Life can be a little crazy sometimes. Because of this, it's no surprise that we all get stressed out at one time or another. While some of the things that set us off have their origin in major life challenges, many of the experiences that get us all wound up are based in minor daily irritations. The stress caused by things such as slow traffic, difficult coworkers, and piles of unanswered emails can really build up into a full-blown meltdown if left unchecked.
Though we may have limited control over the things that challenge us, it's important to remember that we're not completely helpless in these situations. The great meditation master Shantideva once reasoned that since we don't always have the ability to control external situations, we should insead concentrate on the one thing that we can directly influence -- namely the state of our mind.
In Shantideva's view, learning how to keep the mind peaceful and tranquil by protecting against destructive emotional states such as anger, fear or anxiety is the key to remaining happy when you run up against overwhelming stressful experiences. Metaphorically, he compared protecting the mind in this way to being able to walk around an entire thorn-covered planet by wearing a thick pair of shoes, instead of traveling limited distances with bare feet by attempting to pull out one thorn at a time to create a path.
So how do you do this?
While there are many ways to calm the mind, recent studies support Shantideva's theory that a regular meditation practice can help you reduce adverse reactions to stressful situations. Taking even a few minutes out to mindfully focus on your breath every day can really help you clear away anxiety and cut through fear and worry. As you practice, however, be patient. Like most things, learning to calm your mind takes some practice and effort. Keep with it though, and you'll discover a wonderful tool that you can use to protect yourself when you experience a thorny situation in life.
Are you ready to try meditation? Learn to calm your mind by following these five simple steps:
- Set an an alarm clock to help keep track of the time. Begin with three minutes, and work up to five.
- Find a comfortable, seated position (feel free to sit in a chair if you're not comfortable on the floor).
- Sit up tall, rest your hands in your lap and close your eyes. Your palms can face up or down. Simply choose the one that feels the best.
- Take a few moments to relax and settle in. If any part of your body feels uncomfortable, mindfully shift to a new position.
- Once you feel relatively comfortable, redirect your mind to your breath and begin counting your exhales. Set an initial goal of counting a total of 21 and build up to 108 with practice. When your mind wanders, refocus by drawing awareness back to your breath, and begin the count again.
For best effect, practice this meditation for three to five minutes each morning, noon, and night to counteract the effects of stressful situation throughout your day.
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