Treading lightly the path to enlightenment.

Posts tagged ‘stress relief’

Carpe diem or crappy diem?

Summer morning

The rest of Horace’s famous quote is often overlooked by most folks. The whole phrase is “Carpe diem quam minimum credulo postero”.
Roughly translated, it means “Seize the day, don’t wait for tomorrow”, or perhaps “put minimum credence in tomorrow”. There are a number of slight variations. “Don’t put off to tomorrow what can be done today.” or even “Don’t do today what can be put off indefinitely!”.

Sometimes we can “seize the day”, embrace it, race headlong into it smiling ear-to-ear with vigor. Those are some of the greatest days, providing moments to remember, the high spots in our lives.

Other times, it seems we just can’t pull it together, or something slams our great day and tries to run it off the rails.

Two mantras I use for days that will not be seized:

“You can turn your day around!”

and conversely

“Know when to write off a day.”.

The first one is obvious. Some difficulty or semi-disaster doesn’t have to mean you spend the rest of the day in the doldrums. There are a variety of things you can do, from internal dialogue to acceptance. A change of venue. Plow forward in spite of trouble. Take a break, take a walk, take a breather, take the afternoon off. It’s a matter of keeping a positive attitude and doing something, whatever is within your bag of tricks, to break the chain of negativity, and let the rest of the day unfold on its own. Sometimes, a little stick-to-it-iveness is all it takes, and what seemed a bad day can turn out to be grand, or at least survivable.

The second one is of equal importance. Know when to write off a day. Sometimes, all the pushing of the proverbial rock up the hill just ends up with the rock rolling back over you. Repeatedly.

You woke up late on the one day of the week when you have a meeting at 8 and have to be on time. Then you go to make coffee and that’s when you remember you forgot to buy the coffee yesterday. Then you discover that your clothes don’t just need a fluff ‘n’fold, but somehow the dirty laundry bypassed the hamper and ended up in the clean basket. You go to brush your teeth and the hot water faucet comes off in your hand, so you go to brush your teeth in the kitchen only to discover the water heater has tripped a breaker, and the water is ice-cold.  You go out to your car to discover you left the door open and the seat has snow on it, and as you grumble and sit down with no coffee and cold teeth in your dirty pants on the seat full of snow you discover the dome light has been on all night and the battery is dead. You jump-start the car with the lawn tractor which you thankfully neglected to put in the barn before the snow flew, and slam the car in gear only to find you have a flat tire.

Know when to write off a day.

“Yeah,  Hi Kelly, I won’t be in today. Tell them I’ll phone into the meeting and attend on speakerphone.”

The rest of the day I set my sites on tomorrow. It’s one day out of the 28,000 I’m allotted. Let it go.

Well, maybe I’ll try fixing that faucet. What? I left my tools at work?

Back to bed.

Be at peace,


Life is not a highway


Funny thing about driving on the highway, and that’s people going as fast as they can. Now I don’t mean folks are holding their foot to the floor and going 120 miles an hour down Chestnut Street. Well, maybe once when I was younger…

