August 26, 2016

How to Relax: Your Mind Is Conning You


I remember reading an interview with the then oldest person in the world. She was asked what her secret was, and I still remember her answer today. I often think about it, actually. Her answer was:

You have to learn how to relax.

As one might expect from the world's oldest person, this is great advice. One of the best, really. It encompasses many great pieces of advice into one simple sentence.

Learning to relax and being able to relax instead of allowing stress to fester inside of us is basically the only skill we need. It's what I would ask for, that's for sure. Why? Let's see.

1. The mind is a con artist.

Our minds are like con artists. They scam us into thinking we are in danger only to sell us their services. These services being thoughts, worries and "what if" scenarios. Keeping these in our minds gives us the illusion of safety. Nothing bad can happen as long as we're prepared, right?

What we failed to realize in this process was that the threat was made up by our minds in the first place. Our heads can sure scam us easily.

2. Life happens, whether we stress or not.

The mind tricks us into feeling that if we stress then we are actually doing something productive. How can anything bad happen if we keep thinking about it over and over and over . . . and over? From every possible angle? For as long as we fall asleep? (If we can fall asleep with all these thoughts partying in our heads.)

But the funny thing (which might not be funny at all, but if you can laugh at yourself then you are on the right track) is that whatever will happen, will happen. Regardless of how much we think and stress and worry.

Stressing changes nothing. The only thing it does is ruin our time. The time that we could be spending relaxed. It's painful, really, how true it is. We could be relaxed if we made an effort, but instead, we choose to feed the constant mental noise. The good news is, we can always start to practice peace.

3. An empty mind is the best medicine.

A mind full of thoughts only makes everything harder. It makes pain worse, feelings more uncomfortable and experiences tiring.

My brain tends to produce anxious thoughts. For example, when I'm going somewhere, my mind might want me to think about all the things that could go wrong. Just to be prepared, of course. Engaging with these thoughts, believing them and following them would cause me to feel anxious. It can even cause me to panic and want to run back home.

But I'm wiser than my mind. I know it's trying to con me. So whenever I notice it trying to offer me these thoughts, I just say "no, thank you" and carry on with an empty mind. Just like you do when someone tries to sell you something on a street corner, you know?

Being without constant chatter in our heads opens up space in our minds for other, more useful things. We become smarter, kinder and more compassionate and patient. (Did you know that fear is the lowest state our minds can be in? An actual neuroscientist said this, not me.) It's not only good for us, but for everybody else as well. Practicing relaxation is good for the whole planet. Maybe even the Universe. Who knows?

A guided meditation talkdown to an empty mind can be listened to here.

“If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything, it is open to everything. In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's mind there are few. ” - Shunryu Suzuki

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August 19, 2016

There Are Two Ways to Live Life: How Do You Live Yours?


Bettering myself and being the best person I can be is extremely important to me. These past couple of years I've been a self-development-aholic. I've come a long way and learned many things. And still, I have so far to go.

One of the things I've learned is that we are never quite "finished." We don't suddenly become the best people we can be and then stay that way. Old habits don't magically disappear. Feelings won't start to elude us.

And one day comes the hard realization: We will never be "finished."

And that's okay.

Something that I'm constantly working on is not talking down to myself when I'm not how I want myself to be. I shouldn't want to be anything different from how I am in the first place.

Accepting yourself in the moment does not mean you are not trying to better yourself. In fact, only by accepting yourself can you better yourself.

Resisting feelings only makes them worse. 

We can become so focused on perfecting ourselves that we forget that we are already perfect--in our own imperfect way. Having feelings is not a flaw. Resisting said feelings is what creates the problem.

It's okay to feel anxious. It's okay to feel angry. It's okay to feel sad. Only when we accept our feelings can we respond to them the way we'd like. Because feeling anxious does not equal freaking out nor does feeling angry equal punching someone in the face. When we accept our feelings, we can respond to them with peace.

On the other hand, if we resist the present moment and try to push it away, we create tension. Anxiety becomes panic, and anger becomes rage. If it's physical pain we are fighting, it will become even more hurtful. Every moment we resist can become the worst experience.

Because what matters is not what the moment holds, but how we react to it. If we accept it or not.

Everything in life becomes much worse if we don't want to accept it.

Resisting life only makes everything a bad experience.

There are two ways to live life: In resistance or in acceptance. I've used this metaphor before, but I'll use it again: Life is like a train. We can either ride it in peace or keep freaking out over everything.

There are so many reasons we can get upset: We don't know where the train is going, we are not in control of what we pass, even the seats can be uncomfortable. But nothing we can do will change any of those. So why not sit on the train in peace instead of ruining our own experience? We cannot change anything else, only our own attitude.

So let's ride that train with our feet up and a smile. Whatever the journey holds, who cares? Nothing and no one can take away the comfortable position we choose to sit in.

So which kind of person are you? The one who accepts or the one who resists? Whatever your answer, the good news is, you can be whichever you want to be from the next moment on.

