October 13, 2020

Stress Management Part 4

We often have more than what we need to take a few more moments to rest, to slow down, to just take a deep breath. For those who would argue that there is no time to slow down and rest, that is a valid point. Our schedule is stressful, as it often seems to be filled to brim; however, we would gently push back on that idea. There is a great Zen saying that iterates, “If you have no time to meditate, you should meditate for twice as long.” In a similar vein, when we live a more intentional life where we simply focus on self-care more regularly, we can get creative to fit in a few minutes of self-care into our lives. It can be five deep breaths before a big presentation. It could be a fifteen minute bath after work. It could be a meditation to cultivate a greater sense of calm before you knock out for the night. Self-care manifests in so many ways for so many people, but a crucial takeaway is to understand that it’s more about the heartfelt intention to practice self-care then adding a bunch of things to your schedule. It could be helpful to block off time in your schedule for self-care time if that works, but be careful not to fall into the ‘let me do more things’ trap.

Self-care and mindfulness techniques are incredibly helpful in developing a level of gentleness with ourselves. During several wellness workshops focused on self-love, we would often ask our participants if they are their own worst critic. Without fail, each person responded with a resounding yes. So why is that? Why are we so hard on ourselves? Why do we create such unnecessary, mind-made stress for ourselves? When we were babies, we never ran around criticizing ourselves for pooping in our diapers! Further, His Holiness the Dalai Lama (HHDL) was shocked when he learned how critical westerners were of themselves. In Tibetan culture, there was no word for self-compassion, so it had to be invented. In essence, being incredibly self-critical is something that is taught and learned in Western culture and this transfer of criticality runs rampant. While most people do not intentionally teach others to be critical of each other, it happens on a subconscious level. Our conditioning, whether through schooling, modern culture, the consumption of media, and/or parenting affects us and helps create these patterns. Conditioning is certainly valuable - we learn not to walk around hurting each other; however, we must learn to practice self-love so that we can let go of the healthy conditioning that taught us to criticize and judge so much of our daily activities. 

So, how can we actually practice self-love and perceive ourselves with  tender-heartedness? A few helpful techniques have been beneficial in slowly letting go of our critical mind. The first few techniques are mantra-based. If we notice that we are being self-critical (this is where mindfulness comes in), we can simply think ‘I love myself.’ It may seem silly, but after repeated use, we may feel a softening into self-love. Another mantra that is helpful is, ‘I am loving awareness.’ By resting as loving awareness itself, our criticism melts away. Lastly, we can use a more analytical method by objectifying the critical mind. By literally imagining that our critical mind is something that we do not like, such as a snake, or a shark, or a spider (no offense to these animals!), we can create a healthy distance between us and the critical mind. In that distance, peace arises. 

In all, there are so many ways to reduce stress. Take your time with these practices, practice one or two things at a time, use what works for you, and let go of the rest. Have a beautiful day.