Here's the interior scenario playing in the theater of my little mind: I want to work. Right now. All day, every day. I cannot miss this golden Opportunity Bus. I feel like I'm desperately running behind it, diesel fumes already beginning to choke me. I've gotta keep up. This is it, the only bus ever in the entire universe meant to take me to the fulfillment of all my dreams and fantasies, including ... well, you get the picture.
The reality: I've committed to celebrating with friends, including cooking part of the meal.
The set-up: Can't settle into either the idea of celebrating nor getting some work done. (Can I work while I stir? Can I buy some cookies instead of bake so I have more time for work? Is it possible to get over myself?)
The result: Stress. There's nothing wrong with working when we need to, or baking cookies and hanging out with friends watching vampires on TV.
What's not so good from a mindful awareness point of view? Working while feeling guilty about not doing other things, and/or worrying about how much time it's taking to gather ingredients and actually bake the danged cookies while thinking about work.
The anxiety-reduction solution? Surrender to the choices we make. Need to work? Then work. Watch vampires on television? Same. Enjoy those freshly-baked cookies, too.
A huge piece of the puzzle is acceptance. Surrendering into acceptance of what's actually happening is one of the zen secrets of mindfulness meditation stress reduction.
In one of the great Seinfeld episodes, George's father, Frank, starts saying, then screaming Serenity NOW! whenever his blood pressure starts rising ("The Serenity Now" episode).
But Frank never even comes close to the first zen secret of managing chaos. He can't stop long enough to feel or see what's happening in his life, beginning with his own body, let alone how he's being affected by and affecting everyone around him.
He's oblivious to the reality that he's got a) other emotions lurking somewhere inside of him, and b) health problems based, at least in part, on his lack of self-awareness. Because he doesn't know how to settle into himself. Frank's not much good at meditation, but he's a terrific comedic character.
It's a fabulously funny 23 minutes of classic television that helped me reduce my angst over choosing to cook for friends rather than working for The Man. Because I ended up belly laughing in the kitchen. So fun, so life-affirming, so stress-reducing. Helped me get over myself and into enjoying my day. I stopped fighting myself and my choices and fell into acceptance through laughter.
Get Up Offa' Your Thing
What makes you get up offa' your thing and start dancing, literally or metaphorically? That's where to begin in the "Land of Coping With Stress." We get up, get smiling/laughing/dancing/connected with the big picture thing, the one outside our little minds.
For there is more than one path to serenity. Mindful meditation is one of those paths, learned through a specific kind of meditation practice. There are lots of other forms of creative meditation practices, too. Anything can be a meditation practice if we are fully present, right here, right now.
The thing is, meditation doesn't have to be stuffy and/or elitist. We get to be who we are -- that's the whole (terrifying) point. We are so richly overflowing with treasure, each of us. Once we get up offa' our things and begin experiencing that, we begin reclaiming our treasure.
Acceptance Opens the Door
To making changes, taking action. We begin with tiny, little steps, though. We're not talking about climbing Mt. Everest here. We're talking about slowing down, breathing just a little more consciously, and watching what shows up.
Tara Brach, Ph.D., has a wonderful book called Radical Acceptance: Embracing your Life With the Heart of a Buddha, that speaks of these matters. I often use it when working with clients.
Mindfulness-based stress reduction is a sort of anti-Frank Costanza way of being that many find deeply satisfying. Here's to mindful serenity now.
For more by Melanie Harth, Ph.D., LMHC, click here.
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