Relieve stress

Relieve Stress: Three Simple Ways

Relieve Stress, Build Resilience, Find Inner Peace

Do you have trouble sleeping, suffer aches and pains, overindulge in food or alcohol? These are just some of the common symptoms of stress, the number 1 health risk in the U.S. What is the cause of your stress? Is it the news, deadlines or financial issues, challenging relationships? It may surprise you that none of these create your stress. The real cause is how you respond to them.

We all have the capacity to build resilience to stress and bounce back from adversities in life. It was built into our DNA back when humans confronted or escaped wild beasts, or endured hard weather conditions.  While the “beasts” in our modern world are totally different forms, our thoughts and emotions are just as heightened—except it’s 24/7—never a break.

Relaxation, mindfulness and meditation are powerful and proven ways to help restore your resilience and well-being. These ancient practices are being used today as complimentary to traditional medical, even in the military.

Turning the thinking mind off is one of the first challenges since thoughts can cause emotions to flare. Clarity and wisdom have no way to break through.

Three ways: to help you relax your mind through your body:

  1. Bring attention into an area of the body, maybe your hands or feet.
  2. Take a few deep breaths with long exhalations to help you feel into the present moment.
  3. Recall a real or imagined place where you feel safe, grounded and at ease—and allow yourself to feel these qualities in your body.

In Relieve Stress with iRest® Meditation you’ll learn to integrate practices like these into your life along with many others. iRest, short for Integrative Restoration, is a proven approach to help alleviate the symptoms of anxiety, depression, PTSD, chronic illnesses and so much more. It helps to build inner strength and resilience to better meet life from a place of joy and inner peace. It’s easy to do sitting comfortably or lying down and following the guided meditation. (Check Courses page)

The next step

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

We live in a culture that views success as a process of steadily moving forward, while moving backward implies failure. The title of this article was a phrase used by President Obama in his farewell speech to the nation; he was referring to the historical forward and sometimes backward movement of our country’s progress. Let’s put aside the debate as to whether the U.S. is currently moving forward or backward and consider the phrase as a metaphor for our personal lives. While time marches on linearly, as much as we may wish it to be different, our lives often fail to progress in the same manner, and discouragement may prevail.

Just as tides ebb and flow, there is a continual back-and-forth movement in the ebb and flowtrajectory of our lives. Our best-laid plans can fall short or, for whatever reason, not come to fruition. Taking a step back periodically is a natural and sometimes necessary component of life. It can help us replenish and build the inner strength and courage to meet life circumstances. The key to our growth as human beings is the ability to welcome the backward movements when they come—as they inevitably will—and learn from them, rather than allow discouragement to stifle our spirit and motivation.

As Oswald Chambers, an early 20th-century Scottish Baptist evangelist, wrote, If you are going through a time of discouragement, there is a time of great personal growth ahead.” 

Backward resistance

Backward steps, as well as side steps and twirling, add intricacy and enjoyment to social dancing. But when it comes to our personal lives, going backwards generally doesn’t feel good. We may even try to avoid it at all costs. It may be a cliché, but whatever we resist persists. Resistance in fact may be hazardous to our well-being and ultimately cause much pain and suffering.

resistenceWhen obstacles block our path, a knee-jerk reaction may be frustration, anger, dismay, or outright grief. There are times when the backward movement seems far greater than just one step. Many people are bitter about the outcome of the recent election. But losses are inevitable and come in many forms. We have all faced the loss of a loved one or relationship, a job or opportunity, or an investment in a dream. I’ve personally had my share of such losses. But rather than let our losses put us into a tailspin, I’ve learned that at least initially it is best to surrender to the emotional plunge rather than resist it.

In the midst of a backward movement, old beliefs and fears may surface. The situation may require not only a step backwards but also a side step into uncharted territory where we don’t feel safe. We may become overwhelmed and think “I’m not good (smart, capable, strong) enough.”  We may ask “How did this happen?” “Why me?” “What did I do wrong?” We may feel alone, unloved, unseen, unheard, or unappreciated.

