Finding Freedom with “Not Knowing”

One of the reasons people like to micro-manage everything is because they are worried about outcomes. And yes, I easily fall into this category, which is why I took up the practice of meditation almost 30 years ago!

One day at the local post office, I was worrying about the label on a package, as it didn’t look as if it was affixed properly. The best words of advice came from a mailman, who said, “The things you worry about generally don’t happen. It’s the things that come out of left field that cause you difficulty—things you never even dreamed of.”

Approaching life with this mailman’s wise words in mind, one can enter a state of “not knowing,” where you let go of predicting outcomes and instead, live in the present moment.

“Not knowing” is different than “not planning”

Entering the space of not knowing is different than not planning. One can plan for the future without getting lost in anxiety about imagined future outcomes and without trying to “control” the future. People can control their actions, but they cannot control the results.

The practice of “not knowing”

“Not knowing is most intimate” is an important concept in meditation practice. Intimacy in this sense means the direct awareness that brings you closer to both the immediacy of the present moment and to your true self. By not imagining outcomes based on fears, judgments, memories, and the like, you can remain open and present to what is.

Consider the following scenario: A woman takes a taxi to the airport in near-blizzard conditions. Snow falls steadily, and cars spin out of control, yet she remains in a space of “not knowing” and remains calm about what will happen next. Will the car spin out? Will they get into an accident? Will she miss her flight? As each anxious thought begins to arise, she reminds herself that she doesn’t know, and the thought loses its power.

She only knows for certain that snow is falling and accumulating, and drivers are struggling with poor road conditions. She finds it freeing to notice her stories without getting lost in them—and instead, live in the immediacy of the present moment.

She simply notices when she wants to make an assumption about the future, and then she reminds herself that she doesn’t know. If you could listen to her thoughts, you might hear: Will I get to the airport? I don’t know. Will the weather be ok to fly? I don’t know.

Being comfortable with not knowing can bring enormous freedom and with it, awareness of the moment as it really is.

How to Reduce Stress

When things don’t go the way you want, stress can arise. Much of the stress comes from ruminating about the past or creating imagined stories about the future.

To reduce stress, see if you can rest your mind in the immediacy of the present moment. Upon entering this moment, let go of past stories and imagined future stories—both of which give the illusion of a sense of control—and enter a space of not knowing. By not imagining outcomes based on fears and judgments, you can remain open and present to what is.

We simply don’t know what the future holds. Staying in the immediacy of the present moment can be challenging, but it can be realized with practice. Sometimes the practice is simply one of remembering to focus on just this next breath. And then the next one. And so on…

Here’s a link to a couple of meditations that can help reduce stress:
https://soundcloud.com/joyrains  Hope you enjoy!

mindful stress management techniques

Creative Wellness Ideas for Meetings

Here’s an out-of-the-box idea that can be used for team-building, creativity, problem-solving, walking meditation, and more: bring a portable labyrinth in to your next meeting. The ancient practice of labyrinth walking is perfect for modern times.

No special training is needed. If a person is able to walk, than they can walk a labyrinth.  All one needs to do is start at the beginning and follow the circuitous path to the middle, and then take the same path out again. The twists and turns on the path can help balance left and right sides of the brain and allow for more creativity and well-being, among other great benefits.

Portable labyrinths are often made from heavy canvas and can range from 20 feet to 36 feet in diameter. Permanent labyrinths can be found in parks, medical centers and many more locations. More information on labyrinths and their uses can be found on: http://joyrains.com/workplace-programs/walking-meditation/

iStock_000003108132XSmall

Just 2 minutes (and 12 seconds) a day

Just meditating for two minutes a day can help train your mind. Regular practice is the key to learning any new skill. It’s important to approach meditation in a way that you will feel successful, so you don’t get discouraged and give up. Two minutes is a small enough time commitment to be manageable for many people. Once a daily habit of meditating is developed, even if it’s only for a couple of minutes a day, people often can realize many of the scientifically proven benefits of meditation: reduced stress, increased focus and enhanced positive emotion. Here’s a link to a free two minute (and 12 second) audio meditation:  http://joyrains.com/meditation/guided-meditations/

reducing stress

Meditation Myths – Part I

Although some people think the practice of meditation involves stopping all thoughts and feelings, this is not so. Just as it’s the nature of the heart to beat, it’s the nature of the mind to think. Expect that thoughts and feelings will continue to arise. Meditation is about returning to your immediate experience in the present moment. Notice when your attention wanders, and then gently return your attention to a focal point for your awareness, such as your breath. Again and again and again. This process is key to the practice of meditation, since it exercises your minds’s “muscle.” Just as the repetitive motion of abdominal exercises can build your core strength, the repetition of noticing when your mind wanders and returning your attention to your focal point can build your power of awareness.

