Peace

How To Step Out Of Stress

DucksOn Friday night I was so stressed from my vision of the coming week that all I could do was cry about it.  Then just the next day, I got sick.  The negative emotions generated by the spinning of my anxious thoughts so quickly translated into physical illness that my choice became clear.  I could do my work with stress, or I could do it without stress.  The former was so obviously uncomfortable that I opted for the “without stress” option.

It did not seem easy at first.  My mind wouldn’t let go of thinking about the end products and panicking about how I would get there successfully.  I wasn’t going to find peace of mind from my mind.  That was the stress trigger itself.  I knew that to make the decision to go about my tasks stress free I had to surpass the mind’s attempts to help altogether.

It then became all the more clear that the uncomfortable state I had been experiencing wasn’t due to any task I had to perform, but rather, by my thoughts about their outcomes.

Focusing on the fruits of your actions instead of the actions themselves creates stress.  If you’re feeling like I was last Friday, look at your situation and notice if you are thinking about the end product instead of just dealing with the task at hand.  That slight shift in perspective may be the step that takes you out of stress altogether.

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Peace

When It’s Time To Stop Talking

HowardCan you recall a moment in your life when you were at a loss for words?

For many of us, that is a rare occurrence. Yet, the power of silence in the thick of a busy and loud life experience has the possibility to achieve more towards your goals than even the most well chosen turns of phrase.

I often try to cope with the instability of life through logical thinking or comforting sentiments.  But the unpleasantness I am trying to withdraw from dissolves more quickly, and of its own accord, when I allow the experience to run its course.

There isn’t always a need to explain things away.  All things inevitably fall away on their own.

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Peace

When To Accept, When To Change

SunriseI often find myself torn between attempts at surrendering to the present moment, and discerning my role in changing it.  This simple piece of wisdom from Sri Swami Satchidananda offers a higher vantage point from which life’s circumstances can be peacefully navigated:

“If we know that we are instruments, and nothing is in our hands, then accepting and changing are not in our hands either. It’s very simple. If you are prompted to accept, then accept it. If you are prompted to change, then change it. Even that will be prompted. Something will tell you, “Come on; go ahead and try to change it.” Then your answer should be, “Okay, God, if that’s what You want, let me do it with Your backing. You are prompting me, so I am doing it.” It’s super surrender, and life is really beautiful that way.

All you have to do is follow God’s lead. The brush never tells you, ‘Oh, touch here, touch there, use a broader stroke.’ It lets the painter use it. So, you simply be the brush, and let God paint whatever He wants. God is seeing the whole picture, and it will be a masterpiece.” Sri Swami Satchidananda

 

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Peace

How To Deal With Other People

HopeWhat can you accept in other human beings?  If we look within, most of us will find that there is a certain level of “otherness” we are able to accept, beyond which tolerance dissolves.

This is more obviously the case when we examine our feelings towards people who are dangerous, break laws, or don’t adhere to societal norms of behavior.  On a more subtle level, I see it on the CTA during Chicago’s morning commute, when two people have a loud conversation instead of scrolling through their iPhones.   In that moment a humorously clear gulf is created between the quiet majority, and the atypical loud morning conversationalists.

What creates this separation between people?  It is born of thoughts and opinions in the mind that are completely bought into.  Luckily this can be overcome more easily than it would appear, even in the face of humanity’s long history of alienating others who seem too different to allow.

When you are able to observe these thoughts as they happen, you haven’t immediately identified with them and taken them as truth.  When you see thoughts of separation in the mind, that witnessing provides the choice between alienation and inclusion.  It provides the opportunity to not accept judgment of others as absolute truth.  Before peace becomes more noticeable on a societal level, this small decision will be building its firm foundation.

