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Staying Mindful When Life Stresses You Out

Staying Mindful When Life Stresses You Out

Have you ever been in a crowded subway or busy street, lost in a marketplace in a foreign country, or caught up in an argument that was going nowhere? Does it make you lose your mindfulness and awareness so you end up overwhelmed and confused?

Swami Satchidananda, one of our early meditation teachers, taught that there should be no difference between being mindful in a cave or in the center of a city, as peace is inside us, independent of external circumstances. Although this is undoubtedly true it’s definitely put to the test when our lives are full of stress or chaos.

Maintaining mindfulness, especially when confronted with challenging situations, means staying focused while also and letting go. This way you remain non-judgmental, allowing things to be as they are. As soon as we begin to hold on, whether to fear, resentment, irritation, hurt, or anger, we get caught up in the power of the emotion and lose perspective and balance. So, more than letting go, we say: “Don’t even pick it up!” It’s not about denying or repressing our feelings, but that we aren’t clinging or holding on to them. Feelings come and they pass. Like birds in the sky of our mind, we can let them fly away.

One of the greatest spiritual teachings is the awareness that all things are impermanent, that all things come and go, that we can’t hold to anything, not even pleasure, for it will soon change. Embodying the truth of this is wonderfully liberating as it brings us back into the present moment: if everything is so impermanent, including ourselves and our feelings, then there’s no purpose in holding on and trying to make those feelings last longer. Rather, there’s far greater joy in releasing them and reconnecting to sanity and peace.

Chaos is natural — it’s everywhere. Life is unpredictable and will bring about many different emotions and mind states that can be challenging and difficult, even unbearable at times. But beneath the dramas, distractions and problems there’s a still and calm place we can rest in.

As Dr. Joan Borysenko says in our book, Be The Change, “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.”

Like the water in a lake, when the mind is calm we can see the depths below, but when the mind is disturbed it’s easy to get caught up in the waves. Through mindfulness and meditation we can chill before circumstances take over. And always, always, remember to breathe!

If circumstances can’t be changed then we can change our attitude toward them — we may not be able to control the wind but we can adjust our sails. We can either blame others or we can relax into each moment as it arises, being with it as it is. When we can be with the way things are in the present moment then we’re free of complications, and that freedom is our peace.


Just Being Meditation

Find a comfortable place to sit, and close your eyes. Become aware of yourself, of your presence on the chair in the room. Cast your mind around your body. Breathe into and release any places of tension.

Now feel the flow of your breath as it enters and leaves. Here you are: alive … breathing … sensing … your heart beating … your feet on the floor. Be present with yourself and whatever is happening, without judgment.

Now just sit and be and breathe … just sitting … just being… just breathing. Silently repeat, “May all things be well, may I be at peace with all things.”

Stay with this for a few minutes, or for as long as you like. When you are ready take a deep breath and gently open your eyes.


Award-Winning Authors Ed and Deb of Be The Change, How Meditation can Transform You and the World, are mindfulness, meditation and yoga experts. Deb’s new novel is: Merging: Women in Love — what happens when you fall in love with the least likely person of the least likely gender? – and she is the author of Your Body Speaks Your Mind, now in 19 languages. They have three meditation CDs. See more at

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Ed and Deb Shapiro

You can learn more in our book, Be The Change: How Meditation Can Transform You and the World, forewords by the Dalai Lama and Robert Thurman, with contributors Marianne Williamson, Jane Fonda, Ram Dass, Byron Katie and others. Our 3 meditation CD’s: Metta—Loving kindness and Forgiveness; Samadhi–Breath Awareness and Insight; and Yoga Nidra–Inner Conscious Relaxation, are available at:


+ add your own
3:54PM PDT on Jul 31, 2014

I like your analogy comparing our 'calm' and 'disturbed' minds with water in a lake. Actually lots of good help to think differently in your post. Thank you.

3:18AM PDT on Jul 21, 2014

Wonderful article, thanks for sharing

2:23AM PDT on Jul 12, 2014

Thank you

10:25AM PDT on Jul 10, 2014

Thank you :)

9:55AM PDT on Jul 7, 2014

Thank you for sharing really helpful.

12:55PM PDT on Jul 4, 2014

I totally agree that in a stressful situation, you have to remain calm and totally focused. However, I don't agree that you should have not attachment or judgment whatsoever about what is going on around you. If you see an evil deed being done, you only compound the evil if you don't step in and try to stop it.

11:21PM PDT on Jun 19, 2014

Thank you.

11:20PM PDT on Jun 19, 2014

Thank you.

5:08PM PDT on Jun 19, 2014

Nothing messes up my day worse than stress and keeping a cool head has taken years of practice :) I'm happy to say that all 7 of my kids made it to adulthood despite the daily drama they kept spinning around the household because I learned how to maintain my calm!!

9:23AM PDT on Jun 16, 2014


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