tranquility

During these times, many of us are feeling a bit lost, if not confused.  We listen to stories or watch videos of events that stop us cold. As we watch events such as those with George Floyd or the police officers killed at the capitol, we realize how easily events in life can rise up and destroy. How can we feel calm again? How do we get through the day, when so much of life is beyond our control?

What we might try is accepting. Accepting doesn’t mean you have to like or approve of what’s happening. It is more of an exercise of exploring or noticing what is happening. Such an approach includes accepting who we are instead of getting in a dialogue with our own projections. Doing so we notice when anger and confusion rise up. We understand they might carry us in directions we do not want to go.  When we find ourselves sitting up at night wondering and replaying our worries and fears, we do have options.

We can use the same mental techniques that left us tired and spent to open our hearts and reclaim peace. The time we used creating a Plan B for bad and horrible outcomes, can also be used to generate a Plan A – for the acceptable and inspirational possibilities. Worst-case scenarios are so powerful because we KNOW what can create the worst case. We then use that ‘what’ to visualize the horrible outcomes. That is why dwelling on such fears can be so powerful. Fears are emotions and often arise from dwelling on thoughts and emotions.

We can use the same approach to visualize a best-case or even a good-case scenario. Of course, we cannot bring those killed back to life. However, we can think thoughts or take actions that put a smile on our face or another’s. We can reach out with calls or volunteer time to support those impacted by the deaths. We can use our time to connect with life instead of dwelling on fears that keep us locked up inside our emotions and thoughts.

You can make this shift by contemplating something positive you KNOW can happen. You might visualize how a colorful card inspires a relative or friend you haven’t been in touch to give you a call.  Maybe you make a donation to a relief fund or attend a vigil to warm your heart. The practice is shifting the focus to accepting what is and then working with that. 

Although you cannot bring someone back from the dead, you can send a card of sympathy or make a donation to charity in someone’s name.

By accepting and working with what is, we practice noticing and connecting. We make conscious choices about where we direct our thoughts. We choose how to collaborate with events in our lives. When in the midst of what feels like chaos, we can use our thoughts, words, and deeds to engage in ways that add peace, if only for a moment. 

tranquility

 

Peace is Attainable

Peace can be elusive in these pandemic times.  The news reports that the United States will have tens of millions of vaccine doses to distribute this winter. And yet, anxiety and worry settle back down around us. When will the vaccines be available? Who will get them? How much does the storage equipment cost?  But did we take time to celebrate the scientists that created the vaccines or those brave souls that volunteered for the vaccine trials that we might be safe? Instead, our attention went back to frustration or the politics of wearing masks, hand sanitizing, and social distancing.

How do we find peace of mind in the midst of all this anxiety? I suggest two techniques. One is remembering interconnectedness and the second is practicing gratitude. 

Interconnectedness

Interconnectedness is key because in actuality we exist because of it. We just think we are independent and separate.  Our biological mother and father made us who we are and passed on their DNA which combined to become ours.   We cannot hide from our DNA. Science is even explaining how the bond between nature and nurture travels through time.  As explained by scientists for the past ten years, the effects of trauma can be passed on in the genes.  As Andy Coghlan explained in New Scientist, “genes chemically silenced by stress during life have been shown to remain silenced in eggs and sperm, allowing the effect to be passed down to the next generation.

The good news is the behavioral traits in our genes are only a predisposition, not a life sentence. We can and do change as we age. Even “hotheads”, those quick to anger, can change. Such behaviors, even if passed down in the genes can be changed. We can transform reflexive behavior like anger into a practice that relieves stress and anxiety.

Gratitude

Practicing gratitude helps us relieve anxiety. Everything we encounter can be used to further our gratitude practice. Being grateful for our friends and even physical objects can help us transform our inner anxiety. Reach out and touch a desk or even our coffee cups when the news or people around us start dragging us down. Take a moment to ask, who made this computer, the desk, or the coffee and appreciate their efforts. 