Worst of all, we may succumb to being a victim and just give up. But giving up only stifles the spirit. When we surrender to the “poor me syndrome, which can give rise to addictive behaviors as we seek ways to numb our pain, we tune out from life.

Uncovering courage

heart The Latin word for courage is cor, which literally means “heart.” The original meaning of courage is “to stand by one’s core.” The prefix dis signifies a moving away from or a reversing force. When we continue to feed our discouragement with negative thoughts and emotions, we move away from our core, our heartfelt values, and aliveness.

When fear and other negative emotions take over, we “disour courage. Power is taken away from what truly wants to emerge—our inner wisdom and strength. While our physical body constantly seeks the homeostasis of health and harmony, our emotions and thoughts can be examined and soothed to enable them to reestablish harmony. We can benefit deeply when we step back and just be present with what is. When we take this opportunity and set judgment aside, we create space to be open and understand what is getting in the way of our emotional harmony.

Mark Nepo, author of Facing the Lion, Being the Lion: Finding Inner Courage, teaches us how to face the lion, our inner core of courage, and then stand by it, live through it, and encourage others to do the same. We admire those people who summon up the courage to help in life-threatening situations, stand up to an abusive partner, or bounce back from a major life setback. Those people, Nepo says, have an inner courage. “By inner courage,” he writes, “I mean the ground of quiet braveries from which the more visible braveries sprout.”

We all have this inner courage that can help us meet the disappointments in our life without overreacting to them. When we connect with our inner core, we are better able to meet our life circumstances in a grounded way. We stay open so that we can be engaged with life.

self compassionHeart of courage

The human spirit has an amazing resiliency; we truly want to be happy.  Yet, it’s easy to get stuck in the muck of our setbacks.

One clear way to access our inner core is through love and compassion—not just through our feelings for others but through self-compassion. Many of the people I work with find it a tall order to be kind to themselves, especially those who are struggling to recover from trauma. But by accessing our inner core of courage and learning to stand by it and live from it, we honor our values and can be true to ourselves.

Having learned to step back and both face and listen to my core of courage has enhanced my ability to encourage others to do the same. You too can find your heart of courage and once again take big steps forward.

beginnings from endings

Beginnings from Endings: Hope for Something Better

Every ending creates space for a new beginning to emerge—a seedbed of potentiality and hope for something better. It’s a law of nature that life continually seeks places to germinate. Beginnings from endings can be an exciting time for us with opportunities for change. A time to establish a new habit, relationship, city, or a completely new way of life. But it also means saying good-bye to what we have known, loved, or lost.

“New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings.”—Lao Tzu

“We grin and bear it ’cause the nights are long. I hope that somethin’ better comes along.” — The Muppets

hope for something betterExperiencing an ending, loss, or defeat can cause us to become immobilized. We might grieve for what once was or might have been, as Lao Tzu (ancient Chinese philosopher) and the Muppets realized.

Beginning a new year in the North, with its long winter nights and bitter cold, can be trying. What I’m most motivated to do is snuggle up by a fire, sip hot tea, reflect, and turn in early. Nature turns inward at this time of year to conserve energy. I believe we should as well.

Moving through any transition means allowing space for self-reflection. This space invites our heart’s deepest longings to be revealed. Being fully human is to learn from what has ended, find something that gives us inspiration for the future, and take action by cultivating new seeds. But we must also be prepared for future endings.

Learning from endings

Every ending is ripe with messages to learn from. But how can we learn from endings that cause disappointment or grief? If we simply try to bypass our emotional reaction to the ending and get on with life, we miss the chance to honor the best parts of those experiences or find closure through acceptance or forgiveness. We also risk stuffing unresolved emotions that can plague us in the future.

new beginningThere is a Buddhist story about a woman whose only child had died. Unwilling to accept his death, she sought out the Buddha and pleaded with him to bring back her child. He promised to create a medicine for this if she would gather mustard seeds from all the neighbors in her village who had not been touched by death. She, of course, discovered that everyone had been touched. She was then able to accept the death, find peace, and move forward with her life. When we acknowledge the sorrows from our loss, we can begin to cherish a new beginning.

