I really wanted to avoid getting too personal on this blog, but I think right now I need this, and some of you might need this too. I’m going through a pretty tough time personally right now, which means I constantly have thoughts, memories, and emotions running wild. It makes it really hard to focus, and it keeps throwing me for a loop.
Chronic stress is no stranger to our society. Whether it be caused by grief, heartache, work, school, family, friends, or the monster of life itself, stress is running rampant in our culture. But the effects of stress don’t just affect our mind. From the ancient civilizations to now, researchers and thinkers across all cultures have tried to figure out the incredible connection between mind and body. Neuroscientists today refer to things that affect that relationship as psychosomatic, something that affects both mind and body. Chronic stress is one of those things. It causes us to gain or lose weight, causes heart disease, high blood pressure, mental illness, digestive problems, sleeping problems, and much more. Anybody want to add to that list of symptoms?
Our society has no idea how to take care of our own bodies, let alone our minds. And cultivating that relationship between mind and body is extremely difficult. So what do we do about our stress? How do we fix this? One answer? Meditation.
A lot of us think of meditation as some guy in a monastery sitting cross-legged, saying “om”, working his way into a trance. But what is meditation really? In my words, it’s an opportunity to focus, sort your thoughts, and build that mind/body connection. So how do I do that? A little disclaimer first – I don’t often have the time or really enjoy just sitting and focusing. I am not an avid practitioner of meditation. But I do try to apply the basic principles to every day life, during the commute, watching tv, anywhere, any time. The principles are Acknowledge, Accept, and Release.
So let’s get started. Stressful thoughts keep entering your mind. They won’t leave you alone no matter how hard you try to ignore them. A lot of people try to avoid their thoughts while meditating. That defeats the purpose. This is a chance for you to say “you know what, this thought must be important, or I wouldn’t keep thinking about it. I acknowledge that it is here for a reason”.
The thought is here. We know it’s important. But don’t dwell on it. Assign it a meaning, accept that you will have to face it, find a place in your mind to come back to it later, then let it go.
It’s very hard not to stay in this phase for too long. We tend to get stressed out by the thought by over analyzing it. Put the thought into its place (you can even picture putting the thought into a folder or box), and move on.
Now let it go. It’s that easy. It’s that hard. I have a tendency to keep reliving special memories over and over. It is very hard for me to let them go, because I don’t want to forget them. I don’t want to let go. But the important thing is to remember the purpose of the first two steps. You know the memories are important, and you know what they mean to you. You don’t have to let go of them permanently. You’re not going to just skip the job that’s stressing you out. But you’re not going to be able to approach those things with sound judgement while in a stressed state. There is a time to reflect on those memories, and a time to work on that task, that relationship, your family, your life. But it’s not now. Right now you’re sorting your thoughts, clearing out the mental clutter, and focusing on the current moment. Let it all go. You’ll get to the important things when you’re ready to approach them.
Techniques and Visualizations
The best way to do this depends on you. Some people like a quiet room to sit and focus on their breathing. Some people like active meditation; go for a walk, exercise, go fishing, whatever works for you. It just can’t be something that doesn’t allow you to confront your thoughts. You’re here to actively sort your thoughts, not distract yourself from them.
I kinda like the breathing thing. It makes for a helpful means of dealing with thoughts. I tend to visualize ideas as flowing air. It flows in one ear, I mentally nod acceptance, and let it flow out the other ear. In a whoosh of air the clutter blows away. Maybe it just happens because I can hear myself breathing, but that’s the visualization I get. Some people like to visualize sorting thoughts into file folders. What else do you use to visualize?
Like I said I’m no expert. I’m still having an extremely hard time accepting and letting go. But it takes time and practice. And when I can let those ideas flow through, I can focus much better on what needs to happen right now, in this moment. We all need a way to slow down and think every now and then. Our society is always moving so fast that we struggle to keep up. But the only way to get ahead is to find a direction to go and follow it. The direction may change, but at least you won’t be running around in circles with your brain all over the place. Try it out. See how you feel. It’ll be a little awkward at first, and a little scary, but acknowledge that, accept it, and move on. One day I’ll get there too. Thank you for reading.