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What to Do When Your Brain White-Knuckles You

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I shouldn't have read the newspaper that morning. Leaving the gym after my Thursday morning class, I noticed that my mind, usually pleasantly quieted with the thrum of my just-finished spinning class, was anything but calm. I usually get a "back to the real me" sense after exercise, but today I was tormented by a clutter of thoughts. Among the mental whirlwind was concern about the obliteration of the economy, and even though I know next to nothing about the credit crisis, I know enough about our own mortgage to worry about a worsening recession. I just know enough to worry, but not nearly enough to make myself feel better.

Weighing all of these thoughts down was the unending presidential election, which on it's own makes my head spin with it's possible political outcomes. Again, these are topics that I don't know enough to about, to get anywhere at all with my worrying.

And the final thought to preoccupy me was about a wealthy aquaintance who was devastated about tearing her meniscus (cartilage of the knee) just before her trip to their second house in Vail, and what the hell was she going to DO all week while her family skied? Sit around with the staff?

Then, this looped to my finishing thought. It was about Adeline, an 8-year-old girl in Rwanda that we are sponsoring, who doesn't go to school, sleeps on the ground, has never owned a pair of shoes and who writes letters to my daughter -- joyfully, mind you -- about how fun it is to finally be old enough to walk the five miles everyday to carry water for her widowed mother and family of five. I went home and I spent 30 minutes sitting quietly with my eyes closed, with my dog asleep at my side, and I tried to quiet my mind.

It was the longest 30 minutes of my week. But it worked. And even though I'm a Christian, I'm an Oprah kind of Christian, meaning that I think there's room for lots of different interpretations of how God shows up. One definition that I think of often is the "The Four Noble Truths" of Buddhism. They are simple:

1. That there is suffering in the world.

2. That we suffer because we are attached to our STUFF, our desires, whether it's desire for sitting in a warmer room, desire for weighing a lower number on the scale or desire for someone that's not here anymore.

3. All of these attachments make us suffer. By detaching from these desires you can eliminate suffering.

4. The path to stopping the suffering is meditation.

So the idea is that your life can be perfect, and you can still be miserable. (Hello, Greenwich.)
Or that life can suck and you can still be content. (Hello, Adeline.) So when you find your thoughts chasing you around, try to take five minutes to meditate. It's easier after exercise or some vigorous activity, but some also find it best first thing in the morning, when your mind is quiet and not yet begun the planning and calculating for the day. Or better yet, try it right before bed, when your mind is ready to punch out on it's timeclock of coulds, woulds and shoulds of the day. It's hard, but we CAN refuse to think certain thoughts.

Look how often you refuse to think a positive thought about yourself. You can also refuse to think a negative thought. It just takes practice. And beginning right where you are is a start.

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