Centering, or meditation, is an invaluable tool for calming the mind so that we can experience the natural peace within. It allows us to look at all the thoughts that we think all day long. Then we can decide which thoughts help us to be happy and healthy and which thoughts create agitation and stress. We can use the following four “anti-stress pills” on a daily basis, as a way of gently remolding what goes on in our minds. Then we can ride the waves of life’s ocean—and have a good time doing it!
1. Upgrade desires to preferences There is nothing wrong with having desires. They provide our motivation: “I want a new job, more money, a supportive partner, more time off…” The problem comes when we become angry, depressed and anxious because a desire is not being fulfilled when we want it. Learn how to upgrade a desire to a preference. When a desire is troubling you, ask yourself: Is anything ultimately at stake here? Does my life depend on it right now? Has the fulfillment of any one desire brought me permanent happiness? If the answer is no, then I can “prefer” a certain outcome rather than demand it. For example, I can prefer a better job, but still find the fun in this one while looking for another. A happy person is more likely to be hired. Desires are here to stay as long as we have a mind. The mind is nothing but a collection of desires. If we observe closely, we see that we often try to satisfy selfish desires at the cost of our peace of mind, health, friendships and family relationships. All selfish desires generate some kind of tension, stress or unhappiness. What to do?
2. Make your desires selfless Selfish people get tense even before the result is in, anxiously calculating and manipulating to get what they want. Where is the fun in that? Life becomes a roller coaster of ups and downs as they succeed or fail. Their stress level increases with both success and failure, because they are fearful of what will happen next. Desires that are selfless motivate us to get things done for the sake of others rather than only for ourselves. If a selfless desire is not fulfilled, we are far less apt to feel sad, angry or resentful. We can think, “I did my best; it didn’t happen. What did I lose? I enjoyed the effort I made because it was peaceful and interesting. I’ll try a new approach tomorrow.” The perfect action is one that does no harm to anyone and some good to at least someone. When we give, our satisfaction comes from seeing others happy and from the joy of feeling creative through our actions. Giving also leads to a deep feeling of being connected to others, and this spiritual intimacy is very rewarding. When things just don’t go our way, we can always choose to:
3. See life as an adventure When we’re having an adventure, we feel that there is nothing to lose. We don’t get tense about the risks involved, because we’re just having fun. We don’t know exactly what’s going to happen, and that’s okay. If it turns out that we did not enjoy ourselves during the adventure, we just chalk it up to experience and have a great harrowing tale to entertain our friends. How wonderful to live our whole life that way! Life will often present options other than the one we chose. Ordinarily we might suffer from feelings of anger or depression. If we have a little faith, however, and see life as an adventure, we may find that an unseen hand is helping us to expand beyond our self-imposed limitations. We also discover a totally new mental environment that is satisfying, and free from stress. A friend was rushing to finish some chores when she noticed her 3-year-old son, Sam, squatting on the earth, looking down with rapt attention, watching an ant struggling to move a crumb of food much bigger than itself. As she watched, a bird flew into a nearby tree and warbled a beautiful song. Sam looked up in pure delight. My friend suddenly felt very happy because her young son had helped her to notice the beauty around us. Life for Sam was an adventure. Both the bug and the bird were equally fascinating. How often do we get upset about the “bugs” in our life and miss the bird song? If we are not in an adventurous mood when things are not going as we had planned, we can also try to:
4. Live in the golden present Let’s say that we have done our best to fulfill a task yet the result turns out badly—whether the situation be an unfinished work project, a canceled appointment, or a personal plan gone awry. Being in the moment asks us to focus on what exists right now, rather than obsess about what could have been or about what dire consequences the future holds. It helps us to accept the situation at hand. Living in the golden present allows us to appreciate all that we have been given rather than worry over what does not exist. After all, some things simply cannot be changed or made to happen no matter how stressed out we become in the effort. So why suffer for nothing? Being here now also allows us to take dynamic action. There is only one moment in which we can act: right now. Everything else is a dream. When we accept our current situation, we gain the clarity of mind to see what needs to be done. We can act without being depressed by the past or fearful of the future. How many times do we spend an hour (or more) involved in an internal argument with our spouse or boss, when s/he isn’t even in the room? When we finally do see the person again, we may discover that we misunderstood them, or that the problem has already been solved. If we practice living in the Golden Present, time will often soothe our upset and allow us to handle difficult situations without further complicating them with negative emotions. Now is the only moment in which we can be happy. Nothing else exists. A person who knows how to choose happiness right now will always be happy—because no other time exists. Now is eternal.
(By Swami Vidyananda and Bharati Gardino, from the IYTA Newsletter, August, 2011)