I was in downward dog the other day, in the most Zen place a person can find in New York City, a yoga studio. As the teacher rattled on about the importance of being present and the benefits of acceptance, my mind was racing about my various life problems and what I need to do to fix them. Perhaps I need to move downtown, change my office location, cut my hair, get a spray tan, find a tutor for my daughter, take a cooking class, hire a house keeper, and/or start exercising in the mornings. The list went on. Surely there is something that I can change to make me feel more peace, more on top of my game.
Oh, by the way, I am not only an experienced meditator, I have completed multiple trainings and workshops, and I am a certified meditation instructor. I teach meditation to individuals in my medical practice, and larger audiences. I have written on the topic and lead workshops. Nevertheless, I too find myself getting caught in the same mental trap: looking at life and trying to identify what I need to cut loose. There is, however, a difference between what happens now and what used to happen before I became a more experienced meditation practitioner. I can bring myself back from a thought spiral in a matter of minutes, versus hours, days, months or even years. Once I am centered, I remind myself of the principles below, and restore my mood to a happier place. I hope by passing these nuggets along, it will become easier for you to do the same.
Stay in the present. Next time you find yourself making yourself miserable, look at your thoughts. Are you feeling guilty or regretful of the past? Or perhaps worried and scared about the future? If so, you are afflicted with what we call the human condition. Our brains evolved to be mired in anything other than the present moment. How else were our primitive ancestors able to evade ferocious predators that roamed our ancient habitat? Those that could learn from past mistakes and predict dangerous situations survived. Over time, our neurons became wired to compare whatever is happening to past experiences and manufacture all the potentially dangerous scenarios ahead. These thought patterns are endemic to all of us, and we must make a conscious effort to bring our thinking to the present. This offers great relief, because, in this moment, there is nothing to fear. Furthermore, when you are focused on the present, you can direct your efforts to the one thing you have control of...the here and now.
Accept what is. Most of our unhappiness occurs when reality does not match our preconceived notions. Take a step back. Recognize that when life turns out differently than you imagined (doesn't it always?) and refrain from interpreting it as wrong. What you think you want is not necessarily what suits you in the long run. Embrace what is going on, even if it does not fit the picture in your mind.
Everything ends. Sorry, it is reality. This rule applies to everything. The one thing we know when we are born is that we will die. Buildings fall, the sun will one day collapse into the earth (or vice versa,) and even the worst emotion in the world will fade. Next time you are feeling panicked and anxious about something, stick around. I guarantee you will be feeling differently in an hour. This too shall pass, even if you change nothing at all.
Make or break? Probably not. If you are worried about a test, a client pitch, or a huge presentation, it is important to prepare. However, give yourself perspective. No one event will make or break you. It is more how you respond to defeats (or wins) that creates a successful individual. Regardless of your path, resilience and tenacity are key. Do what you can to build these qualities, and you will be more able to withstand the vagaries of life.
Stick with the positive. If there are two ways to view something, choose the more positive interpretation. When you are uncertain what to do, take the high road. That way you will never be wrong. Even if you think your opinion is correct, mental inflexibility negatively affects you and others. Keep an open mind, and, when at all possible, choose to be happy over being right.