Questions For Reflection

One form of gratitude practice is Naikan, or reflecting inward. Naikan is a Japanese word that means “looking inside” and refers to a practice of self-reflection based on three questions: 

  • What did I receive? 
  • What did I give? 
  • What troubles and difficulties did I cause?  

Reflecting on our response to these questions will give us a deeper appreciation of the world around us. As Gregg Krech, Executive Director of the ToDo Institute, explains in his book: Naikan: Gratitude, Grace and the Japanese Art of Self-Reflection, “We hurry through our day giving little attention to all the ‘little’ things we are receiving. But are these things really little? … They only seem so because, while we are being supported, our attention is elsewhere.” Habitually, our attention may drift to what we lack or dislike. We may become judgemental. Yet, with these simple questions, we return our attention to what we have received from others and awaken to our dependency on others. 

Naikan’s three questions are used as a self-reflection exercise to help us remember some of the people, things, and places involved in simple events.  For example, purchasing vegetables at the grocery caused me to just sit back and reflect. After a few moments, I was overwhelmed by all the beings and people who had made such a simple event possible.

Practice Gratitude

Sitting with gratitude will put a smile on your face. Being physically isolated does not mean you are alone. Appreciate your connections. Reach out and call a friend or relative. You might even send a note to a loved one.  You might leave a card on the door of a neighbor.  Thank those who help you live your life such as grocery store clerks and the drivers who pick up your garbage. Expressing your gratitude to your pets, whether a cat, dog or another animal will be richly rewarded. Even plants respond to kindness.  Watch a wilted one perk up when you water it!

Take a moment to breathe in and breathe out, notice some objects around you, and be grateful for all the causes and conditions that made your moment possible.  In that precious moment, enjoy peace.

References

Self Reflection

  • “Every breath we take, every step we make, can be filled with peace, joy and serenity.” —Thich Nhat Hanh

 

Small Cabin In VermontSitting on the deck of a small cabin in Vermont, I watched the setting sun on my last evening helping conduct a Naikan retreat at the ToDo Institute. Listening to the crickets begin to sing, I contemplated how the self-reflections participants had shared changed them and me. Preparing for the end of the retreat, I was and remain inspired to say thank you more often for the benefits I receive. Supporting others with intense Naikan practice inspired me to be a bit quicker to share apologies for the difficulties I cause. 

Truth SpaceNaikan, when translated literally, means ‘looking inside’ and sometimes is translated as reflection. On Naikan retreats, participants use a structured process for reflecting upon their life, from birth to the present day for six days or more. Participants sit behind shoji screens that enclose enough space for a couple of cushions, an eating tray, and a notepad for about 10 hours a day practicing Naikan. The cordoned-off area is called a “hoza” or “truth space.” 

 

The Naikan process was developed in Japan by Ishini Ishimoto to help people leave their anxieties by focusing their attention on gifts received, gifts given and troubles caused. Naikan Self-Reflection by Norimasa Nishida describes the practice as used in different countries. It shares how a Naikan retreat can be life-changing. 

 

What I found fascinating was how being an interviewer could also be life-altering. Constantly asking myself, how can I support the participants and exploring how I caused difficulties, I did not have time to even contemplate who was at fault for not having tasks done. Instead, it was a practice of searching out how I could help, which is something I take back to my work. The tasks required to support the retreat participants with a constant flow of assignments, interviews and time out in nature fill my six days. 

During the six days, Gregg Krech managed to find time for staff to have a few moments for reflection.  I cherished the opportunity to create a truth space for reflection outside. A small bench surrounded by growing plants and trees set up behind the main house was a place to shift my attention from anxiety to reflection.  It was a space to notice how much of my tensions were focused on what I thought other people might think. I laughed as I realized my worries were often internal dialogues with myself. Shifting to what I received, I began noticing the myriad of causes and conditions that make a moment. It was often humbling. Standing up from my small bench, I thanked the flowers, the bees, the dragonflies and the spreading trees for sharing their beauty.  Gregg and Linda Krech have done so much to have the ToDo Institute host Naikan retreats in the Green Mountains of Vermont. Check out the schedule for Naikan classes and retreats at www.todoinstitute.org 

Todo Institute Retreat Center

Woman In Field

Being Trapped

After surviving traumatic situations, we stay stuck in the muck of fears. In a state of anxiety,  we get hooked by our own emotions and the emotions of others. We feel as though we cannot move, sometimes not even breathe in the presence of others. The world around us seems alien. We become trapped by fears of what might happen. We dream up situations where we lose friends of years or how we become ill. We might stop driving being so afraid we might get into an accident. We become trapped by our own fears and expectations.

