Feel like you always have seven things on your mind? Life coach Richard Blakeborough says a few minutes is all you need to take the pressure down.
Stop the world, I want to get off! Have you ever had the feeling that everything is too fast, too aggressive, too loud ... that you would just like things to calm down, maybe even take a mini holiday from the hullaballoo?
Sometimes, when I watch images of life in China or India or even the USA, the pace of their lives frightens me. Surely all that stress and anxiety and activity must be bad for people? It can be!
What can be done to find a retreat, some peace, a little oasis in the sands of life? How can we build up our internal defences to protect us from traumas, issues, the busy stuff life throws at us? I've got some ideas.
The first: mindfulness. This means different things to different people, but for me it means being 'present', or being here in the ‘now’.
As stress and anxiety starts to build up, try focusing on a mundane task. This serves two purposes. One, it forces you to exit one situation for another and in a sense takes you away from the stressor. Secondly, the exercise of focusing on
a mundane task is to be ‘totally in the moment’. So, if you choose the washing up, feel the water, feel the plates, smell the soapy water, concentrate on cleaning each individual item slowly, as though the process was your very life’s work. Then dry the items slowly, methodically, individually, and place them away (rather than grabbing a handful of forks, wiping them all together and chucking them in the draw).
This practise focuses the mind and helps to clear it of the anxiety that builds up when you are in a stressful situation. It is also about ignoring the past and the future; one you can’t change, the other hasn’t happened, so focus on what you can do right NOW.
There is an old Zen expression: Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. In other words, be present in the process and actually feel and enjoy the pleasure of simply really doing the job, rather than doing a job while thinking of seven other things.
A second idea to try is meditation. As a younger man, I was fascinated by this eastern practise that I saw on TV and heard about on the news. People did it in India and Himalaya and China. Hippies did it and so did the Beatles. For many people, meditation is seen as a mystical thing and believe it is not for them. So let me share my practise with you and you can decide if it can offer you an oasis of peace. I tend to meditate for 20 to 30 minutes only. Some people meditate for longer, but for me this works well. I also use music to meditate. I have an ipod full of different sounds and noises and I sit or lie still and listen to the music, close my eyes, and focus on the sound.
Sometimes I will lie on my bed, or sit in a chair, or will even (if I am at work and need to bring my heart rate down) sit in the car. The key for me is to close my eyes, immediately blocking out some of the stimulus of the world so I can concentrate on the music. Other people concentrate on their breathing: the rhythmic action of breath in, breath out.
Your mind will throw all sorts of thoughts at you (it’s called Drunk Monkey Mind, because it resembles the chattering of an intoxicated monkey), which is fine; just let the thoughts come and then go back to focusing on the breathing or the music or the sounds you hear outside.
Wayne Dyer, a famous spiritual teacher, tells of being in Hawaii, and going out for a meditation session at 6am. As he began, a man throttled up his lawnmower and began to cut his grass. Instead of being annoyed, Dyer used the sound as his focus and continued to meditate. He said it was one of his best sessions ever!
I have even meditated for just three minutes, normally when I feel under pressure such as before an interview or when I am about to do some public speaking. I close my eyes wherever I am and just focus on breathing in and breathing out.
The word inspiration comes from the practise of taking a deep slow breath and then letting it all out. When you breathe you want to place your hands on your tummy to make sure you are breathing deep into your diaphragm, and not just the easier and shallower chest breathing we mostly do.
Five minutes a day of siting still, closing your eyes and breathing deeply into your diaphragm will help you create a world of calm. Longer is even better, but we are all busy, so five minutes is the goal. You may also try this with brain calming music, such as Baroque classical tracks. This practise is free, easy, effective at reducing stress and blood pressure, and calming.
If you meditate for longer than five minutes, just be aware that if you are lying down, you may want to get up slowly and let your mind and body readjust to the fast paced world.
Meditation is also a great way to examine your goals and ‘talk’ to your subconscious mind. Sometimes, when I am meditating, a thought will pop into my head that is the key to a problem I am working on, or takes me in a different direction towards a goal.
Once you calm the mind, your subconscious, which runs all the functions you don’t need to think about like breathing and your heart beating, is given a chance to be ‘heard’. This is why many people say they have great ideas when they are in the shower or out walking the dog. It’s because another part of your mind gets to work when you are calm and not listening to the Drunken Monkey.
And if the word meditation concerns you, think of the process as being very similar to praying, just without the internal dialogue to your deity.
Consider also that the people of the world’s most populated countries, India and China, have meditated for thousands of years to find their inner calm, so there must be something in it!
Richard Blakeborough is a life coach and regular Family Care NZ contributor. One day Richard was a fit and healthy man, then his cardiologist told him he had heart disease and needed a triple bypass.
His e-books, Life After A Bypass and That’s A Big Fat Lie Richard, chronicle his journey following heart surgery and subsequent departure from the corporate world to become a life coach.
Learn more about Richard and his books here.