Dealing with Stress
Many months ago, I was in a very stressful job situation that was taking a toll on me emotionally, physically, and mentally. Although I loved the job I was doing, the demands of that job were more than one person could realistically attend to. Sound familiar? During that time, I found myself becoming increasingly more reactive, judgmental, and not surprisingly, stressed. I found myself meditating less and falling into old patterns of behavior (i.e., not taking time for myself in silence, becoming more disorganized, exercising less, eating worse, etc. etc. etc.)
I've been a regular meditater for years, but gradually reduced my practice as my stress level increased with this new job stress. As I became more stressed, I meditated less, and the stress began to impact me even more; a vicious cycle that brought disharmony into my life.
Eventually I got to a point in my mental state that I realized I needed to make some sort of change. That change came in signing up for an 8 week meditation workshop. I felt I needed the added discipline and structure to motivate me into a more regular practice again. My experience there added more vibrancy and balance to my life than I realized was possible at the time. Meeting together every week with the same people to cultivate presence was empowering and life affirming.
After only a few weeks I found that I was able to catch the critical voice inside my head much more quickly and with a degree of compassion that was lacking in the weeks prior. Slowly, I began to react to the stress around me less and instead begin to respond . By the time the eight weeks were over, I found that I felt an increased sense of control over my mind and energy.
It was toward the end of the workshop that I realized that I stopped resisting my present situation and began accepting it. This felt incredibly freeing amongst the then chaos at my job. Despite the work load and demands, my energy still shifted, and I began to feel more "in-flow" with life.
What makes this experience so much more powerful was that around that same time that I felt in "flow", a co-worker approached me telling me that she was resigning. I wished her luck and didn't really think much of it. A few days passed and I was sitting outside alone, enjoying the subtle gusts of wind and vibrant blues of the sky, when a flash of insight came to me: "You have to apply for her job!"
Something inside me felt very strongly about this and I decided to give it a go. Long story short, I got the job, which was a considerable promotion and a perfect fit for me.
I share this experience as reminder for myself (and to positively contribute to any readers along the way) of the importance of ongoing practice and at the power of attending to the needs of our body, mind and spirit. When we neglect aspects of each, I believe we fall out of flow with life and the external world begins to make small impressions on the internal parts of ourselves that maintain peace.
The more we are in flow, the more we are able to connect with our purpose. As a result, the universe will support us and it will be easier for us to notice the signs it is giving us to go deeper into our purpose and/or the greater purpose of the whole.
Using Guilt as an Opportunity to Increase Mindfulness
When we don't meditate as we've planned and do something else, we may end up feeling guilty. This of course doesn't only apply to a meditation practice, but to other aspects of our lives. “I should have completed the project today” and “What's wrong with me for not doing the laundry today?” are sure signs that guilt is finding it's way in your body.
Is there always something wrong with guilt? Not necessarily, but there are times when it's presence in the body only serves to bring us backward. Guilt carries with with it a deadening kind of energy and often times, it is not justifiable guilt—as in the examples above.
I was experiencing this today when I realized that in the moment of allowing the negative thoughts and the guilt to grow in my body that I was loosing presence.
I was becoming unconscious.
I observed the feeling of guilt taking away my attention to the present moment. It dawned on me that instead of allowing the guilt to take over and add soil to more non-productive thoughts, I could choose to be present. The moment I had this realization, I found the emotion almost immediately vanish and I felt more centered.
I believe this happened for at least four reasons:
I was not loosing unconscious to the emotion and the thoughts that were giving it life;
I took the position of the observer,
I chose not to be controlled by those emotions/thoughts anymore, and
I welcomed presence and unconditional acceptance for myself.
In order for any of these things to occur, I had to first become aware of the experience. In such a moment, I welcomed mindfulness and presence into my body; it became a spiritual practice.
My point is perhaps simple:
If we lapse in our practice--or other task we haven't completed for that matter--it is important for us to maintain compassion for ourselves. If we stray and find ourselves feeling guilty or complaining, we should take a moment to pay attention to that.
Paying attention to when those Ego-driven tendencies are making aims at sabotaging our efforts can be challenging, but very fruitful. We can use it as an opportunity to bring awareness into our bodies, to follow our breath, and to engage more fully in what we are doing in that moment. Otherwise we allow the enticing feelings of guilt to grow, which can serve as a vehicle toward negative judgment of the self. Not exactly a friend in a path toward fulfillment.
Has anyone had this kind of experience before? Anyone try the latter approach I mentioned? Please share your insights.