Stress Management

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Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle: Some things are within our control, and some things are not. It is only after you have faced up to this fundamental rule and learned to distinguish between what you can and can't control that inner tranquility and outer effectiveness becomes possible.


Guided Meditation

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The Breath Counting Meditation

The beauty of this meditation is that, once learned, you can do it anywhere! Try it while waiting in line or at the laundromat.

Recommended Reading

Three-Minute Meditator

From The New Three-Minute Meditator
by David Hart

As I have said before, meditation is the art of mental self-control. Meditation is not anything occult or esoteric or "outside of normal daily life." In fact, you probably do a certain type of meditation already, even if you don't call it that. Whenever you keep your attention so strongly focused on something that no other thoughts intrude, that's a form of " clearing the mind. "

Watching the waves break on the beach or staring into the flames of a campfire can be meditation. Hang-gliding is a meditation for some, harmonica playing for others. Anything that focuses all your awareness onto just one thing, so that the usual chatter of the mind is momentarily stilled. No fear or desire, thoughts about the future, or "could've, would've, should've" thoughts about the past.

The "Crawl Before You Walk" Approach

You can begin by choosing one of the two easiest mind-clearing meditations, the "breathcounting" or the "walking breath" exercise. These are easy because they are quite "cut and dried, almost mechanical. If you follow the simple instructions, you cannot go wrong. They are the "meat and potatoes" of meditation, and I enjoy doing both at least a few times each day. Practice these for as long as you like. If you did nothing but these two exercises daily you would still derive a great calmness and energy from your practice.

The Exercises

General Instructions: There are really only three important general instructions for doing these exercises.

The first is to remember that you are meditation and that your attention is supposed to be focused on the object of meditation, be it your breath, your steps, your feet, a sound, or a candle. Whenever any other thought intrudes, as soon as you notice that you are no longer focused on the meditation, bring your attention back to the meditation.

The second is to be compassionate. Spending time berating yourself for not focusing on the meditation (because you momentarily thought of lunch or work or sex) is just more time spent not focusing on the meditation. No need to be critical — just go back into the meditation.

The third (which may help you with the second) is to realize that the thoughts which distracted you from the meditation are actually helping you. They give you the opportunity to notice that you are no longer focused on the meditation, so that you can return your attention to it.

Think about trying to paper-train a puppy. You place it on the newspaper. It wanders off. You gently and patiently bring it back. It wanders off again. It is the act of being returned to the newspaper that paper-trains the puppy. You don't kick it when it wanders off, nor give up in disgust. Likewise, it is the act of noticing that the mind has wanders and returning the attention to the meditation which helps us learn to focus the mind.

On Diligence

It is important to be diligent in your attention to the meditation. That means that, as soon as you notice that your attention has strayed from the meditation, you bring it gently but firmly back. That means not spending even an extra second on that daydream, no matter how exciting it is (so forget the old, "But wait — this is a really important thought I'm thinking — I'd better stick with it and meditate later" trick). Don't waste even a second on critical thoughts like, "Darn it! There I go thinking again." Simply let go of whatever thought it was that passed through and come back to the meditation. Just for these three minutes, the meditation is your preferred thought — any others can wait.

It's a bit like training yourself to wear a seatbelt. As soon as you notice that it isn't buckled, you put it on, every time, even if you're only three blocks away from your destination. Soon it becomes habit (and a healthy one at that).

What To Do with Feelings of Doubt and Resistance

Minds being what they are, at some point, yours is going to say to you: "This just doesn't work," or "Why bother?" If you can learn to use your mind in the mind-watching exercise described later, you'll be able to use these thoughts as the object of focus for your attention. Just as smelly old manure can be turned into valuable fertilizer, you can use even thoughts of doubt and resistance to hone your meditational skills, merely by watching them. They will then become your teachers, instead of your tormenters.

Try to think of meditation as a dance rather than a race. In a race, the goal is to reach the end faster than anyone else, or faster than you've ever done it before. In a dance, the goal is to enjoy what you're doing while you're doing it. So try not to worry about whether your meditations are "improving" or whether you're "doing it right." Just do it! Even in a race situation, excessive concern about how you're doing (looking back over your shoulder too much) will actually decrease your performance.

The Breath-Counting Meditation

Begin by practicing this meditation by sitting comfortable in a quiet place, with your hands in the thumb-to-forefinger position. Simply count the exhale of each breath mentally:

"Inhale ... one inhale two ... inhale ... three ... inhale ... four." Then begin again with "Inhale one " Strive not to lose your count and also try not to alter or regulate your breathing in any way. Try to feel the physical sensation of each breath, both inhale and exhale, as it passes through your nose and mouth.

If you find yourself thinking about anything except the feel of your breath and the number of that breath, return to focus on the sensation of breathing and on the number of that breath. If you are not absolutely sure what number breath you're on, begin again with "Inhale ... one. ... " No judging, no "I blew the count" thoughts, just back to "In ... one .... "

Right now, consider the breath-focusing and counts to be your "preferred thoughts." Thoughts of lunch, memories or other intruders will just be gently replaced by "Inhale, one ... inhale, two .... " and so on, as soon as you notice them creeping in. And they will! Of course, it's difficult to stay focused! But with practice, it just gets easier and easier.

The beauty of this meditation is that, once learned, you can do it anywhere! Try it while waiting in line or at the laundromat. No one can ever tell that you're doing anything unusual.

Experiment, if you like, with extending each count up to eight or ten. Is that easier or harder to do than a count of four? Want to be meditationally macho? Every once in a while, see how many consecutive exhales you can count without losing yourself and your count in a thought. My personal record today is 442, reached in one competitive afternoon on a ten-day retreat.

The Walking Breath Meditation

Walk a bit more slowly than usual, focusing your attention on the ins and outs of your breath. Begin each inhale and each exhale with a mental labeling of "in" or "out." Maintain a thumb-to-forefinger hand position, unless that feels unnatural now.

Without trying to control the breath too much, see if you can begin each in and each out breath exactly as one of your feet hits the ground. Notice how many steps you take during each inhalation and how many steps you take during each exhalation.

Then count each step as you walk and breathe so that in your mind you are saying, "two-three-four ... out-two-three-four ... in-two-three-four ... out-two-three-four." Or perhaps, "In-two-three ... out-two-three." Continue to substitute "in" or "out" in place of each count of one, to help you stay focused on the breathing as well as the walking.

Your own personal breathing rhythm may be different from the above. Your exhales may take longer than your inhales as in, "In-one-two-three ... out-two-three-four," or your inhales may take longer than your exhales as in "In-two-three-four-five ... out-two-three." The step count may vary from one breath to the next. Just pay close attention so that you can accurately count your steps during every inhale and every exhale. Just breathe, walk, and count. As in meditations, if your mind wanders, gently bring it back as soon as you notice it is gone.



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