As humans, no matter what our religious faith, beliefs, ideologies, or values, we have much in common. When we attempt to gather “mustard seeds,” we find that everyone experiences some kind of suffering.

Everyone experiences losses and disappointments. Everyone has fears, including fears of getting sick, getting old, and passing away. Everyone has desires and unfulfilled dreams. Everyone wants to be safe and secure and experience peace. Everyone wants to be happy and feel loved and cared for.

Choosing one’s own way

With the increasing disharmonies and divisiveness in the world, isn’t it time to rethink our connection with others and value the things we have in common? Isn’t it time to learn how to live our lives with less effort and more ease rather than great effort, stress, and dis-ease? Isn’t it time to reflect on what is really important in our lives and contemplate our spiritual nature and maybe even how we fit into the bigger scheme of things?

Search for meaningVictor Frankl, who survived two Nazi death camps, wrote in his book Man’s Search for Meaning about the men who walked through huts at the camps comforting others. He said, “…everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstances….” He went on to say that to choose one’s own way is a spiritual freedom that can’t be taken away—and it makes life meaningful.

Emotional suffering from circumstances in our life and in the world can compromise our physical, mental, and spiritual health. In spite of what is going on in and around us, this concept of spiritual freedom can help us shift our perspective—and our health. When an individual can face death and still find purpose, imagine what we can do when we take time to contemplate our deepest longings. Uncovering what we value—what we believe in and care about and what brings us joy—can give us  hope and inspiration. While this may seem like a lofty process, when we regularly take time for self-reflection—through journaling, meditation, a solitary walk, or a talk with a trusted confidant, the answers begin to become clear.

Hope, Inspiration Action

InspireThe root of the words “inspire” and “spirit” is spiritus, which means to “breathe.” Living in harmony with our core values inspires us to breathe in hopes and ideas and animates us to take action.

Whether changing a habit, identifying a new life direction, or beginning a new project, it’s important to be aware of obstacles and find ways to overcome them. What may block you from living in alignment with your values—lack of time, resources, distraction? Taking action requires not only letting go of the past but also controlling the outcome. Remain open and curious about future possibilities, and the hope for something better.

When endings leave us feeling broken, we may also feel isolated. Hope and faith can help build an inner sanctuary of safety to help us move beyond our own condition. Having human connections provides us essential support and the security of community. These connections may even “conspire” to new help us find a meaningful path. Conspire means to breathe together in harmony.

Embrace the light

The poet Rumi said, “The wound is the place where the light enters you.” When we embrace the light of hope, faith, self-confidence, and compassion for others, we move beyond our own condition.

Desmond Doss

Desmond Doss

Desmond Doss is an example of someone who exuded this approach. He was a 145-pound World War II medic of the 77th Army Division who served at Hacksaw Ridge (also the title of a book and recent movie) on Okinawa, Japan. As a conscientious objector, he refused to carry a gun. Yet, following battle, but still under enemy fire, he single-handedly rescued 75 men and lowered them to safety below the ridge over a 12-hour period. He continued to say, “Lord, let me find one more.” If you can stomach the war scenes, it’s an incredibly inspiring movie.

Whenever plagued by inner anxieties and self-doubts, take time to reflect on your deepest values. You’re bound to find a spark of hope. Savor each step forward, each accomplishment, and every tiny pleasure. Draw inspiration from your endings your new beginnings to flourish.

Islands: connection in the deep

Connection: Feel Supported, Valued, Loved

“We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep,” wrote American philosopher and psychologist William James over 100 years ago. Modern science is now revealing how we are “connected in the deep.” We are born with the natural urge—wired in our brains—for connection, and this urge continues throughout our lives. Ironically, however, even though social media connections continue to grow exponentially, we seem to be more separate now than at any time in history, as loneliness, isolation, and alienation are reported to be on the increase.

