It’s life as usual, but you feel something coming on. You have a headache. You feel a tension in the back of your neck, just below the hairline, or you notice that your shoulders have been flexed and slightly raised. You move your head from side to side to stretch it out, and while it provides momentary relief while you do it, it does not abate the discomfort. You may or may not notice that this tension is coming on, but I am going to give you a few ideas and tools you can use to help you recognize it and stop it in its tracks.
First let’s try an experiment. Read this paragraph completely before you start, but do not read past it until you have completed the experiment. What you are going to do is sit back in your chair comfortably, feet flat (remove your heels if necessary), take a deep breath through your nose, filling your lungs all the way, allowing your belly to expand. At the top, hold your breath for three to five seconds, purse your lips slightly as though you are going to softly whistle, and exhale slowly and quietly. As you exhale, allow your belly to retract and your shoulders to gently fall. Relax your scalp, your face, unclench your jaw, allowing your lips to part and your tongue to rest. Relax your forehead, and all the small muscles around your eyes. At the bottom, observe how much tension has just been released from your body in this simple practice. Notice that even after the exhalation is complete, the muscles continue their movement toward relaxation. Allow this feeling of release to continue to spread throughout your body. Sense a renewed, alive energy begin to course through your veins with oxygenated blood recharging every cell of your body.
What has just happened is you have moved your consciousness from the contents of your thinking mind into your body, becoming fully present where you are. Now notice how quickly the thinking narrative starts up again and begins to overtake this presence. You may even notice the commentary of the inner critic.
We are bombarded throughout the day with information, projects and tasks that subtly overwhelm us mentally, physically, emotionally and even spiritually. As I write this article, the second deadliest school shooting in U.S. history happened just the other day, and only a couple miles from my office. While this is an extreme example, we are assailed by both the profane and mundane at a constant rate – a maelstrom of overwhelm we barely notice – until it is manifested as physical, mental or emotional discomfort and unease, and sometimes even dis-ease. Activities that appear innocuous in and of themselves, such as scrolling through a newsfeed or watching television, are picked up by the brain’s incredible ability to capture information – information often laden with negativity – which is then played in a continuous loop in the subconscious mind. Add to that the demands of daily responsibilities, work, unexpected events, children, bills, health, degradation of the environment, unhealthy consumption and so on, and you have a perfect recipe for the kind of malaise, life dissatisfaction, stress, burnout and even depression so prevalent in our society.
Most us identify with our thoughts and rarely (if ever) recognize our ability to become aware of those thoughts, disidentify with them, and relax the mind – even if but for a moment. We may have different practices to help us do that such as working out, running, yoga or meditation, but if the mental narrative continues during these activities, any relief they bring about will quickly arise once those activities have stopped. Observe this in your own experience to know it is true. Whether we are engaging in strenuous physical activities, compulsive activities (drinking, thinking, shopping, sex-ing, smoking, gambling, worrying, etc.), sitting for hours uncomfortably, or forcing our bodies into contorted positions in order to achieve an enlightened realization, as long as our attention is focused upon excessive mentation, we will be right back where we started. So, what to do?
The first time we become aware of this – the difference between thinking and being – we open a door that can never be closed. Throughout the day there will be moments where you will notice that your mind has taken off on a journey of its own, dragging you along with every thought, every work drama, every social post, every news story, and so on. When you notice that you have been sucked into the jetstream of compulsive thought, you will be at that open doorway. Hopefully you will notice it before it presents itself as stress, pain, emotional upheaval or fear but if not, with practice you eventually will. Not to worry – I’ve already given you a powerful tool above, and you can return to it as often as you need, many times throughout the day if necessary. If you use this tool and you find you remain with a feeling of discomfort or unease, simply rest in the moment. Notice that in the same space, there is both the discomfort or unease, and the ability to be aware of that discomfort or unease. Notice the relief this recognition brings. Notice the doorway of choice.
At the doorway of choice, you can choose to continue to spin-out on the stories in the mental narrative, or you can let the stories be as they are and rest in the open doorway. As you rest in the open doorway, you are not abdicating what needs to be done, you are simply releasing all the mental clenching counterintuitive to positive productivity and ease of accomplishment. In fact, it doesn’t matter if you are at work, at the gym, at the yoga studio, with your children or caring for an ailing loved one, in the self-release of mental clenching, you naturally up-level, tune-up, realign, recharge, and open yourself to empowered solutions that are not discoverable through involuntary compulsive thinking.
It’s life as usual, indeed, but this time, when you feel something coming on, you have a clearer picture of what it is, and what you can do to keep yourself aware, recharged, and relaxed. Rest for a short moment, as often as you remember to do so, and your results will be enhanced well-being, performance, and a clearer sense of purpose.