By Sylvia Boorstein, Ph.D.
In today’s world, we’re all overwrought, overpressured – bombarded with news, much of it sobering. We can find ourselves exhausted – mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Then someone says something that pushes our buttons – at home or at work – and our minds grind over it. We can’t let it go.
As a founding teacher at Spirit Rock Meditation Center, a retreat in California dedicated to the teachings of the Buddha, I know the challenges of staying calm and centered. But there are practices you can follow to strengthen your inner tranquility and wisdom.
When people come to Spirit Rock, they come to an atmosphere of presentness. They come – and they leave all the anxiety, the need to be stimulated, behind. They take walks on the grounds. They don’t “plug in” to society’s noise. They get quiet.
When you get quiet in this way, your mind starts to relax. Your mind begins to clear.
I want to share some of our practices for quieting your mind:
Slow down and cultivate a more tranquil environment as you move through your day. Don’t turn on your TV to watch the news the moment you get home. Enjoy the quiet. Listen to Mozart when you’re driving, instead of an inflammatory radio call-in talk show. Choose not to answer the phone when you need space to relax. Develop habits and practices to just let your mind rest. When it rests, it doesn’t go to sleep – it gains clarity.
Say positive affirmations. Minds can become more tolerant, but sometimes they must be guided. You know the scenario: Something happens to you – maybe even something minor -- and your anger escalates all day. You ride home, fuming and thinking, “Why did that happen? That wasn’t right.” Then you mentally cycle through all of the ways you will get even tomorrow. The mind unconsciously plots revenge.
When you have retaliatory or negative thoughts, they make you more tense. Put your thoughts aside and take 10 deep breaths, saying “Now I’m going to make some wishes for myself, to say blessings for myself.” Your affirmations might be something like, “May I feel protected and safe, contented and pleased” -- phrases just like that. Give yourself permission to feel protected. When the mind feels safe, it remembers what it felt indignant about a few hours before, and thinks, “Ah, that wasn’t such a bad thing!” It makes your mind wiser. It gives you a certain kind of compassion.
Do some yoga or stretching exercises at the end of the day. These practices allow your mind to assume its natural peace and ease, and by doing them at the same time each day, you reinforce their calming effect.
At the end of a couple of days at Spirit Rock, people look at the issues that only days before seemed so complex, unsolvable, and think, “Oh, that’s what I should do.”
When you spend time every day cultivating quietness, you keep that quietness with you. Things that were once a source of stress, you will see and manage differently – with calm. You will find that you’re much wiser than you once gave yourself credit for.
Sylvia Boorstein is a founding teacher at Spirit Rock, a psychotherapist and the author of many books, including, It’s Easier Than You Think: The Buddhist Way to Happiness, Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There: A Mindfulness Retreat, and Happiness Is an Inside Job.