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Peace

How To Trick Your Mind Into Letting You Be At Peace

My Mom SallyIf you are like me, whenever you tell yourself that it is okay to let go of the to-do list, the worries, and your thoughts about the future, your mind comes back with some smart-alecky retort.  Quieting the mind in order to bring presence into your life, leading to peace and ease, can feel like a baseball game where you are always the Chicago Cubs.  You have a distant memory that you were on the winning side of inner peace at some point, but it was so long ago you can’t even be sure it was real.  So you keep telling yourself, “Wait till next year!” Yet year after year that sense of inner peace you know is attainable always seems one season out of reach.

I will say this about my mother’s beloved baseball team, the Cubbies sure have had a lot of practice.  Luckily, when it comes to inner peace, there is never a World Series that you are missing out on, but rather season after season of practice.  There is no way to fail, only ways to proceed and succeed.

One of the peace games that “tricks” my mind into becoming still, is called “For This Practice.”  I set rules for small actions that bring my focus away from thinking and into the present.  When I’m getting ready for bed at night I’ll say, “For this practice I don’t need to think about what I have to do tomorrow,” and proceed to wash my face and put on my pajamas paying special attention to the physical experience of each action.  When a thought pops up in my mind I’ll remind myself, “For this practice I don’t need that.” This tells the mind it can think about what it wants to afterwards, but clears a space where you can be free from thought and at peace.

What rules could best serve your experience of inner peace “for this practice?” Think about your routine activities and choose a few that you can set certain parameters for. You can also use “For This Practice” whenever your mind has gained unwanted momentum and control in your field of attention.  For example, if a worry pattern comes up, choose a simple task and say, “For this practice I don’t need to run over these worry thoughts. For this practice the object is to pay attention to…” Setting concrete boundaries for intentional moments of presence will give you more “wins” than the cubs have seen in the last one-hundred years.

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Peace

How To Know When You Can Finally Be At Peace

At The Airport What were you worried about yesterday? What about last month or last year?

As I woke up today with tingly feet and immediately began worrying about my them, I remembered that the day before I worried about a one-day teaching residency I’m going to have to travel extremely far for, to a part of Chicago that is as of yet completely unknown to me.   When I decided to allow the discomfort in my feet, and surrender to the present moment, my mind started thinking about finding a new apartment in September and how stressful that might be.

Sound familiar? When life is stressful the voice in the head tells us that after a certain point or after something happens we will finally be at peace.

Even though I think that I’ll be at peace after I figure out what is going on with my tingly feet, when that moment does come my mind will just as soon have an exorbitant amount of other things I’ll have to wait for until I can be at peace.

While the content of the thoughts we have differs, we all experience the same mechanics.  There is always a phantom future moment when the mind will agree to let you relax and enjoy life.  And that is exactly how that voice stays alive, in control of your attention.

Once I was able to become aware that unless I decided to be at peace now I’d never actually be at peace, I was able to choose peace now despite the circumstances.  The long standing thought mechanics in my mind still had a whole lifetime’s worth of energy to keep it going, so the worry thoughts popped up nevertheless.

Despite this mind mechanic momentum, to smile and allow yourself to relax even when your thoughts are still vying for your attention, is to take control of your life and your sanity.  In that moment you are present and the momentum gained from that glimpse of consciousness will only grow. Eventually the old thought mechanics will lose steam and peace will be all the remains inside and out.

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Peace

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas

It is with a heart full of gratitude for you and your loving presence that I offer a gift of relaxation this Christmas.  The video below is a guided relaxation, Shavasana, by yours truly with photography and music by Peter Spero.  Thank you to Swami Satchidananda whose version of Shavasana this is based upon, and for many of the wise words and lessons included within it.

Click here for a free download of the audio version of Shavasana with Katie Spero.

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Peace

3 Ways To Be At Peace Now

IMG_0992Today driving back to Chicago from my parents’ house in the suburbs I was particularly cautious because of the dark flurry-filled highway.  Night was fast approaching on my drive home and by the time I reached the city streets there was no longer any sunlight to aid me.