Finding a Way Out

The sensation of being trapped is partly due to being lost.  When the thoughts of “I cannot, I’m not good enough, I might…… become overwhelming, then is the time to remember that we all are seekers. The human condition, instead of being a trap, is a resource.  The process of being human can free us.

Walking Free

My training as a Buddhist priest and a Chaplain along with certifications in Applied Existential Psychotherapy and in methods of Japanese Psychology led me to integrate spirituality with psychotherapy.  My mental health clients and mindfulness students have shown me it is possible to recognize and step away from destructive emotions. It is possible to walk free from neurotic fears.

Although it does not happen in one day. It takes some patience and a bit of practice to live life fully. The practice involves being willing to see with a new view. Only when fears are seen as chains do they bind us. Recognizing fear as just another thought pattern, it is not a trap. With practice, we can walk out into the world despite fears and even with our fears. We can use fear as a reminder to notice and to ask what are we seeing and where are we. Using tools of self-reflection and techniques for embracing the human condition, we discover the freedom to heal and grow.   

  –  Carol

Carol O’Dowd, MPA, MDIV, MI, RP
Prajna Healing Arts
720-244-2299

 

 

Even when the world seems dark and fear grabs at your gut, it is possible to find peace of mind. Feeling overwhelmed and filled with anxiety, we focus on the loud and demonstrative voices of fear and anger. Doing so we do not hear the whispering of compassion flowing in life. What we often miss is that Life does not tell us, instead it asks us, ‘Where do you want to place your attention?”

Morita Therapy asks us to be conscious about placing attention. We can place our attention on our difficulties and sing the blame song, “he done me wrong”. Another option is to shift our attention. It can be done with the simple practice of accepting. Oddly enough, accepting in the midst of difficult circumstances is possible. When we feel our hands are tied, sometimes accepting is the only thing to do. Accepting is not about giving up. Accepting is more about assessing what is happening. After accepting what is occurring or what feelings and emotions are raging, then we make a decision as to what to do about it. Part of managing depression involves expanding our view and taking actions that include caring for self.

So often, traveling with my counseling clients through the fears from abuse or the anxiety from illness, loss of job, or death of loved ones, we discover strength. We explore ways to see events with a lens that focuses on lessons learned. We let go of projections others place upon us. We find ways to drop the never-ending tape of Could’a, Should’a, Would’a. One of those ways is to practice listening with heart-mind to what is. What is includes all the causes and conditions that made it possible for us to be in the moment. Shifting our focus is a technique for quieting busy minds, even in the midst of chaos. An effective way to shift our focus is to be active. We do not have to define ourselves by our pain and suffering. We can get up and engage with the world. That can be as simple as washing dishes, fixing a cup of tea, or taking a walk. During such activities, we focus on the sensations of our body. Placing awareness on the soap suds on our hands, or the warmth of a tea bag, the aroma of flowers or the wind upon our face we setting aside ruminations of what could have been and clinging to the past. We can experience, if only for a moment peace.

Opening up to life creates the space for letting in happiness, if only during the instance we wipe a tabletop or pet a smiling dog or cat. Pain and suffering exist. Yet, with life constantly flowing, we do not have to let them define who we are. With an open heart and mind, we can place our attention with full awareness. Doing so leads us to peace, even when in the midst of chaos.

  –  Carol

Carol O’Dowd, MPA, MDIV, MI, RP
Prajna Healing Arts
720-244-2299