Heart – love in actionAs social beings, we crave to feel supported, valued, and loved. It is well documented that true social connection lowers stress and improves physical health and psychological well-being. Isn’t it time to get back to valuing true connection and learn ways to improve or enhance our connectedness to one another—and especially to ourselves?

Disconnection

Everything in life is about connection. When we leave the nurturing, loving environment of our mother’s womb, we are suddenly separated from our source. From that point on, we seek ways to reconnect and make new connections. But inevitably there are more disconnections. Our mother is not always available, there is no one to play with, etc. As we grow and move out into the world, life circumstances change. Losses, failures, and unfulfilled dreams leave us feeling isolated or even that something’s wrong with us. When a friend or confidant is nowhere to be found, the tendency may be to stuff our feelings. Our reaction might even be something we’ve witnessed in the adults who mentor us. Such a situation can turn into a lifelong conditioned response, and we lose the ability to trust others and share our true feelings.

In the May-June 2016 issue of Scientific American Mind, an article entitled “Friendships: The Remarkable Power of Our Closest Connections” revealed that 50% of American adults now report that they have zero close friends. This is down from two close friends reported in similar studies 10 years earlier. Yet, according to Brené Brown, professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, “We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong.” So what is the disconnect here? We crave connection, yet we’re losing our ability to achieve it.

interconnected with natureConnectedness was an essential part of life for early humans. Not only were they connected to one another, but they also had an interdependent relationship with nature. Being social was just as essential as having food, water, and shelter. In today’s world we no longer have that deep connection with our tribe or environment. In our busy lives we have ready access to connection on demand that helps us surf the surface of other people’s lives but neglects the depth. We’re becoming emotionally lazy, as we’re drawn to connect via methods that are fast, easy, and always at hand—and that don’t require physical presence.

Genuine connection

According to Sherry Turkle, professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT, “Genuine connection and companionship involves emotional risk—the risk of being authentically yourself, of being vulnerable, honest, and open.” Intimacy is what’s most essential. But human bonds take time and care to form and maintain. Intimacy involves trust with someone who can be a true confidant, who has our back, and who is not critical of our flaws.

MIrror neurons

Mirror neurons

Human connectedness runs deep in our brains. Neuroscientists have discovered that we have the capacity to read other people’s minds. I’m not referring to psychic abilities. We are able to become attuned to another person‘s actions and nonverbal behaviors through a phenomenon called mirror neurons. When we tell a friend about a happy experience we’ve had, for example, neurons in our brain light up in all the networks associated with that memory. As we convey this experience through words and body language, the mirror neurons in our friend light up as well. In turn, our neurons pick up her signals that let us know we’ve been heard and accepted. This could help explain how and why we feel empathy for people when they are suffering.

Research has also revealed that whenever we finish doing something analytic or engage in nonsocial thinking, the network in the brain for social thinking lights up almost instantly, like a reflex. This spontaneous reaction prepares us for the next moment in our lives. We switch from taking in information to being ready to send it out. Our brain prepares us to be in the world socially.

Deeper connection

connectednessIn this vastly changing world, I believe we are charting new territory in exploring what it means to be human. We can’t go back to living like our ancestors. But we also must not cast aside the basic elements of body, mind, and spirit that connect us with one another. Let’s explore some ways we can learn to enhance our connections.

Touch: What’s drastically missing in the connection-on-demand culture is physical touch. “To touch can be to give life,” said Michelangelo. When we touch someone we strengthen bonds and give life to a relationship. A pat on the back, a caress of the arm, a hug—especially a big hug—are primary ways of expressing caring and compassion. Touch is fundamental to human communication and it provides incredible emotional and physical health benefits. A simple touch activates the vagus nerve, which can calm the body and stimulate the release of oxytocin, the “feel good” hormone. Even the sound of loving words can resonate in the body, touch the heart, and deepen connection.