Folks will go as fast as they’re allowed to. Somewhere just slightly over the speed limit. Most will change lanes or make for toll booths with the shortest lines. On city streets it’s the same, folks trying to go as fast as they’re allowed, tailgating others, honking horns, passing on the right.
Okay, so this isn’t a traffic safety session. Folks seem to do a number of these things “as fast as they can”. Fast food for lunch, looking for the shortest line at the checkout, googling stuff.
In my Armchair Zen world, I try to go at the pace I choose. I go as fast as I want to, not as fast as possible. Sure, power walking for cardio is good for your cardio, but for sightseeing, it’s not the same.
Do we realize how the relaxed-pace sightseeing walk can lower our blood pressure (especially if accompanied by an endearing dog).
Do we realize that we’re getting stressed (and increasing our blood pressure) by fretting over waiting in a longer line at the checkout or toll booth? Do we realize we’re stressing over seconds? Most of these things rarely will amount to as much as a minute, and extremely rare is the case where you can count more than a couple of minutes.
I’m setting my pace to that which suits me. It’s a peaceful pace, and relaxing. It’s not slow. Most folks describe my walking pace as quick, and there are lots of things I like to do quickly (a throwback to commercial kitchen work). I can zoom through a grocery store and have just what I came in for in three minutes and be in the checkout line.
What do you do once you’re in the line, or a traffic jam, or the line of cars at the toll booth or the line of traffic trying to exit the fireworks display all at the same time?
These are great places to practice simple patience. Moreover, actively decide you won’t be stressed out over these things. What can be done about it? How much time will you gain by jumping lines or weaving through traffic? Five seconds, ten?
There’s a reason retailers place a whole rasher of stuff at the checkouts. It’s called “impulse merchandise”, but I use it as entertainment and distraction. Read all the magazine titles. Look at the nifty gadgets or the newest SuperSized candy bar. The same can be done on the road. Look at the clouds (well, not while driving too much, eh?) There are birds and trees in most places, and there are always cars, trucks, boats, all kinds of things to look at.
And when moving, YOU decide the speed you want to travel. Not the speed limit or the highway traffic or that guy tailgating you.
There are times when I need to hustle, and do, without compromising driving safety or courtesy.
The rest of the time, I set my own pace.

I call it “the speed of Zen”.

Be at peace.


Take Time to Wonder

Walking the road in wonderment.

We’re all on the same road. Cradle to the grave. Beneath our skin, regardless of color, we all want to be loved, and to give love in return.  Whether we think and dream in Spanish or Russian, English or Cantonese, we all have the same dreams.

We get so busy going down the road that we forget to stop and see the beauty in the everyday world around us. To reach out and touch one another and say “These, these are the days we will remember.”

We have a little plaque on the windowsill that reads:

We don’t remember the days, we remember the moments.”

Looking back along the road, it’s easy to see the truth of this simple statement. The time when I was just a child, when I sat still long enough for a chickadee to land on my hand to take a bit of bread. That afternoon when my son was born, putting him under the heat lamp like an order of french fries. That night in the emergency room when they pinned my other son’s spiral fracture of his arm.

How many moments do you remember? When you think of the moment, it seems the rest of the world and the day fade away into the background.

We don’t need special events to “make” these moments. We simply need to open our eyes to see these moments in every day. Like the old adage of stopping to smell the roses. We don’t even have to stop, we simply need to awaken.

We drive down the road without looking out the window. We’re watching the road and traffic, watching the clock, thinking of getting to work or the show or home. How many moments are we missing? A bird flying past, the shape of a cloud, the warmth of the sun on our face.

There’s a beauty in nature if we will only take the moment to see it. If we can develop our senses to appreciate the natural order of things, the power or solemnity of nature, we can find beauty in the tiniest things, even things that may not be considered beautiful in a traditional sense. It sounds kind of corny, but there is beauty in a blade of grass, in droplets of dew, in the busy work of ants on the ground, in the silent circles of birds in the sky.

I remember a moment, sitting on the ground on an early summer morning. I noticed the drops of dew on the grass, and realized each one acted as a prism, emitting rainbow colors. By moving ever-so-slightly, the color of the droplet would vary from red to blue to green. I realized that even under the bright direct sun, the light emitted from the dew drops was as bright as the sun, and white as starlight. Of course! They’re refracting the rays of the sun! What wonder filled me when I realized that there, in the tiny drop of water, was light as powerful as the sun! A rainbow, a star, the sun. Huge celestial objects, all in one, all in a tiny drop of water just a foot away!

There’s a little scroll on the wall, given to me by my late mother, I don’t know how many years ago. It’s a storybook picture of an elf, in awe observing a butterfly. I have adopted the phrase on this scroll as a way of reminding myself to seek those “moments we remember”, and if you repeat it to yourself and embrace it, perhaps it will enable you to see that beauty in everyday things, to live in the now, to make those moments. It reads:

Take time to wonder. Without wonder, life is merely existence.”

Be at peace.


The Power of “I don’t know”

Speaking to my son who recently embarked on a new career, he talked of the end of orientation week for new-hires. Tentatively, someone offered the simple truth of new people in new jobs “There are so many things I don’t know!”

