stated in the first person (“I”), present tense (confirming that it is already true) and reviewed on a daily basis.

Example: Upon reflection, I recognize that spending more time with my family is a priority and an aspiration for myself. I also notice that I often give more of my time to work than I would like, which reduces the time I have to spend with my family.

Affirmation: I am enjoying spending more time with my family each week while still successfully maintaining my commitments in my work.

December 20, 2002 at 2:39 pm Leave a comment

The Power of the Breath

“I took a deep breath and listened to the old bray of my heart. I am. I am. I am.”

Sylvia Plath

 The breath is one of your most powerful assets for staying balanced throughout the ups and downs of living.

Using your breath you can positively impact your physiological state. By deliberately taking two or three diaphragmatic breaths in succession, you can counteract the stress arousal reactions that occur in your body when you become anxious, angry, or overwhelmed. Here is an easy way to shift into diaphragmatic breathing: exhale completely, once complete push even a little more air out, your subsequent inhalation will come from your diaphragm.

By accessing your breath, you can also positively impact your state of mind. Your breath can help you shift your mind away from distorted thoughts (ruminating/replaying the past, or worrying about/anticipating the future) and bring your attention back into the present moment, where you have real options. Whenever you notice your mind is caught in a preoccupying thought, simply bring your awareness to the process of your breath entering and exiting your body, and you will be shifting your mind back into the here and now.

As long as you are alive, your breath is always accessible as an anchor, a home base. The most challenging aspect of using the power of your breath is remembering to access it!

August 15, 2002 at 2:34 pm Leave a comment

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Julie Forbes, Ph.D.

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