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Posts Tagged ‘meditation’

Modern society has swallowed its own tail: in trying to make ourselves happier through modern advances, we have made ourselves instead the opposite. In a 2013 study of those adults who found themselves to be happy, only 55% of those interviewed of Gen X admitted to deep happiness, while other ages groups (like Baby Boomer and Millenials) scored quite similarly. In essence, only roughly half of the United States admits to happiness. Though in decades past happiness may have been measured differently, if measured at all, the greatest change is how happiness is defined. While statistics show that Americans are more glum, the questions remain: how do we define happiness, and how can we change our state of being?

PBS published happiness as “…the good life, freedom from suffering, flourishing, well-being, joy, prosperity, and pleasure.” But what does this mean? Perhaps the definition ultimately comes down to the individual and his or her situation, but one might venture a guess that true happiness begins with the most bottom tiers of Maslow’s hierarchy of need, so once we have safety, food, and comfort, we can begin our journey to happiness. If we feel successful in some manner (either professionally or personally), have self-esteem, laughter, and are able to participate in things we enjoy, we will find happiness. This still seems a superficial answer, and I intend to take the next few weeks to investigate what truly makes us joyful and happy.

This search began after several conversations with friends recently, both instigated by myself and the friends, regarding our state of well-being. One friend offered that he had lost the will to do any of the activities he once loved, which was a heavy load to hear since he was the man who taught me how to love the world around me. Another friend found herself several times either in a fury or in tears because she found herself in her mid-forties and childless. There are more still, those who have found sadness dwells in their souls instead of the burning excitement for life they once held.

When I began my research, one very common theme arose multiple times: do not compare yourself to others or to an unrealistic expectation. We will begin here. Happiness is your own journey, as is life. Our paths may be different, but one is never more important or successful than another. High school reunions too often spark such feelings: that perfect kid in high school is now president of the world? Worse yet, we become consumed with images on Facebook of these perfect lives of our virtual friends, and instantly we see ourselves as failures because we haven’t had the apparently required two kids, gotten engaged, gotten married, bought a new car, went on a trip around the world…twice. Whether or not social media virtual friends are honestly showing their true lives in irrelevant; what is relevant is your true life.

If you find yourself a bit glum these days, here is your step one homework for happiness: count how many times you honestly check social media sites each day. Do this for a matter of days, take the average, and now cut that number in half. So, if you pop online 20 times during the day (mostly at work when you don’t want to do that report, I suspect), half of that is obviously 10. For the next two days, go online no more than 10 times. Then, cut it in half again. Two days you may only check 5 times a day. Then…you got it…cut it out completely. Go for a week without checking, if you can, and then limit yourself to one time a day at most after that.

Here’s why: staying off social media first will make you more productive in general. You will be more focused at work, and more mindful at home. Mindfulness is an incredibly important part of our happiness. Without comparing ourselves to other people, we can focus on each moment of our day, which is essentially what the makeup of our lives really is. Spend time noticing the world around you: the colors of the room, the temperature of the air outside, the shapes of the clouds, the way your lunch really tastes, the way your favorite lotion smells. Be present in each experience, without judgement of good or bad, just observing life. Observe your own life and ask what makes you happy, what makes you feel good. Honor your sadness or whatever emotions you may feel, embrace it, speak to it, and start to let it go. Most importantly, remember that you cannot compare yourself to anyone else because you are unlike anyone else. This is your homework. Step 2 will come shortly.

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Expectation is the mother of all frustration.

Antonio Banderas

Frustration attacks us, overpowers us. It makes us respond inhumanely at times, angrily or mean, short-tempered and sometimes just spiteful. Frustration rears its ugly head when we are “in situations where a person is blocked from reaching a desired outcome,” (Berger). While this emotion is overwhelming and elicits our worst behaviors, it also is an indicator that something is not working, thus we should be motivated to fix the problems through changing some facet of our lives or just the issue at hand.

