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home : columns : columns May 27, 2016

8/12/2014 12:24:00 PM
Of a certain age...
Streamside meditation is a great way to de-stress. photo provided
+ click to enlarge
Streamside meditation is a great way to de-stress. photo provided

By Diane Goble

Fill a glass with water and hold it out in front of you. How heavy would you guess that glass of water is? 8 ounces? 20 ounces? Continue to hold it out at arm's length while you're reading this.

The absolute weight doesn't really matter. It depends on how long you hold it out in front of you. A minute or two is probably not a problem, but hold it out there for an hour, and you'll likely have an achy arm and shoulder. Hold it all day, and your arm will probably be numb. The weight of the glass of water never changes, but the longer you hold onto it, the heavier it becomes.

The stresses and worries we encounter in our everyday lives are like that glass of water. The longer we hold on to them, the more they hurt us. At some point we can become paralyzed, incapable of functioning at all.

Along with the stressors of everyday living - after what we've all been through with the economy collapsing, job losses, foreclosures, budget cuts, political turmoil and wars over the past decade - it seems everybody is filled with fear, anger, anxiety, depression, all symptoms of too much stress.

But here's the thing: It's not stress that's the problem. It's our reaction to the stressors in our lives that sends us over the edge. The longer we hold onto that glass of water, the heavier it seems to get, the bigger the problem seems to be. We may feel hopeless, helpless, and out of control.

Drugs and alcohol only make matters worse, usually causing more stress within the family, between neighbors, on the roads, at work. They may cover up the problem temporarily, but there's still the elephant in the room, and until we change our reaction to stress, Dumbo's not going anywhere.

So how do you change your reaction? By learning to free your mind from its constant stream of repetitive thoughts and restore your stress response system to balance. Get yourself outside, walk around in bare feet, and sit by a river. Close your eyes. Listen to the water rushing downstream.

Pay attention to the sound as your thoughts merge with it and just breathe deeply. When you notice your thoughts intruding, shift your attention back to the sounds from the river. Allow the sounds to fade into the background and listen for the silence between the thoughts. When you become aware of the silence, hold it for as long as you can. With practice, it will teach you better control over your thoughts and reactions when you are under stress.

No river nearby? Go to the labyrinth at Sisters' East Portal. Stand at the entrance and pause just to breathe in deeply to calm yourself before you take this journey. Look to the west at the timeless mountains. You are in the "now" zone. There is nowhere else to be. Nothing else you need to do. You can walk slow or fast, or stop and just breathe.

As you walk, just notice the rocks, the flowers, the insects at your feet, the landscape surrounding you, the blue sky above. Feel the air on your skin; listen to the wind blowing through the trees. Smell the pine-scented air. Become one with your surroundings as you experience a sense of inner peace.

Remember that peaceful state you attained, and use your breath to return to it often during your day and whenever issues that trigger your stress response arise.

You can put the glass down now. Notice the feeling of release from stress when you just let go.

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