reduce stress

Bringing Vacation Relaxation Back Home

It’s time for that summer vacation. Ahh. Lying on the beach, listening to the sound of the waves … there’s nothing like it. All your muscles relax and you forget all the stressors of daily life. But how can you take this feeling of relaxation back home with you?

See if you can develop a mind/body memory. At the time that you are most relaxed on your vacation, notice how you feel. What is the state of your mind? How does your body feel? Try to develop a memory of this experience to call upon when you get back home.

When you get home and are faced with the stressors of everyday life, have realistic expectations. If you resist these stressors and think “this shouldn’t be happening!” or “I don’t want to be back home!” you can create even more stress. See if you can call on that mind/body memory of relaxation—and incorporate that feeling into your daily life, simply by using your imagination.

Creating a “stress-free zone” at home can help you relax. You can learn to associate a dedicated place with quieting your mind, a place where you sit for a few minutes each day and focus on your breathing. You could devote an entire room to this practice, or just a corner of a room. Your “stress-free zone” should include a dedicated place to sit, such as a chair or meditation cushion, and could also include inspirational items, such as books of short readings, candles, or music. If you’d like to listen to a two minute guided meditation, you can find one here: https://soundcloud.com/joyrains/listenbreatherelax

reduce stress

Many Ways to Meditate

Although many people think of meditating as sitting still and noticing the breath, there are countless variations on this ancient practice. Don’t like to sit still? Try a walking meditation. (Each time you take a step bring all your attention to the soles of your feet touching the ground.) Have a stuffy nose? Try a meditation using a smooth stone as your focal point. (Each time your mind wanders bring your attention back to the smooth stone in the palm of your hand.) Bothered by negative thoughts? Try a gratitude meditation. (Each time you notice another thought arising, silently say to yourself “thank you”.) Only have two minutes? No problem! Meditating for two minutes is better than not meditating at all.

The great part about these practices is that they can be done most anywhere, anytime!

how to meditate for beginners

Just as there are many different types of meditation, there are many different types of people who practice meditation.

Have a Retreat at Home!

Imagine coming home to a personal retreat space. A space where you can sink into the quiet of soft music, soft lighting, soft being. Away from the noise of the office, or the kids, or everything else in your life that cries loudly for your attention. Imagine a personal retreat space that is just about you.

All is takes is intention and a bit of creativity to create a place where you can regularly take a break from the business of your life. You can learn to associate this dedicated space with quieting your mind. Include a place to sit, such as a chair or cushion, and also inspirational items, such as books of short readings, candles, or audio recordings. You could devote an entire room to your personal retreat space, or just a corner of a room. One busy mom carved out a small space next to the dryer in her basement laundry room. Installing a sliding translucent screen for an outer wall transformed this basement nook into a sacred space away from the kids. Another transformed a bedroom corner into a sacred space by using a sheer curtain as a divider. What to do in this sacred space? Meditate, do yoga, read inspirational books, listen to soothing music, or just breathe. You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars to go to a fancy spa in an exotic location (although that would be nice!). All you need to do is to enter your retreat place, take a deep breath and simply be.

reduce stress

Change your awareness, change your physical response

Changing your awareness can change your physical response. Consider this: your body doesn’t know the difference between stress you imagine and real stress. If you are watching a suspenseful movie, your heartbeat may quicken and you may even find that beads of sweat are forming on your forehead. Your body is reacting to your mind’s cues.

