It is one thing to talk about nutrition, fitness, freedom, responsibility – it is another to live them! That’s why intellectual learning has limited value in life.
How many times have you decided to change and not been able to do it? I don’t just mean quitting smoking, but also making resolutions such as “I am going to be honest about this from now on,” or “The next time he says that to me, I am just not going to get angry.” And how often did you succeed? Most probably you ended up saying, “I can’t change,” “I can’t do that,” and felt guilty and terrible about yourself.
Consider the case of group of managers I was working within a seminar in New York to help them “destress.” All of them 60-hours-plus workaholics, they were talking about stress at work and of course in other areas of life. Work was stressful because of the demanding schedule and the “impossible behaviour of others” at the office, and life was stressful because it demanded more than the mangers could provide in their office-filled days. It had become an impossible situation because things were not compatible: going along with their work demands seemed to implicate big problems at home. Giving more time to family and health was an impossible thing to ask “in their positions.”
Of course, if life is such a Catch-22 situation, we tend to feel like victims of the technology age (layoffs and change) or “the downturn” (more layoffs) or the boom (more work means more stress). The last thing that occurs to us is that we are the creators of our own stress. But that’s precisely what these managers came up with. They felt that it was time for them to take responsibility for their lives, and that it was up to them to make choices.
In the same proportion that we feel ourselves to be slaves or victims, we are slaves, without freedom. In that state, we can easily blame “the other” for what our problems are. In the same proportion that we declare our ability to choose, we feel freedom. And with that freedom comes a sense of responsibility. If I have declared that I have a choice, I an only blame myself for the choice I am making.
Again, this easy to talk about. But how to live it? Here are some tips which could be useful universally.
ACCEPT that we can learn and take a fresh look at things all the time. This puts “the way we do things” in a new perspective: is it the only way or are there other options? If it was the right way yesterday, does that mean it is valid today?
INITIALLY, TAKE SOME help to come to a relaxed state. For big issues, leave the office, and maybe the home. Use some technique (descriptions of two useful techniques below) to relax the body-mind.
WRITE DOWN what the situations are in which you experience maximum stress.
NOW LOOK at these situations through the eyes of someone for whom the same situations are not stressful. Or in other words, feel or picture yourself relaxed in those same situations. For example, you are delivering a presentation, you are late for a meeting or your supervisor accuses you of having done a bad job. What would those situations feel like without the stress component? What would have to change? It is only through a change inside you that you can experience the same situations are relaxed. And this change is possible!
NOTICE how your breathing is different when you are relaxed or stressed. How, with every emotion, your breathing changes. Learn to be aware of your breathing and notice changes in your breathing.
NOW LOOK at the situations you feel “victimized” by, and write down the options you have.
NOW THAT YOU HAVE learnt that you can relax and that you have choices, accept that by making the choice for stress, you are creating it.
DECIDE whether you want to continue making that choice, or whether you want to change.
WHATEVER YOU HAVE decided, just do it. It is not a question of trying – or failing. It is simply a question of remembering. Only awareness can bring remembering. And only meditation leads to awareness.
It is often in our not wanting to take responsibility that we are unable to change. In a way the victim’s situation is comfortable, almost cozy: “it is others’ fault. I can’t change, have pity on me!” but it takes courage to allow yourself to examine your own unawareness: “What do you mean, I have chosen to live in this kind of stress for years? I am responsible and no one else?”
But what is there to lose? And what are the alternatives? It pinches the ego a little to admit past mistakes, and of course we always have a choice not to look at our blind spots. But isn’t it the ego which is the stumbling block in all our enterprises? The more it is dissolved the better!
TWO TECHNIQUES THAT COULD BE HELPFUL TO THE PROCESS:
In activity, watch the gap between two breaths
Breathe naturally. Watch your breathing. Be attentive to the subtle gap between the in breath and the out breath and vice versa. Feel the rhythm of life through in breath and of death in out breath. Feel how the gap is that which is beyond life and death, that which is eternal, that which is you, the witness. Follow the breathing simultaneously in from the nostril to the center, via the lungs, the belly, filling the whole body, and back out.
Unminding mind, keep in the middle – until.
This is a technique to be practiced constantly in all activity.
The mind is never in the middle but always at the extremes. So when the greedy mind that accumulates money changes it is likely to renounce money; the chain smoker is likely to turn into a militant non-smoker; and the sex addict is likely to turn into a “celibate.” In the same way, lovers often turn into haters.
Don’t try to change by forcing yourself to change, or by moving to the opposite extreme.
When anger arises, don’t repent. Repentance is the same energy at the other extreme. Say, “So I have been angry, this is part of me,” and move on, stay watchful. Stay in the middle. Otherwise you will feed your anger more energy.