A collective sigh of relief rose as all the new-hires chimed in and agreed “I thought I was the only one that felt that way. Even with all of my education and training, when I actually started doing this for real, I realized how much I don’t know!”. The seasoned and veteran staffers smiled and agreed. “Yes, we remember being where you are now. Nobody expects you to know everything when you’re starting out. More importantly, those of us that have been here for many years must often say ‘I don’t know’.”

As we talked, I shared my own experiences, my own self-training in this matter. When going into a new situation, or one that is strange to me, or one in which the outcome is unforeseen, I am keenly aware that there are many things I don’t know. When working for a major retailer, when my district manager offered me my first store as manager, he asked “Are you ready?”. I replied “Well, I don’t know what it is that I don’t know!”

When approaching such a thing, one must realize “…but there are a lot of things I do know!”. I know how to open the door, and they probably sit on chairs here. I know how to say hello and shake hands. I know how to answer questions, and if I don’t know the answer, I know how to say “I don’t know.”

It seems many of us are unwilling to admit when we don’t know. Perhaps it’s schooling or a degree of life-learning maturity, or perhaps we don’t want to seem inadequate, or let others down. There are few things more simple, honest and empowering than having total comfort being able to say “I don’t know.”

Why did Galileo point his crude telescope into space, facing charges of heresy, to figure out if it was the sun or the earth that was the center of the solar system? Because he didn’t know.

What made Newton want to question and define the effects, origins and laws of gravity?

What made Columbus sail west to see if it was possible to circumnavigate the globe?

What made Einstein decide we needed a formula to define energy?

What made Salk continue trying to perfect a cure for polio? Why did the Russians send dogs and monkeys into space to find out what happens to mammals outside of our atmosphere? What made Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion and Toto seek the Wizard in hopes that he had answers to their quandaries?

It was because they didn’t know.

In A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens’ unscrupulous miser Ebeneezer Scrooge spends one night with spirits that try to enlighten him to the fact that everything we do can affect those around us, and the fashion in which we lead our lives can contribute to our being at peace and living in joy with the world, or we can be “tormented by a legion of hobgoblins”, living in hostility and loneliness. After his other-wordly experience, when he believes he has died and has no chance to make amends for his wasted years, he finds that he has been delivered, safe and sound, to his own bed, and it’s Christmas morning. “I don’t know how the spirits did it all in one night!” he says, breathlessly, then breaks into song:

I don’t know anything! I never did know anything!

But now I know that I don’t know, all on Christmas morning!

Will this dissertation help you to see and understand The power of “I don’t know”?

Well…I don’t know.

Be at peace.


Think Not-Thinking

Reading about meditation, the description talked of clearing your mind of all thought. “Thoughts are bound to try to creep into your consciousness. Concentrate…think not-thinking.

It sounds like double-speak, but the next time I tried to relax and clear my head through a semi-meditation routine, I tried this. It’s hard to describe, I suppose it’s really occupying your mind with the present, surface thought. Know what? It worked!

For  me, the racing mind is thinking ahead constantly. To-do lists at work, to-do lists at home, places to be, the clock to watch, stuff to pick up from the store, bills to be paid, purchases to be planned, thinking and planning future activities… this may seem like a run-on sentence, but that’s what gets buzzing in my head. I suppose it is a run-on sentence, or a run-on paragraph, or maybe a run-on one-sided conversation, but sometimes it seems like it just keeps getting longer and faster, and runs in circles.

I tend to have notes everywhere. Lists, note pads, reminders. Reminders about notes to remind me to read the lists that tell me to see the notes and review the lists… honestly, it’s bedlam sometimes. It occurred to me that if I’m making all these notes, then I should just rely on them and not keep spinning them around in my head. It gets worse trying to keep mental track of them because then I re-hash and repeat, and still suspect (or worry) that there’s something I’ve forgotten.