But by bringing awareness to the content of your mind through meditation, you may be able to release tension in your body. If a woman is at the dentist thinking “I hate being here,” her body may be tensed up as a result of her thoughts. But by bringing awareness to her thoughts and to her body’s tension, she may be able to untangle mental and physical stress and bring her body to a more relaxed state – even though she doesn’t like being where she is.

Just as pulling aside the curtain in “The Wizard of Oz” revealed that the Wizard wasn’t so powerful, pulling aside the curtain on what the mind is thinking can help reduce the power of thoughts, and the related physical stress.

reduce stress

The Irony of Getting Help for Anxiety

It’s ironic, isn’t it? Your anxiety may be getting in the way of getting help for your anxiety! Perhaps you are worried if you ask your doctor about it you will be perceived as abnormal, or weak, or any number of other negative connotations.

Consider taking up the practice of meditation as a starting point in dealing with anxiety. Meditation allows you to see more clearly, so that you can become aware of the stories you are telling yourself. If you can see that you are telling yourself a story about your doctor judging you negatively when you request help, ask yourself: What’s more important to me – what I believe about my doctor’s perceptions, or getting help for my anxiety? Another question to consider is this: If I feel so uncomfortable discussing issues with this doctor, can I find a different health-care professional that I feel comfortable with?

The practice of meditation can be as simple as sitting and noticing your breath for a couple minutes a day. Any time your mind wanders, gently bring your awareness back to your breath, even if it’s every few seconds. Meditation doesn’t require any special equipment or training, and best of all, it’s free!

reduce stress

Quiet Your Mind for a Good Night’s Sleep

A great way to shut off your brain and relax your body to prepare for sleep is to do a progressive muscle relaxation exercise. Here are the directions:

Lie on your back and bring all your attention to your body. Begin a process of gently tightening and releasing each muscle group, starting with your feet and working your way upwards to the top of your head. Hold each muscle as tightly as you can for about 5 seconds, then release it completely and see if you can notice the difference between the muscle tightened and the muscle relaxed. Move onto the next muscle until you’ve relaxed your entire body.

Anytime your mind wanders, gently bring your attention back to the tightening and releasing of each muscle group.

This technique was developed by American physician Dr. Edmund Jacobson in the early 1920’s

reduce stress

Shift to Positive Thinking!

Thinking negatively is often due to a narrow perspective. Just by widening your perspective and focusing on positive aspects of a situation, you can change negative thoughts to positive thoughts!

Consider Suzie. She hates putting utensils away once the dishwasher finishes its clean cycle. Every day she is annoyed  as she sorts the knives, forks, and spoons into their slots in the silverware drawer. One day she decides she doesn’t like feeling annoyed. She widens her perspective to one of gratitude for the hands that enable her to complete this task. Unlike her aunt who is debilitated with arthritis, Suzie recognizes she has dexterity in her fingers. Now, when she sorts the silverware she does so with a spirit of gratitude for the flexibility in her hands.

Whether you don’t like doing household chores, writing that monthly report, or doing any other number of tasks, thinking positively can simply be a matter of shifting where you place your attention.

the power of positive thinking

Mindfulness at Work: Take Time to Sharpen the Axe!

As the old saying goes, you have to take time out from chopping the tree to sharpen the axe. Since your mind is one of your main tools, it’s vital to keep it sharp. By pausing to take 2 minute mini-meditation breaks throughout the day, you are doing the axe-sharpening work. Yet, often the most difficult part is remembering to pause for your break.

Hang a reminder in your office space: Hang a picture of nature, or a beautiful sunset, or anything that reminds you to take a moment and pause. You could even schedule your breaks into your calendar.

Take a break. Here are three short practices to do at work:

1-Walk mindfully. Bring all your attention to the soles of your feet as they touch the ground. Anytime your mind wanders, gently bring it back to your feet. You can do this while walking in the hallway, walking to the elevator, or anywhere else you have space to walk.
2-Breathe mindfully. Bring all your attention to your breath as it moves in and out of your body. You may want to notice the coolness of the air as you breathe in, and its warmth as you breath out – or you may want to notice your chest rising and falling. Anytime your mind wanders, gently bring it back to your breath. Count with each breath until you reach 40. (Or 50, or 60 …)
3-Listen to a short guided meditation. You can find a 2:11 audiio meditation on http://joyrains.com/meditation/guided-meditations/

By doing this axe-sharpening work, you are clearing your mind, and improving your focus for the tasks that lie ahead. Walking and breathing meditations are available to you anywhere and anytime. It just takes intention – and remembering!

managing stress at work

Meditation Tips for Beginners

Here are three simple tips for the beginning meditator:

1-Just as it’s the nature of the heart to beat, it’s the nature of the mind to think. Meditation isn’t about stopping thoughts; rather, it’s about becoming aware of thoughts so you can choose to respond to life’s events consciously instead of reacting unconsciously.

