My parents lived in an America that won World War II and was brimming with confidence and a can-do-spirit. The America you and I live in today is a different country. Beset by economic, political and cultural grid lock, we struggle to find our footing in a country that seems adrift on the shoals of uncertainty and change. It's not surprising we experience increased stress and anxiety. Yet it has been my experience that living a Zen-inspired life rooted in mindfulness can help you deal more skillfully with stress by helping you to be more at home with change and uncertainty.
Stress is simply your body's way of giving you a message to pay attention. When you listen to your body and mind with the respect they deserve, you can begin to work more effectively with stressful situations.
I'm sure there are many reasons why we are experiencing a great deal of stress today. But one of the reasons is that our body and mind have a difficult time keeping up with the level of technological change we are experiencing. We have evolved defense mechanisms in our bodies that took thousands of years of evolution to develop. Compared to evolutionary time, the technological changes occurring in our lives are happening at warp speed.
We are increasingly disembodied. We don't really spend time in our bodies. We spend time thinking about our bodies. We have thoughts about our bodies which range from apprehensive, judgmental, critical, self-destructive to self-congratulatory.
People go to the gym and that helps reduce stress in the body. In the gym I used to belong to, almost everyone exercised on the treadmills while watching TV. We treat our bodies like machines. We have to keep them well tuned so we can continue living a life style on steroids. We're always rushing. We never seem to have enough time.
When we are disembodied in this way, we are ungrounded and disconnected from the earth and people around us. And this experience of disembodiment contributes to our increased levels of anxiety, stress and fear.
Mindfulness helps you return your attention to your body/mind. I often speak of mindfulness as a way of keeping company with yourself. You have to slow down and learn to be still with yourself. And I see many people who are really scared to be with themselves in this way.
I developed a core curriculum at the Zen Life & Meditation Center of Chicago to help teach people how to live a Zen-inspired life rooted in mindfulness. This is an awareness which is embodied, intentional and nonjudgmental. The second tier of this curriculum builds on the foundation of mindfulness by introducing skill sets such as "Focusing" and "Nonviolent Communication" which help integrate and apply mindfulness in your personal life and your relationships.
Meditation is an organic process. It takes time. It takes time to heal and integrate. There is no magic bullet. This is why I believe this kind of teaching is so relevant to our time, because it helps you effectively address a complex and stressful world. In order to find balance you need to slow down and find a source of wisdom and richness in yourself that has nothing to do with external information. When you do this you will be less reactive. You will begin to touch that in yourself which is unconditionally sane and awake. And from this place of trust and confidence you will be able to offer your unique gifts to making a difference in this suffering and mixed up world of ours.
by Robert Althouse