Here is the first email from our Stress Reduction Through Mindfulness event which starts Tuesday, Nov 1!
Often people assume that as a meditation teacher I must be immune to stress. But life can be challenging for anyone! In the last four or five years I’ve gone through a number of very stressful experiences, including the discovery that my tax accountant had covered up the fact that she hadn’t submitted my business tax returns two years in a row, leading to the Internal Revenue Service pursuing me for tens of thousands of dollars in penalties (which I ended up not having to pay any of, fortunately), a painful divorce, moving house several times, surgery for cancer (I’m fine, by the way!), and financial problems caused by my health insurance not covering all of the subsequent medical bills.
One time I told a friend that I felt like I was walking up the “down” escalator while someone was hurling bowling balls down the stairs!
Although my meditation practice was helpful, challenges like these showed me that my existing practice wasn’t enough. I was pushed to go deeper and to develop new and more effective tools for managing the difficulties I was going through. It’s those approaches that I’m going to share with you over the 28 days of this course.
My approach to stress reduction is based on the fact that there are two distinct, but related, forms of stress.
There is the primary stress that results from having an experience that your mind interprets as a threat — such as being pursued for tax penalties, having your home life disrupted and dislocated by divorce and moving house, becoming ill, or experiencing loss. These give rise to unpleasant feelings such as anxiety, confusion, and grief.
Then there is the secondary stress caused by our reacting to primary stress in ways that create further unpleasant feelings. For example, sometimes we assume that in being stressed we’re failing in some way, and so we criticize ourselves. This creates more distress. Sometimes we overeat, overindulge in alcohol, or take out our frustrations in others, and these actions ultimately lead to even more stress being created. In fact, much of our stress results when our chronic attempts to solve or avoid unpleasant feelings themselves cause unpleasant feelings.
With primary stress, it’s the ability to offer ourselves empathy, kindness, compassion, and reassurance that’s most important. We need to learn to be gentle and kind to ourselves. We need to learn to soothe and comfort ourselves in the same way that we would a dear friend, or even a child or animal, that was experiencing stress and anxiety.
Mindfulness is of great benefit in dealing with secondary stress. It helps us to let go of unhelpful mental patterns of having aversion to unpleasant experiences and of using craving to try to bury or avoid those same experiences. We’ll explore a number of mindfulness practices that will help us to identify and let go of stress-inducing habits.
Those, then, are some of the skills we’ll be cultivating over the next four weeks. To help you, there will be readings every day, which I’m going to try to keep relatively brief so that I don’t end up adding to your stress!
There will also be around a dozen guided meditations. Some will be very brief, and others will be a little longer. You can listen to the first of them here. It’s a short meditation that helps us set the intention to be kind and patient with ourselves as we cultivate mindfulness and self-compassion.
Here is Meditation #1, a 5-minute guided meditation to help us arrive and to set our intentions for the course.
Register here to learn more about reducing stress in your life!