“Always say “yes” to the present moment. What could be more futile, more insane, than to create inner resistance to what already is?” - Eckhart Tolle

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August 12, 2016

From Anxious to Peaceful in 2 Easy Steps


Being peaceful is not that easy for some people. Nobody wants to worry. Telling an anxious person to calm down is not much help. If they knew how to calm down, they would have already done so.

I remember the time when I, too, was "uncalmable." No matter what anyone told me, how they tried to help, when I was in panic, I was in panic. The words of those who tried to calm me felt like desperate attempts of those who just didn't understand. Because when you're anxious, when you're panicking, everybody else seems ignorant. The only voice you believe is the one in your mind.

That's why it is so important to understand how the anxious brain works. Only when we understand how our heads work can we start responding to it.

Anxiety is a habit we haven't even noticed we formed. Our fears are always the same. They are highly personal, still, a lot of people share the same fears. These can be getting sick, fainting, losing control for example. It is important that you recognize your own fears the anxiety has formed. Let's call these anxious fears personal dangers.

Personal dangers are what we believe so strongly when experiencing anxiety. "I'm going to be sick." "I'm going to faint." That's the basis of anxiety: We unconditionally believe that our sense of danger is valid.

If you haven't lived with anxiety for long, let me save you some time: The sense of danger is not valid. Never valid. Never ever. That is what you need to understand and remember.

Step one: Dissolve the threat

When you notice the habit of anxiety starting, notice your thoughts. Notice that the fear you're starting to have is one of the personal dangers you have already recognized. And you know what that means!

That the fear is not valid. The threat is not real. It's just the habitual anxiety kicking in. There's nothing to worry about. Because aside from the anxiety, nothing is happening.

There is a huge difference between knowing and believing. When we are anxious, we probably know that what we fear will not happen. Still, we don't fully believe it. And that's where the solution lies to this whole problem. You have to believe that your fear is not valid. You have to believe nothing will happen to you. You have to understand that these personal dangers are only in your mind and are not real threats.

That might not happen on the first try, and that's okay. Just keep practicing believing that your personal dangers are not real dangers. Keep at it; it will become easier and easier.

Step two: Accept the feeling

What makes the believing part so hard is that anxiety brings physical symptoms with it. So when we try to believe the danger is not real, the desperate question arises: "If it's not real then why do I feel so horrible?"

This is when we have to recognize that whatever we're feeling, may that be dizziness, nausea or something else, is simply caused by our habit that is anxiety.

It is just anxiety. We don't have to be afraid of it or think about it. We can simply accept it and relax. There is no danger. It's just a feeling.

Keep practicing and understanding yourself. Every day is a new opportunity to practice peace. We can accept this moment. All is well.

A guided meditation on the topic can be listened to here.

"Don’t let your mind bully your body into believing it must carry the burden of its worries." - Astrid Alauda

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August 5, 2016

7 Reminders for Anxious People


Being an anxious person can be hard. What is simple and easy for other people could require a lot of effort from an anxious person. So anxious people can easily feel alone, and think of themselves as strange or weird.

I've always been an anxious person, and even after years of taking medication (which I've since put down), followed by years of practicing mindfulness, my biggest struggle is still with this feeling called anxiety.

1. You are not strange--everyone has struggles.

Along the way, I understood that everyone's struggles are different. It doesn't mean some people don't have any. Some get angry easily, others get sad. Everyone has their own demons. Neither is more heinous than the other.

So just because something that is hard for you is easy for someone else, don't feel lesser. There are many things that are easy for you and hard for others, our negative minds just doesn't recognize them.

2. Instead of fearing loss, try appreciating the now.

The fear of what will happen can often cloud the mind of an anxious person. So much so that they forget that right now, there is nothing to worry about. Their problems only exist in some imaginary future in their heads. So next time you catch yourself worrying the "what if" scenarios, bring your mind back to the present moment, and allow yourself to be grateful.

What you're so afraid of losing, in this present moment, you have.

3. Accept your feelings.

This is a very important one. I often find myself wanting to eliminate negative feelings completely. And, for me, negative feelings mean anxiety. And every time I get anxious, I put myself down, as if I had done something bad, mentally scolding myself that it is my fault for feeling that way, and that it's a sign that I'm doing something wrong. But honestly, it's just a feeling. And seeing it as such a huge deal is making it into something it's not. It's us who build this feeling into a giant monster.

Everything is kinder to us if we approach it with acceptance and kindness--especially our own feelings. If we create a monster, there will be a monster. But if we accept a feeling, it will remain only a feeling. That can cause no harm.

4. Don't run away from the present moment.

A strong urge to flee the situation we're in often accompanies anxiety. This is the urge you should not listen to, since listening to it means that you believe the thoughts in your head, you believe that the danger is real, when it's actually not. By not listening to it, you stand your ground, knowing wisely that there is nothing to run away from. You are being the master of the mind instead of its slave.

Once you know that nothing is actually happening, only in your mind, you can accept the present moment and carry on doing what you were doing with peace.

