Even though there are situations in which we have no control over what happens and no ability to affect the outcome, is it possible to stay cool in a world that is constantly making demands and creating challenges?
“Usually, when we feel the pressure of life—when it is very busy with all kinds of commotion taking place around us—then we go on to autopilot mode, a state of self-protection and self-preservation,” says teacher Ponlop Rinpoche.* “We think everyone is attacking us or taking advantage of us, and we cannot see anyone or anything objectively or lovingly. But when our mind can relax a little and become calm and more spacious, then we see there is nothing to fear.”
So what are the best ways to keep our cool? How can we transform a stressed state before we start taking it out on those around us? Here are five ways that work for us:
1. Nothing Stays The Same: We never know what is going to happen or when—nothing is predictable, permanent, secure, controllable, or dependable. Everything is subject to change in every moment. Just imagine if everything was permanent. Imagine if we were always the same: there would be no butterflies, no full moon, no ocean tides, no cherry blossoms, and no cherries! Which means that even getting stressed out will pass. Impermanence is our reality, so when we resist it, then we are resisting the very meaning of being here, which is to always be evolving or becoming something more than what we were before.
2. Communicate, Communicate: When we start to lose our cool, then we become unable to share our feelings and we remain locked in a separate world from each other. The one thing we believe has made our marriage work as long as it has, despite many ups and downs, is communication. Only when we start talking is there room for healing.
“We define ourselves as separate beings, and if we are separate, then we have to put a wall up around ourselves,” says singer Krishna Das.* “We have to protect ourselves and our feelings so that no one else can get to them. Our problems are because this wall does not just protect us, but it also locks us out of our own hearts and so we continue to be isolated and to suffer.”
3. Attitudes and Affirmations: Stressed? Become aware of your reactive thinking patterns. Are your thoughts becoming more annoyed, self-centered, fearful, or powerless? If you are feeling increasingly helpless with a growing sense of inadequacy, turn your thoughts into ones such as: “I am absolutely capable of fulfilling anything that is asked of me,” “I have all the knowledge that I need to do this already inside me,” or “I am fully resourceful and able to rise to this challenge.”
If you normally react by getting irritated at interruptions until you are shouting, take some deep breaths and silently repeat, “My work is flowing well. Nothing can disturb that flow. I can easily take a few minutes to attend to other issues.”
4. Breath Awareness: The more stressed we become, the more our breathing becomes rapid, short, and shallow. We release stress the moment we breathe more deeply.
“I do this thing with the children where I say, ‘Breathing in, I calm my body; breathing out, I smile. Breathing in, I know this supreme moment; breathing out, I know it is a wonderful moment.’ When I do that with the children, they all jump for joy. It is very cool,” says musician Wavy Gravy.*
“The greatest discovery for me was that just breathing could become the most fantastically enjoyable experience I could possibly imagine,” says author Tim Freke.* “And I thought, well, if I can get this much pleasure from just breathing, then I’m okay, because as long as I am alive, I am going to have breath. This was huge for me, this sinking into the breath in the body.”
5. Staying Balanced: We are not human doings, we are human beings. We will not stay sane unless we unwind by hitting the pause button and taking time to just be.
“A long time ago, I came across a definition of meditation that it comes from the root meaning ‘right balance.’ That rang true for me because, personally, my attention is often so fragmented, egocentric, narcissistic, or self-concerned that there isn’t a whole lot of inner balance or alignment with what is,” says author and teacher Joan Borysenko.* “Rather, I am stuck in a state of non-balance. Right balance is when my mind is not spinning out endless movies and delusions, or maybe it still is but I am just not so attached to believing them. Meditation is when I can watch stuff go by and the part of me that usually interrupts and says, ‘That’s a good story, or that son of a bitch, or I’m guilty and awful,’ that part sits back and sees it as just one more story but without attachment to it. This gives me the most delicious sense of spaciousness and peace.”
*All the above quotes are from our book: BE THE CHANGE, How Meditation Can Transform You and the World.
A 4-week webinar (on-line course) with Ed and Deb Shapiro on discovering the greatest gift you can give yourself: meditation. Clear your mind, open your heart, and dive into the wonder of your own true self. You can join in and download classes anytime.