Often, frustration surfaces when we have put so much time and effort and energy into something, and the result we want just isn’t coming. We have internal expectations or wants and desires, either realistic or otherwise, which cannot be met. Or perhaps it is a reaction to wasting time stuck in traffic or losing money by not getting the highest amount at your latest garage sale. External influences can often be unavoidable- we cannot change traffic patterns or force patrons to pay full retail for that used lamp without a cord. But we can find ways to deal with frustration, both internal and external, to better create a positive environment.

Try first some meditative chant, such as the Serenity Prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” Remember that we cannot change the external world around us, but we can change the way we react to the world. However, such a phrase may not be enough to deal with the emotional surge responding to said situations. It takes time and practice to deal with the most common emotional responses to frustration, such as: giving up, losing confidence, stress, depression, or using unhealthy coping mechanisms like overeating or alcohol.

For me, anger is the response that I most express in frustrating situations. As a teacher, frustration (especially with the freshmen boys I teach) becomes overwhelming and personalized. I worked for an hour putting together a twenty-minute assignment that for some reason they cannot understand. A couple students talk over me when I give directions, and then as repeatedly how to do the assignment. Students make inappropriate comments that they do not understand are inappropriate. If I were to watch myself when consumed with anger, I’m sure that both I would be embarrassed, but also the phrase “Frustration begets anger and anger begets aggression” would be on my t-shirt.

Frustration, and the subsequent anger, also arises for me when I cannot complete a task, generally out of fear. Climbing is the most prevalent example. I rock climb…a lot. I love the challenge of going where, in theory, I really shouldn’t be able to, finding a solution to what to many is an invisible problem. What most keeps me from success, though, is fear or not understanding how to complete the problem. “I can’t do it,” I often yell to my patient boyfriend belaying me from below. He merely sighs and yells up at me, “You can do it.” Each time, I use “I can’t do it” in frustrated and near tears shaking voice, I’m actually saying that I am scared or that I am frustrated because I cannot accomplish what I want. I begin to shut down, I get short tempered, and while I should be addressing why I am responding as I am, instead I am ending up going with my emotional expression, not a logical interpretation of it.

So how do we, or more specifically I, deal with anger associated with frustration? How do I keep my boyfriend from rolling his eyes at my responses to not being able to do what I need to do? How do I keep my temper when Johnny Freshman asks me the same question for the fourth time? It is my intention that this week, especially tomorrow, I will focus on being a better human by focusing on expressing or identifying my frustrations.

First is the hardest: the identifying. Hindsight offers a vantage point of each incident of nasty comment or near crying and what prompted the behavior. However, how often can we see in the moment? Emotional responses for me are often volatile, so quickly running without controls. Instead, this week my first goal is to be more present in each moment and each emotion as it arises. If this means possibly saying aloud, to no one but myself, “I’m starting to feel upset,” then this may lead to future quicker and more apt understanding of my conflicted inner self.

Second is then acting upon the identification of the frustration. Taking a moment to breathe, to consider the context, to remove myself from the situation is key. For example, my freshmen often find that one nerve to pick at. Removing myself from the situation means not taking their actions personally- and consider their true psychological motivations. They aren’t necessarily specifically attacking me; any number of reasons could be to blame. Hormones, boredom, a lack of understanding the material all might lead to their behaviors. Perhaps something terrible has happened to them at home, like a family member dying or having to move because of a divorce. Remembering that other’s motivations are not inherently an attack on you is optimal in avoiding anger.

Also, I must be forgiving of myself, and my students, too. What most often causes my frustration is the expectations that I have for myself or for others. Perhaps I had a partially unrealistic perception of myself finishing a climbing route without any major difficulty. Or that I would have lost five pounds doing a new workout, yet instead gaining three. Or that my young and immature students would act like seniors. Allowing for “human error” or merely to remember that we are all fallible will allow opportunity to see the problem, and fix it, rather than just become angry about it.

