Zen Blog

This blog collects various internet feeds aimed towards information, experience and technique exchange in support of our shared spiritual journey.....

”Namaste - may the light in me, honor the light in you…”

How to Manage Stress with Mindfulness and Meditation

What Is Stress?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, stress is the brain and body’s response to change, challenge, or demand. It is the body’s natural defense against danger brought on by an event or thought that makes you feel frustrated, angry, or nervous. When a stressful event occurs, the body is flooded with hormones to avoid or confront danger. This is commonly referred to as the fight-or-flight response.

Stress can become a chronic condition if the proper steps to manage it are not taken. Chronic stress can cause chemical changes in the body that may raise blood pressure, heart rate, and blood sugar levels. Long-term stress or high levels of stress may also lead to mental and physical health problems.

How Do You Respond to Stress?

Strategies like ignoring or denying stress (what experts call avoidance coping), or distracting ourselves, which may be effective short-term, can also undermine our health and happiness in the long run. Research published in the Journal of Research in Personality shows that present-moment awareness, a key feature of mindfulness, increases stress resilience and effective coping.

Present-moment awareness involves monitoring and attending to current experience rather than predicting future events or dwelling on the past. Studies show that an individual’s disposition toward remaining in the present moment is linked to numerous health benefits including lower levels of perceived stress, anxiety and depression, improved mood, and a sense of improved well-being.

In the study, a team of Australian researchers examined the effects of present moment-awareness in a sample of 143, well-educated university students and staff (76.3% female) who were part of an online mindfulness training course. The researchers surveyed the study participants with a focus on three stress response variables.

Continue reading
  3 Hits
  0 Comments
3 Hits
0 Comments

Sharon Salzberg on Why Love Will Drive Out Hate

I think more than almost anything, the quotation that has returned to my mind again and again in this last period of time is from James Baldwin, “I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.”

Pain abounds, and it’s often so hard to look at. Anyone who has practiced introspection—meditation, psychotherapy—has had to work to separate revelation of their damaging emotional patterns from humiliation about them. They’ve worked to not add shame to challenging states, to keep love and compassion toward themselves the predominant environment within which they can then keep looking.

It seems easier, and more automatic, to project that pain outward, to declare someone the “other” and at fault, to feel safe in the certainty that some view you hold is superior to all others, to finally feel you amount to something. 

I don’t know how to get someone else to look at their pain—their fear, grief, sense of unworthiness—unless we are in the context of mindfulness training that they have chosen and I can be the voice of loving clarity that can help them through it. I don’t know how to effectively challenge vicious, destructive views of whole sections of society (though I’m committed to trying). I freely admit I can be wrong or deluded in my own views, but that doesn’t mean I think all views are equal. 

The internet tells me the most popular thing I’ve ever posted is, “Compassion doesn’t mean we don’t fight. It means we don’t hate.” 

Continue reading
  12 Hits
  0 Comments
12 Hits
0 Comments

A Simple Practice to Calm Agitation

1. Find somewhere to sit, stand, or lie down that gives you a sense of safety and stability. Take three deep breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth. Then settle into a natural breathing rhythm.

2. Feel your forehead relax, along with your eyes, your jaw, your whole face. Feel the relaxation and release of your neck, your shoulders, and your belly. Imagine a radiant sun beaming from within your heart. Picture yourself at the center of this warm and welcoming light.

3. Send these intentions to yourself, pausing before each repetition to just rest in the space: May I be free from suffering. May I find peace and joy. See if you can rest in these wishes for your own well-being.

4. Picture someone you have not been able to find common ground with. You may never agree, but you can notice that even this person likely wants to feel safe and suffer less. Allow yourself to gently offer these words, noticing how it makes you feel: May you be free from suffering. May you know peace and joy.

5. Notice your breathing, your body, and your mind. Are you feeling more ease or less? Are you feeling more agitation or less?

Original author: Elaine Smookler
  29 Hits
  0 Comments
29 Hits
0 Comments

The Wisdom of Loving Your Enemy

It has been a time of rage, despair, and divisiveness. The enemy is everywhere. As we batten down the hatches against the threat of one another, it might be worth pausing, just for a moment, to be curious about the price we pay for holding on to hatred.

The brain is amazing at spotting potential threats. When you are under attack, hormone blasts turn you into a temporary superhero so you can run like hell or fend off acute pain. In small doses, this cocktail of adrenaline, cortisol, and a thousand other herbs and spices can keep you alive and kicking just a little bit longer.

When overused, however, these very same hormones are the source of chronic sleep problems, digestive difficulty, anxiety, and poor brain function. It’s worth noting that these are the hormones we switch on when we see the world as our enemy.

How does thinking about your enemy make you feel? Does fixating on your foe make you feel strong, healthy, and present? What do you notice in your body when your enemy is near? Are you holding your breath, tightening your jaw, and bringing digestion to a grinding halt?

To live mindfully is an invitation to stand up for social justice and environmental stewardship.
It means recognizing where corruption takes us and courageously looking at our own beliefs, stories, and anything else that blocks the clearest and widest view. It’s also important to notice if you are grinding the ax of hatred while imagining that you are standing up for decency and fairness.

Continue reading
  6 Hits
  0 Comments
6 Hits
0 Comments

How I Stopped Terrorizing Myself

I’m standing on stage in front of 150 people, the spotlight bright in my eyes, the microphone solid in my hand. Their faces stare up at me, expectantly. I’m there to tell them a story. For a lot of people, being on stage in this way is a nightmare. Stage fright can make your heart pound, your mouth go dry, your limbs quake. But not me. I’m comfortable here. My worst nightmare awaits me later, at home. It’s also what I’m on stage to talk about.

“For decades—my whole life, practically—I’ve lived with a persistent, debilitating fear of being murdered in my bed,” I tell the audience. They laugh uproariously. They’re not being insensitive—I’m telling it funny. That’s how I always tell it. I run through the list of ghosts that haunt my overactive imagination: Sasquatch, vampires, Adolf Hitler, the Loch Ness Monster, Jesus—that crown of thorns, all that blood—those phantoms of my childhood. Then the Boston Strangler, Ted Bundy, the Zodiac Killer—the true-crime menaces of my late-night adolescent reading. Fear has been my constant companion for as long as I can remember.

It’s not totally surprising. I was a girl in the 1970s and ’80s in southern Ontario. I read the newspaper every day from the age of nine or ten, and my mother’s magazines—Family Circle, Women’s Day—and they were all always cover-to-cover, it seemed, with violence against girls and women. Kids my age disappearing from the hallways of their apartment buildings, or last seen on the subway heading downtown to a movie with friends. Women like my mother followed through parking lots, pulled into vans, when out for a walk, flagged down
to help someone in need, and then never heard from again. I learned to walk with my keys threaded through my fingers. I read conflicting advice on whether to fight or submit. When my hair was long, I learned to keep it tucked into my coat so it couldn’t be used to apprehend me from behind.

Fear has been my constant companion for as long as I can remember.

Some of that fear was caution, and self-preservation, I guess. It was the water I was swimming in—misogyny and men’s violence against women was baked into the society in which I grew up, from the news headlines, to the murder mysteries my mother read, to the movies and television shows we all watched. But that fear also flicked a switch in me that was hard to switch off. I became hyper-alert.

Continue reading
  6 Hits
  0 Comments
6 Hits
0 Comments