Recently it occurred to me that I too often am not living my life in a very Zen-like way. I hear my inner voice, or my inner critic, chastising me, “That’s not very Zen-like”, it admonishes, but the thing is: I want to be more Zen-like. I want to be more tolerant, more at peace, more unflappable.
Actually it’s more like; at times I’d be happy if I was any degree of unflappable. You know that feeling when your stress levels are rising and it feels like to look at you someone else would be able to see a color, probably a shade of red, upsurging and changing your skin tone?
I really don’t enjoy that feeling, as I’m certain most other people don’t either.
Hmmm, now that I see the words in print it seems like I might be talking about rage, but if that is true it is a relatively quiet form of it. No fits of violence, no fury, just a simmering buildup of emotions, really.
When does this transpire? Well, I’ve narrowed it down to the times that I am most likely to be reactionary or oppositional when: 1. I’m tired, 2. I have had little-to-no me-time, 3. I’m fearful, and 4. I haven’t had enough physical activity
(*also possibly when sick, but I would submit that that’s a more typical as well as understandable behavior)
That moment, especially commonplace for parents and pet owners, when you’re speaking to someone, child or animal, and it’s like they are immune to your words. It’s as if they can’t hear you, or don’t understand the strings of sentences coming out of your mouth (possibly true for pets, if you believe my husband when he suggests my talking to the dogs is futile).
Meanwhile your pulse is quickening, your heart is racing, you’re about to explode and your blood might be just about to boil…not literally…but for now you’re mostly keeping it inside and contained…for now.
You’re trying to make yourself understood because someone has challenged you; maybe you feel misunderstood, and you are overcome with a burning urge to right this miscarriage of justice (sarcasm intended).
Then after you’ve finished ranting, talking in circles and run-on sentences, your cheeks are flushed, there might even be a tear you’re holding back, you’ve exhausted and drained yourself…you take a step back, expecting to feel vindicated.
Instead your inner critic is right there whispering to you that your behavior is not very Zen-like. Or lady-like, gentlemanly, mature, professional, acceptable, etcetera. In the first scenario as your vitals return to normal you feel ashamed, and in the second you’re overcome with regret for having opened your mouth at all.
As for precisely what I’m ascribing to when I say more Zen-like, well I am leaning toward this thinking:
One way to think of Zen is this: a total state of focus that incorporates a total togetherness of body and mind. Zen is a way of being. It also is a state of mind. Zen involves dropping illusion and seeing things without distortion created by your own thoughts.1
“Sun is warm, grass is green.”
And so that, at least for me, that thinking goes along with this idea:
(comparative more Zenlike, superlative most Zenlike)
Resembling Zen Buddhism or some aspect of it…Appearing calm and capable under stress.2
What Can You Do to Reset Things?
There is actually a ton of advice out there, thankfully.
What I try to do during these times is something to the effect of:
First of all, take the time to stop yourself. End the prattling. Cease and desist your rant. Regroup your thoughts and get your head straight. Leave the room if you have to…then:
After your breathing has slowed down take a few minutes (or longer) to focus on your breaths.
Upon reading the sentence, “Our breathing is the stable, solid ground in which we can take refuge”, I instantly felt myself connect to it. When I was in the throes of a medical emergency [link to my story] focusing on my breathing was critical to not just freaking out right then and there.
And this has stayed with me ever since. Now I use my breaths to get my focus back and centered. It has become a way for me to return to the present and to utilize mindfulness.
Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.3
What Can You Do Differently Next Time?
Turns out –
Your mind is designed to spin and spin and spin. To run through thoughts like lines of computer code. In some ways, we are programmed for highs and lows. The lower part of your mind is meant to constantly assess the situation. And, if it senses danger or stress, to call in the adrenaline and the cortisol to get you out of there.4
Looking at that objectively we can see when we’ve reacted similarly. Or we can at least try to remember those instances. It seems to happen to most everybody. It’s that fight or flight sensation.
And it can stress our nervous systems.
Taking the time to train your mind to respond more slowly will go a long way. When we slow down we will feel more in control of ourselves and our responses.
If we slow ourselves down in all our actions; walking, talking, texting, driving, thinking, listening, cooking, eating, grocery shopping and so forth, we will spend more of our time in the present moment. We must remind ourselves, as we’re apt to intend, but we’re just as apt to forget to do it until it has become a habit.
A good tip is to set reminders for this; on a smart phone, leave paper notes or post-its, write it on a chalkboard, cross-stitch it, whatever works.
Technology encourages us to react quickly. The minute we get that text or feel the phone vibration, we’re racing to respond. Reacting impulsively is a trigger for angry outbursts. Set aside time each day to be free from checking email, social media sites, and text messaging.5
Sounds legitimate, doesn’t it? Are you willing to try it? I need to try more it, too. I know I will benefit from it as I’ve done it in the past.
One of the big reasons that I want to make changes and be more Zen-like is because I know how fleeting life can be. I’ve experienced it. Haven’t we all?
In addition to being fleeting, life can also change very quickly and unexpectedly. I don’t want many, if any, of my times interacting with others to be wasted on negativity. That only leads to regrets.
As we grew up we became adults, and with that came more and more responsibilities. They can become a heavy burden, especially if when we have been given the choice, we’ve choosen to let them burden us.
When we think back to our carefree youths, we tend to do so wistfully. We long for those times, because we weren’t weighted down. But it is probably mistaken, anyone can worry about things at any age, it depends on so many factors.
I plan to try…it’s all I can do. That and not give up!
“If the problem has a solution, worrying is pointless, in the end the problem will be solved. If the problem has no solution, there is no reason to worry, because it can’t be solved.” – Zen saying
— Raina K Morton January 27 2015
Just kidding! 🙂