Everyone is so stressed and anxious these days, intensely tuned in to the latest news. How many more have died today? How many millions more are suddenly unemployed and wondering how they will be able to pay for housing and food. These are indeed very challenging times. How can we get through this well, individually and together? While we may not have much control over the big things going on right now, we have a lot of control over a nearly infinitive number of the little things of life.
Life is mostly about the little things. And it is about what we choose to do with our consciousness – what we choose to think about. Yes, we do have a choice about what we think about. And what we choose to think about is probably the most important single thing we do with the time and energy of our lives.
So, let’s practice choosing what we think about, and see how it changes our experience of our existence and our happiness.
In the context of having been thinking about managing my “tuner” for the last couple days, I was looking out at the backyard while having breakfast. The sun was periodically peaking through clouds to light up the back bank. My wife was pointing out the beautiful, brilliant fuchsia-colored azalea bush in full bloom. It was indeed impressive. But my eye was drawn downward and to the right. There was a large clump of witch grass sprouting out of the otherwise unbroken ivy ground cover. It needs to be pulled before it gets bigger and spreads!
Wait. I have choice, including in managing what I choose to focus on and think about. Not only is this my day of rest, when I choose not to do normal work and normal busy things, but reconnect with who and what really matters most. It is, in this moment, a chance to practice choosing how I will manage my “tuner” – in this case specifically my visual “tuner”.
The clump of misplaced grass is disturbing to what I think this picture should look like. It is a problem. I need to fix it. Or do I? I find the approach of fighting focusing on NOT thinking about the grass to not be very productive. It almost makes it a bigger issue. I find it much more helpful to just mentally shrug, say “meh...no biggie”, accept that its not worth my time and energy, and let it go. I can choose to focus all my awareness on the magnificent color and texture of the azalea in all its glory. I can let everything else go and just take it in, and just go “WOW!” with my whole being, without some of my consciousness being somewhere else. I can be fully in the moment, fully engaged, fully fulfilled. And...I realize...fully happy and content.
But what if I can’t pay the rent? And all this work... and these beautiful things...I won’t be enjoying them, and I don’t know where I will be in a couple months? Those are either things I can’t control or worries that I need a break from. I choose to let them go and spend my attention on the beauty of the azalea right now. I will need the resilience and calmness of mind I get from this positive pleasure time to deal with the challenges of life. This is actually one of the best things I can do to prepare for navigating the big challenges. So, I enjoy the brilliant fuchsia in the sunlight.
I scan the rest of the yard. The opportunities are everywhere to choose what I will focus on. I can focus on the deficits, the things that could be better, that need doing. Or, I can focus on the beautiful purple blossoming ground cover in one central spot. I realize that its color is different than it has been in other years. I wouldn’t have realized that if I hadn’t given it a little appreciation. And I am satisfied and happy...it feels really good...that it is thriving and beautiful today. When we moved in several years ago there was just a couple scraggly thready vines with some smalls signs of life in an otherwise dead plant. Some basic TLC and a number of years, and...beautiful! Ahhh! Smile.
What opportunity I have to transformatively change my experience of this day...moment by moment. I would be crazy to not manage my “tuner” for the rest of the day to tune in to those things that make me happy, and tune out the things that would distract or detract. There is a place for accomplishing things, improving things, and feeling good about that as well. But there is always more to do. Learning to manage our “tuner” to get the most positive pleasure out of life is key. It is what we are designed for. And it makes us strong...resilient.
We all have to go through the rough rapids of life at different times. Being able to manage one’s “tuner” is like having a kayak and paddle. You can stay on top and have some control over your experience in the river of life. Not being aware of or managing one’s “tuner” is like going down the river of life, including the rapids, totally at the mercy of the rushing water and the rocks. It is often a very rough and dangerous experience. So, grab your paddle, jump in your kayak. Practice, practice, practice. Ideally, we practice in the calm times and with the little things, having fun and enjoying it. The rough stuff may still be hair raising. But what a different experience!
Stress. Anxiety. There is so much of it happening for so many today. How do we manage?
One of the most important things is to realize how much freedom to choose we really have. We can choose what we "tune in" to, what we actually see and hear and are conscious of.
I sat out on our front steps as the sun was coming up. My mind was busy. There was so much going on in life...so much to do. But I had choice. I had freedom. I heard traffic in the distance, a loud lawn mower somewhere on the other side of the houses across the street, someone banging on something periodically a few houses down. I saw a car drive past, swirls of pollen skitting across along the road. What did I want to tune into? What did I want to see? To hear? To be conscious of? As I started my day and set the tone?
What are my options? I listened. Not too far away one bird was singing a repeating song: tweeet..tweeet...chirp-chirp-chirp. Another of the same kind would answer from a distance. Bouts of short, crisp chirps from high above as rounds of swallows would drift across my spot. Crow caws in the distance would punctuate the soundscape, first from one direction and then another. I found myself relaxed, smiling.
What did I see? Let's look. Beautiful blue sky. Sunshine filtering through the trees, casting my shadow onto the wall along the steps. There were buds about to burst on some kind of bulb-based plant. I guessed they were going to be blue, but looked forward to seeing them bloom in coming days.
I was in charge of my "tuner". I could "tune in" to what I chose to. I was seeing and hearing things that refreshed me, anchored me, built my resilience. Things that I was oblivious to moments before. It felt good to be in control at such a deep and fundamental level.
The science shows that our sense of control or lack thereof is a big part of our stress experience. Time enjoying and connecting with nature is serious "recharge".
How can we manage stress, especially in difficult times?
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