When I had stopped at a light on Lincoln Avenue I glanced out the car door window.  Suddenly I realized it was not a low-visibility snowy evening, but a crisp clear night.  At this I instinctively prompted the wiper fluid.  Lo and behold I had been unnecessarily struggling from something I had expected even before I got in the car, a night where the air was filled with snow, which would be difficult to drive in.  The night air was as clear as it had been on any cold cloudless night in Chicago and I just did not realize all I had to do was clean the windshield.

Just as I needed to clean the lens through which my highway journey was viewed, any successful moment starts with clarity of mind and perspective.  I had been feeling stress during the week about situations with my cold apartment and a blown fuse, and the prospect of work that had to be done.

Every time I thought I was making some progress, something else would come up and require my attention.  As I began to flounder I realized that before anything could be done, like decisions, work, and planning, I first had to relax into a state of peace and perspective.  My actions were not yielding positive results.  The results were expressing the energy with which I had produced them. 

So before you try to fix a situation so that you can be at peace, remember that the only way to create the success you want is to first be at peace and then go about doing whatever it is you have to do. You need to go beyond the mind to untangle yourself from the thoughts that are creating the dis-ease.

When I arrived home I received a “Present Moment Reminder” email from Eckhart Tolle stating the three things you can do to become peaceful at any given moment, “Wherever you are, be there totally.  If you find your here and now intolerable and it makes you unhappy, you have three options:  remove yourself from the situation, change it, or accept it totally,” Eckhart Tolle.

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Peace

What’s stress got to do with it?

BY PETER SPERO

A lot of commercials on TV this time of year talk about how to relieve “holiday stress.”  Stress is a symptom of a dysfunctional relationship with the present moment. 

Have you gone too far ahead into future thoughts, or slipped backwards into thoughts of the past?

The dysfunction that manifests as stress may be a sign that the present moment has become a means to an end, as Tolle often points out in A New Earth.  This can happen easily when the present moment contains planning, cooking, organizing, and preparing for an event that in some cases involves many people.  This can also occur if an event is viewed as unfavorable and you are waiting for it to be over.  Yet, truly successful ends are dependent upon successful means.  Meaning, that the present moment experience creates the experience of present moments to come.

If the holidays create stress for you, give your mind a break from thoughts of past and future.  Holidays are reminders to enjoy the experience of the present moment; signifying its importance and wonderment available not only during this one present moment experience, but at all times.

When I get too serious about situations I say to myself, “This is just for fun!”  Figuring out what will snap you back to the present, where all joy resides, can be an enjoyable and infinitely fruitful learning experience.  This Thanksgiving let yourself experience the space from which all there is to be thankful for emerges, the present.

Ten Things I’m Thankful For (In No Particular Order):

  1. My health.
  2. The ability to walk and the use of my arms. (Ok I said two things here, but they are both under the general category of working extremities).
  3. Food and the ability to digest food.
  4. The five senses.
  5. Being alive.
  6. Consciousness.
  7. The experience of love.
  8. The eternal present.
  9. Other human beings. (My family, friends, co-workers, people I haven’t met yet, you).
  10. The planet earth and how I get to live on it.  (Thanks to the movie Gravity for really solidifying my love of planet earth).

The more you are thankful for, the more you end up having to be thankful for!  Where does your gratitude gravitate this Thanksgiving?

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Peace

A Call To Action

By Peter Spero

Do you ever feel “off”? Sometimes I feel out of sync with the present moment.  In those moments I remind myself, that even when I feel out of sync I am still one with the present moment.  I am still in it.  I still am it.  I can’t not be.

While in the midst of the human experience it can easily feel as if we are swimming upstream.  Letting go feels like a big risk. But life will then give you a sign that everything is as it should be by the experience of pure peace, which is unattached to circumstance.  Today I challenge myself, and any who want to join in, to let go of low-level fear, worry, and unacceptance. Let us see how life responds.

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