This week, as I deepen my understanding of frustration and being human, I plan to improve my volatile emotional responses by connecting to my chakras, specifically my third eye chakra. Moodiness and volatility are developed when the chakra is out of alignment. Once balanced, you feel “clear and focused,” able to see the “big picture.” Healing and balancing this chakra includes meditative and relaxing yoga poses such as Child’s Pose. During this position, repeating positive affirmations, can help focus the power of your positive self. Luckily, it is also recommended that foods to heal this chakra are blueberries, dark chocolate, and omega-3 rich foods (like nuts and fish). Surround yourself with the color indigo and scent your world with lavender. All these suggestions are meant to focus on the self, the third eye, and to visualizing the world around us.

Yoga and meditation, breathing into the moment, and detaching myself from self-blame will be my focus this week as I become less frustrated, less angry, and more open to the universe. The more I embrace frustration as an indicator for change, and act on that change, the closer to becoming a better human I will be.

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When making drastic–or even minute–changes to one’s lifestyle, often we require a little energy boost. Though coffee is always a safe bet to get one through the long afternoons, man (and woman) cannot live by coffee alone. The implication of the above title does not, however, only refer to foods. Instead, “diet” in this sense refers to healthful living.

In About.com’s Alternative Medicine post, “5 Ways to Boost Your Energy,” Kathy Wong guides readers through five simple changes to our lives to give that extra push needed to complete new tasks or heavy burdens. In effect, these suggestions I intend to incorporate into my life to assist me making the previous six daily changes.

The premier suggestion is to attempt “diaphragmatic” breathing. In essence, to breath with the diaphragm. This can be accomplished through various meditations and breathing exercises, though a goal of mine is to return to regular yogic study. If yoga is not your “bag”, qi gong (found in Chinese and kung fu practice) also uses this breathing method. There are several yoga studios in Park City (not to mention the grip-ful in Salt Lake); so it isn’t access that prevents my study, but willingness to make time between grading and lesson planning and coaching.

Before I vomit reasons and excuses why I cannot follow through on goal number one, suggestion number two is easy to accomplish: get a good night’s sleep. Of course, yes! That’s all I have to do! Certainly on weekends when I have no early morning engagements and during long breaks from work I feel rested and have more than my fair share of sleep, but once work commences, I find the balance between getting the minimal amount done and going to sleep on time fraught with problems. How does one find that balance between work and rest? Both are necessary yet only one can be put aside in order to finish the other. If only I could call in to work to proclaim, “I can’t come in for another hour or two–I’m not finished sleeping.”

Though I may argue my ability to perform the previous functions, there is one I know I can–and do–control and that’s my nutrition. The article continues by examining those foods that sap energy from the body. To start, not having enough alkaline-forming foods, such as leafy greens and almonds. These I try to eat as often as possible, including my “Green Machine” serving each morning. But there are other energy sappers I often forget about: too much sugar (it’s in everything!) and coffee, not enough protein, and, the one that often becomes my demise, not enough water. Living in dry climates, especially with heaters blaring (such as now) sucks any hydration out of both body and skin.

My favorite suggestion, however, is number four: take 20 minutes just for me. This is brilliant because we need a little time to decompress and reboot. Sleeping doesn’t count! We need time to mediate or just contemplate the universe without television or Facebook. Conveniently, yoga classes are great ways to meditate, are often more than 20 minutes, and would “kill two birds with one stone” so to speak. However, a nice hot bath at the end of a stressful day with a good book suffices when yoga studios aren’t 24 hours.

The final suggestion is one that carries only so much weight: take a stress-formula vitamin. Multi-vitamins are certainly important parts of our daily routines, but I question if this is the golden ticket to extra energy. That said, it certainly can’t hurt. Stress multi’s contain B vitamins for that extra boost. B vitamins work in the body to cope with stress from our daily lives. This wearing on our system,  which reduces B vitamins in our bodies, can contribute to homocysteine increase, which then may lead to heart-disease. However, ample B’s in the diet help to rejuvenate cells and boost energy levels.

Then again, so does coffee.

For what it’s worth, it certainly can’t be that painful to attempt these five suggestions. I will have to abide by my newest daily mantra: “no excuses.” I wear this motto on my necklace so that every day I might remind myself that this is my one and only life. If I put off today what can be done tomorrow, I will accomplish nothing. And without accomplishment, I am nothing, too.

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