So I tried to clear my mind while on a long stretch of highway. There really was nothing to be done until the destination was reached, so perhaps quelling the list-reading voices would be relaxing. Just as the sage said, thoughts tried to creep into my consciousness. Actually, I think that’s the definition of consciousness. So I tried to think about not-thinking. Of course it’s a bit like counting sheep to fall asleep. It’s not that you relax and clear your mind as much as you hypnotize yourself with the monotony! I thought “Think not-thinking. Think not-thinking.” and it worked! Every now and then a new & foreign thought would try to walk in, and I’d repeat my “mantra”.

Maybe this will work for you. Maybe you can simply think no thoughts and still be awake. I don’t know how that’s possible, but good for you! Maybe the “think not-thinking” is too far out for you. For relaxation purposes, which seems like a basic goal and benefit of meditation, perhaps you can visualize a single thing or event.  The idea is to crowd out worrisome thoughts, like those described earlier, to-do lists and money woes.

It’s not escapism or shirking your duties or responsibilities unless you do it all day every day, or at least the majority of the time you’re awake!

It can be very relaxing, and does help to “clear the mind”. When your non-thinking session ends, all the same lists and worries are still there for you, so don’t worry, you haven’t forgotten important (or unimportant) things, nor been short-changed on your suffering and high blood pressure!

For me, it breaks the chain of think-worry-do-think-fix-work-do-worry-think.  After all, in this real world we need to navigate- without the advantage of being in a quiet and solemn temple in Tibet- we’ll need to think, act, plan, even worry.

When you want a cup of tea, you put the water on to boil, and when the kettle whistles, you shut off the heat. Thinking constantly, especially true worries, is like leaving the heat on under the kettle all the time. The water can’t get any hotter, and if you’re not ready to use it, all that energy will simply evaporate the water.

Don’t let all that unnecessary energy of ruminating thoughts cloud your mind with useless steam— until you’re out of water.

Be at peace.


The Long Path vs. The Daily Grind

Finding our place in the universe, in nature, helps us to feel the transitory nature of all things. We get so concerned with the societal and cultural elements in our lives that it’s difficult to remember that for most of us, whatever we did here will make little or no difference in a hundred years.

It can really be liberating to get to a place, literally sometimes, where we can feel how tiny and alone we are in the universe.

Day-to-day we must go to work, wash our clothes, feed our families. We become entrenched in the stage play that is our modern world, and that often makes us think in small ways. Today, tomorrow, the next ten minutes,dealing with this pain or paying that bill are real stressors in our lives, and it takes considerable amounts of concentration to get these things into perspective.

When I lose sight of the path, the long road, the universe as it existed before I lived and will exist long after I’m gone, my thoughts and emotions become short-sighted, immediate.

It’s only when I think of the long road that I can reign in this accursed brain. That I can stop to think that there are others worse off, with greater stresses, immediate dangers, fear, hunger, pain. Being five minutes late for work, being broke until payday, having a headache— when I let these things occupy my mind’s space like shiny trinkets I can’t take my eyes from, life suddenly becomes shorter, more complicated, sometimes downright annoying.

When I stop to truly see, I realize that these passing moments will be meaningless before I know it. What is more meaningful?

Being kind to my wife, children, co-workers, not allowing these transient annoyances to make me short-tempered or intolerant of them, to remember that these are among the greatest beauties in my life.

Seeking the solemnity and beauty of natural places, the walk after work or even envisioneering, where I visualize these inspiring places and moments. These places help me to see that the world, the universe, is entirely unaffected by the things in my tiny life, and I am indeed a part of this universe. If I was spit out of the universe right now, it would carry on without missing a beat.

Remembering that I live on a rock that is hurtling through space at a rate of 130 miles a second. Every moment is good fortune.

Remembering to be the me I imagine myself to be. One that is kind, compassionate, serving and sympathetic, because I feel in my heart that these are the highest callings for the use of this brain and this time on the planet.

We face these choices every moment of every day. To be agitated or accepting. To be judgemental or forgiving. To be a taker or a giver. In a way, the path is a selfish one, in that I seek understanding and enlightenment so that I may be at peace.

In another way, by example or action, it is a selfless path, as I seek my own peace by wishing peace for others, by sharing the bottomless well of love.

Be at peace.


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