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Dr. Cara Barker Headshot

How to Relax More and Stress Less

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RELAX STRESS

"Sorry to mess up your chair," she said, sweating. "I've been going 90 miles per hour." Can you relate? From our own personal experience to the gravitational shifts that scientists say will culminate in December this year, there's increasing evidence that we are living in a world that is speeding up. Who hasn't noticed? Whether you can relate or not, you know someone who can.

What are we doing to ourselves? We tell ourselves all sorts of stories. We con ourselves, as a culture, into believing that we must push, fret and be vigilant about the future. It is a lie that's bad for our health. Life is impermanent, but we pretend that it's not. In spite of time on the meditation cushion, it is all too easy to get caught up in the craziness of rushing and consumerism. One of the biggest bugaboos is the notion that we are our collections, our things, our lifestyle, our circumstances.

Perhaps this is what makes a story like Tom Shadyac's so refreshing. In his magnificent documentary "I Am," we witness the liberating process of surrendering to the inevitable challenge for each of us: shedding. As Meister Eckhart put it centuries ago, "God strips us of our props."

There's been a lot of stripping going around these past 10 years. Change is accelerating. Regardless of whether you're feeling the strip search in your wallet, career, health, relationships or self-confidence, it's happening everywhere. All we need to do is recall what is happening in Japan, Libya and elsewhere to note the toxic fumes of the unexpected, and the dire necessity of scaling back expectations.

In what seems incapacitating, we are left to recover the essential. Just the other day a 40-ish woman told me, "I assumed my kids would go to college, and that my folks would be around to see it. Now my dad has Alzheimers, and my mom was just diagnosed with ovarian cancer. We have spent the money in our retirement fund just to pay the bills since we both lost our jobs nearly two years ago. Everything is 'up for grabs.' Go figure. You think you are being responsible and then the unexpected happens."

Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist nun, puts it this way: "The only time we ever know what's really going on is when the rug is pulled out and we can't find anywhere to land." Well, my friends, in this global rug pull-out, we've got more and more places to land.

May we land on our feet. May we be patient with ourselves as we learn to walk again. (Trust me. I know about this one, quite literally.) Like Shadyac, we have before us the opportunity for scrutiny, and the opportunity to ask, "What is wrong with my world, and what, specifically, will make it right?" May we remember that we are not our circumstances, our conditions, our doubts, our fears. May we take the necessary steps to remember who we are below our anxiety.

When you've been running too hot and heavy, sometimes the only thing to be done is to put yourself in time out -- not as a self-imposed punishment, but as a form of self-imposed compassion and respect for the fact that the psyche was not built for such chronic stress and strain. Sure, there is a price tag. When I recently took a bit of time off to simply be, I was more than aware that this meant no pay (the other side of the coin when you are self-employed). When you take yourself temporarily out of the game, there's sacrifice. But if you don't take yourself out of it when you need to, the price is even greater. Maybe your recess is for five minutes, an hour, a day, a week, a month, a season, a year. Maybe it's for 60 seconds. But wherever you are, no matter how important your ego might need you to be, you are not so big that the world cannot continue on its axis while you hop off the merry-go-round to reconnect with the essential.

This is the gift of stripping away the excess, even if only for a moment or two. Because when you do, you discover that you, too, are hard-wired for connection, collaboration, creation of a better world. Look at nature: no rush there. The apple tree outside takes the seasons required to flower before producing its fruit. The meadow lark takes her time to gather the requisite twigs from the forest in order to build her nest. Even when completed, she allows her eggs to hatch on their own schedule, not hers. She trusts the process.

What about you and I? What if you had more trust in the possibility that what you are seeking is seeking you? What if you had the courage to trust that what is being stripped away in your life, and in the world's, is necessary for a greater sense of collaboration, awakening and harvesting? What if we accepted that life is impermanent, and that what must be lost in order to be found?

Tonight, no matter where you live, go outside. Move amongst the elements. If the moon and stars are out, note their splendor. If they aren't, lay down the burden you've been carrying and simply breathe in and out, for free. Imagine laying down your troubles so that you are free to dream again. Imagine what it means to be free, to live joyfully, wholeheartedly, free to dance again beneath the moon, for no particular reason other than the fact that you can and are still here. When you do, know that I am dancing beneath Mother Moon as well, thanking my lucky stars that the two of us are together, in this moment, neighbors sharing the same ground and sky. I am so grateful that we are not alone.

Your turn: What helps you relax, de-stress and slow down? What helps you remember what's most essential? What is dearest to your heart when you take the time to simply be? I'm listening, and I'm learning from you, my teachers.

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For more, see carabarker.net. For updates, contact me at carabarker.net or dr.carabarker@gmail. To receive email notices when I post new blogs on The Huffington Post, click "Fan" at the top of this page. Stay tuned for upcoming developments with The Love Project, including "Practicing Love." Follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DrCaraBarker.

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