2-Start small. Rather than trying to meditate for 20 minutes a day, start with 5 minutes, or even a couple of minutes. You can find a free two minute audio mediation here: http://joyrains.com/meditation/guided-meditations/

3-Regularity is key. Try to meditate every day so it becomes a habit. If you can, meditate in the same place in your home or office, such as a favorite chair, or favorite room. You may want to include inspirational items in that space, such as candles, smooth stones, or books with readings for before or after your meditation time. Once you get used to meditating there, simply by entering that space your mind may begin to settle.

meditation for beginners

Retraining the Anxious Mind

Meditation may not make your anxiety disappear if you are wired to have anxiety. What it can do, however, is to allow you to make a conscious choice about how to respond to the anxiety so you can manage it. The practice of meditation can be completely transformative, as it can actually retrain your brain!

Imagine noticing an anxious thought, such as “My boss will be upset with me,” and then having the awareness to say “Wait a minute . . . I’m making up a story. I don’t even know if my boss will really be upset.” The awareness to discern thoughts (and release those that do not serve) often comes with a regular meditation practice.

Want to start meditating? You can find free guided meditations on http://joyrains.com/meditation/guided-meditations/.

reducing stress

Change Your Awareness, Reduce Your Stress

Changing your awareness can reduce your stress. Consider this: your body doesn’t know the difference between stress you imagine and real stress. If you are watching a suspenseful movie, your heartbeat may quicken and you may even find that beads of sweat are forming on your forehead. Your body is reacting to your mind’s cues.

But by bringing awareness to the content of your mind through meditation, you may be able to release tension in your body. If a woman is at the dentist thinking “I hate being here,” her body may be tensed up as a result of her thoughts. But by bringing awareness to her thoughts and to her body’s tension, she may be able to untangle mental and physical stress and bring her body to a more relaxed state – even though she doesn’t like being where she is.

Just as pulling aside the curtain in “The Wizard of Oz” revealed that the Wizard wasn’t so powerful, pulling aside the curtain on what the mind is thinking can help reduce the power of thoughts, and the related physical stress.

pexels-photo

Reducing Stress with Ancient Practices

Want to reduce stress? Consider this: Stress is most often a response to the content of the mind. Imagine you’re watching a movie. When the heroine in the movie tries to escape from the villain, you may find that your heart beats faster and you begin to perspire. You are having a real physical stress response to a fictional story. The same phenomenon happens in “real life”. People tell themselves stories and then experience real life stress responses; responses which can wreak havoc upon mind and body.

A great way to reduce stress is with the ancient practice of meditation. It allows you to witness the stories you tell yourself and decide if they’re true. Mark Twain’s famous quote aptly describes the tendency to create stress through anxious thoughts. “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, most of which never happened.”

Another ancient practice is the first of the “Five Tibetan Rites,” a series of five exercises similar to yoga. Here’s a modification:

Stand straight with feet hip distance apart. Lift your arms straight out to the sides at shoulder level, palms down, so your body is in the shape of a lower case “t”. Start turning very slowly to the right, keeping your focus at eye-level the as you turn. Make a complete circle and then continue circling anywhere from 3-10 times. Discontinue if you become dizzy or if you experience discomfort.

Why this works:
The mental content that cycles through the mind can be a significant cause of stress. This exercise engages the mind and keeps it busy by trying to keep focusing at eye-level, all while turning the body in a circle and trying to stay balanced. The effect of this is to quiet the mind. The beauty of this exercise is that it can be practiced most anywhere to help reduce stress, and best of all, it’s free!

guided meditation sitting