Do you find yourself getting stressed in your work life, your home life, or both? Ever wish you could find ways to keep stress from affecting you so badly, and stop life's upsets, large and small, from bringing you down? While there's no magic shield against the stressors and painful events of our lives, we can become more resilient at absorbing them. That lesson comes from Jason Garner, author of ...And I Breathed: My Journey From a Life of Matter to a Life That Matters.
Garner's had his own experience of stressors and terrible upset. Raised in poverty by a single mother, he worked his way up from selling flowers on street corners to heading the concert division of the events company Live Nation, overseeing 20,000 concerts around the globe every year. He had wealth and success, but it still didn't feel like quite enough.
"To feel good about myself, I always needed more, and with the more came its companions in the form of the ever-increasing pressure, stress, and friction I was experiencing," he recalls. "And then it burst." Within a few months, Garner's mother died of stomach cancer, his marriage ended, and he lost his job at Live Nation. "I looked around in a daze and found my dream in shambles," he says. "Everything that had seemed real to me--my mom, my wife, my career--was gone."
Desperate to regain a sense of his own identity, Garner decided that business was the problem. "So I turned my focus inward and began to search for the fulfillment that had eluded me in my business life," he says. Here's some of what he learned:
1. You can be serious about both business and spirituality.
Garner began an extensive study of spirituality and health that eventually led him to the Shaolin Temple in China which, he says, is the birthplace of both Zen Buddhism and kung fu. That the monks who live there become adept at both was a revelation. "This idea that we could be both warriors and monks really resonated with me," he says now. He had always assumed that the spiritual side of his nature, and his "warrior" business side were in opposition, and yet shutting out the business world and devoting himself only to meditation proved as unsatisfying as thinking only of business had been. "I didn't have to hide the business warrior in me," he says now. "Instead, the fulfillment and peace I was seeking would come from fully embracing my entire being."
2. You're human. Don't expect that you will be perfect.
Garner--known as a relaxation expert--is sometimes asked if he ever experiences stress and finds it hard to relax. The answer is yes, he says, and that's OK. "That, for me, is really key: always remembering that I'm human, that I'm learning, and that being mindful means being present in life as it occurs."
We all need to treat ourselves with this sort of compassion, he adds, because inevitably we will fail some of the time, at relaxing and just about everything else. Learning to be compassionate--with others and ourselves--can be frustratingly difficult at times, such as when we're stuck in traffic, in the middle of a contentious meeting, or have just had a fight with a loved one. At such moments, remind yourself that compassion is the path we should try to follow, not a destination where we will arrive and always stay.
3. If you want to relax, invite yourself--gently.
Back in his days at Live Nation, a colleague of Garner's told him that he looked very stressed and that he really needed to relax. The effect, of course, was just the opposite: Now, on top of whatever had been stressing him to begin with, Garner was also stressed about not relaxing.
If you're a driven sort of person, that might sound familiar. (I am, and it does to me.) So instead of ordering yourself to relax, and getting even more stressed in the process, Garner suggests the following exercise: Sit or lie in a comfortable position, take a deep breath, and focus on the top of your head. Notice if there is any tightness there and then invite it to relax. Continue this process little by little all the way down your body, simply noticing where things are clenched and inviting them to unclench. Give each part of you the message, "It's safe to relax. I appreciate you."
When you've gotten through your entire body, or even just focused on the parts that most need it, just sit with yourself, being aware of yourself and your body. "Just breathe and invite your entire being to be at peace," Garner says. "Breathe. All is well. Breathe. You are safe. Breathe. You can let go now."
4. Create a daily practice that supports you.
At the Shaolin Temple, Garner says, "There was a real emphasis on daily practice." He would wake early each morning to hear the monks chanting and engaging in intense physical training. "By practicing each morning, they prepared themselves for the rigors of real life."
People in business can do the same, he says. "We can create a daily practice that prepares us mentally, physically, and spiritually for the stress of business, and equips us with the tools to experience peace and well-being."
For Garner, this is a morning practice of yoga, meditation, and green juices. For you, it might be something different, but it should be something that enhances your well-being and that you can do every day. "In this way, our daily practice becomes an important business tool, alongside strategic planning, daily conference calls, and staff meetings," he says.