Deep listening: Probably the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention. Being fully present to another cannot be accomplished through a text or email. Physical presence is essential. It requires setting aside our own needs and agendas and not rehearsing what we’re going to say in response while the other is talking. When we become fully present, we open our hearts and minds to the deeper being beneath the words, and do so with a curiosity and openness. This intimate way of listening is particularly powerful following a great loss or during a difficult change or transition. It can create space for compassion; when you lose yourself in another, feel what they feel. But it also exposes our vulnerability as we face the possibility of hearing disturbing truths we don’t want to hear. Ultimately, though, it can open the door for mutually experiencing a deeper sense of self-acceptance and self-appreciation.

Befriend yourself: It’s often recommended that if you want a friend, be a friend. What better place to start than with yourself. Believing in yourself helps you to enjoy your own company. This sense of “okayness” with yourself can transmit to others, conveying that you are a caring person whom others will want to be connected with. I can vouch for this approach; being alone doesn’t have to be lonely. It can actually provide an opportunity for your heartfelt life mission to be revealed and unfold. If you don’t have a partner, you can still feel connection to life. We all need to give ourselves a hug every now and then!

Connect to life!

Few have understood connectedness as well as Martin Luther King Jr., who said: “It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tired into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one destiny, affects all indirectly.”

Are you ready to take the challenge of finding ways to become more “connected in the deep”?

stress-relief with iRest meditation

Post-Election – Pre-Holiday Stress-Relief

Have you felt overly stressed during the recent election season? Do you feel dis-heartened with opposing ideologies and uncertainty about the future?

I offer you this short 6-minute stress-relief restorative iRest meditation. May this help you de-stress, re-harmonize, and access an inner resource to help you restore resilience to meet whatever shows up during the coming times ahead.

hemmingway

Using Your Three Brains to Access Grace Under Pressure

Evoking the quality and tone of the modern era, Ernest Hemingway coined the phrase “grace under pressure.” In his major works of fiction, he created protagonists who face defeat without panic, much as he did in his own life. Today, personal and societal pressures have never been greater, which can take a massive toll on our health and well-being, and keeping one’s cool under pressure may never have been harder. When pressures arise, we need to learn how to engage our three brains — head, heart and gut — to help us realize our true self and access the grace to meet life with a resilient spirit. Continue reading

keywords

What Are Your Keywords?

Have you ever noticed the highlighted words in an Internet article or blog? These are known as keywords, terms that are used to classify or organize digital content or to facilitate an online search for information. Prior to digital technology, on which we all depend these days, keyword referred to a significant or memorable term in the title, abstract, or text of a print document used as the index entry. Keyword is also widely used to mean a word or concept of great significance.

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Loving Kindness

Embracing Wholehearted Living

“In a full heart there is room for everything, and in an empty heart there is room for nothing.” —Antonio Porchia, Argentine poet

We commonly think of the heart as simply an organ that pumps blood through our bodies. Yet we use  the word heart  in myriad ways in our everyday language. We learn things by heart, have a heavy heart,  are lighthearted, or have a heart-to-heart with someone. Our heart sinks or turns to stone, we suffer from a broken heart, or our heart goes out to someone. We follow our heart’s desire, give from the heart, or get to the heart of something. Clearly, our heart has many more functions in our lives than simply pumping.  These functions represent fragments of a greater wholeness of being we have a tendency to lose sight of.

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curious cat

Curiosity-Driven Life

“Curiosity killed the cat,” as the proverb goes. We certainly can get into mischief when we get too nosy. However, there is a rejoinder to this proverb that states “but satisfaction brought it back.” Dr. Linus Pauling said, “Satisfaction of one’s curiosity is one of the greatest sources of happiness in life.”
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Are You Riding the Sea Change?

Does the news of the day get you down—global violence, economic and social unrest, and environmental disasters? Do you fear what the future will hold for you and your loved ones? Do you long for things to be better, yet feel helpless? There may just be another landscape with hope for a better world.

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