5. What happens doesn't even matter.

When we are anxious, we always fear something. The black cloud of doom is above us and makes us think that something horrible is about to happen. But what is interesting is that what happens never really mattered. There are a million different ways to react to the same event. And what determines each and every event is which reaction we choose. Some women go to the hospital singing when they are about to give birth and some are crippled by fear. It's the same event, but there are infinite ways to live it. Everyone's afraid, of course, but there are different ways to react to the same feeling.

What we should concentrate on is not what will happen, but how we will react to it. Hint: Peace is always an available choice.

6. Relax. All is well.

I would advise anyone who struggles with anxiety to remember these couple of words. When we're on the verge of panic, it is good to bring them to mind. Because what is happening is the following: We fear that something is about to happen, so the appropriate response seems to be panic. But what is actually happening is simply that there is a thought in our heads that we believed. And what's about to happen is nothing. Besides our own reaction, of course. 

To bring yourself back to reality, remind yourself that the thoughts in your head are not true. Just like they were not the last 200 times. They're just thoughts. You can relax. All is well.

7. Be proud.

It's so easy to put ourselves down and feel lesser and out of place. But you have a valid place in the world, just like everybody else. Whenever you react with peace and live your life despite of your feelings, you are being a badass. You are so strong, and you probably don't even realize it. You've got a lot to be proud of.

So instead of bringing yourself down, build yourself up from all of it. You have become strong, and you can do anything. The only one you might need to convince is yourself.

"Anxiety, the illness of our time, comes primarily from our inability to dwell in the present moment." - Thich Nhat Hanh

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July 29, 2016

How Your Mind Affects Your Life And How You Can Rise Above It


Oh, the mind . . . With all of its fears and worries, it sure can make our lives difficult.

Every day, I'm trying to be aware of the thoughts in my mind, filtering out all that is untrue, harmful and not needed. I've been doing this for years. And throughout these years, I've learned a lot about my mind.

Your mind determines your life.

The way we think affects more aspects of life than we might realize. The way we think determines how we see the world. If we view it as hostile or friendly. If we are afraid of a stranger on the street. Or the dark at night.

It determines the way we see ourselves. What we think of ourselves determines how we will act. If we label ourselves in our minds, that's how we will act, since that's who we think we are.

What we think about the events in our lives affects our reactions to them. If we tend to see the problem in everything, we will be tired and moody a lot of the times. If we constantly worry, we will be anxious. These are all thoughts in our heads. Unnoticed whispers that dictate our lives, who we are and how we see the world around us.

The mind is creature of habit.

And that means we act out of habit.

I have always been an anxious person, even as a little girl. I don't remember a time when I wasn't constantly worrying about something, even when I was three years old. Now that I'm aware of the thoughts in my mind, I see how my mind's impulses never changed. It still has the same habits as it had when I was a child.

Day-to-day we have the same thought patterns. The same things make us angry, anxious or sad. It might seem like something new, but it's always the same thing. Every single time.

The mind can even find new triggers to achieve the same response if you're over the usual one. But it always finds ways to make you feel that usual feeling that you should be used to by now, but you're not, since it seems like something new every single time.

The mind's habits are hard to break.

We should learn to let go of our thoughts. Not to take them seriously. Know that they are just thoughts and nothing more. Not let them limit us or the people around us. Not let them taint the world we see with darkness.

Yes, it is possible. But the mind is stubborn beast. If life were a video game, the mind would be the final boss. Because if you clear that level, you clear everything. The world opens up. And you're free.

It's hard not to listen to the mind.

What makes rising above the mind so hard is that it's not easy to doubt our own thoughts. What can we trust in if not our own thoughts, right?

But that's the thing: our thoughts are just thoughts. They don't portray reality, they bend it and make us believe that that distorted picture is the truth. What we think of others is not truth. What we think of ourselves is not either. And how these thoughts taint the perception glasses in front of our eyes: How can that be anything more than distortion?

The mind does not know the future. It distorts the past. It even ruins the present with its worries and delusions. And it limits people. But in order to rise above it, we have to realize that we really don't know anything. And for us humans, who cannot leave a single question unanswered, even if it means inventing an answer, that is an incredibly hard thing to do. Like I said, final boss.

You can respond to your mind.

Humans are unique in the sense that we can be aware of our own thoughts. And that means that we can choose our response to our thoughts if we want to.

How this goes by default is that the mind produces some kind of thought, and we just go with it. Take a dog for example. You cannot explain to it that the sound of thunder means no danger. It will be afraid, because it doesn't know better. That's kind of our default setting as well.

When we think our partners might be cheating, we get jealous, even if they haven't done anything. When we think we might not be good enough for someone, we get sad or angry, even if we mean the world to that person. And if we think we're getting sick, we get anxious, even if it's only caused by the usual anxious thought in our heads. But humans can do better. That's the hidden level of the game--the level above the mind.

Even if that instinctual fear of thunder kicks in, we can respond to it by saying that there's nothing to be afraid of. And that fear inside of us might not pass until the storm does, but we won't run around in circles or hide under our beds like our dogs do. Because we know that the fearful thought and feeling inside of us does not coincide with reality. All it takes is a little bit of awareness.

And this is when we circle back to the fact that the mind is a creature of habit. Because once we know the habits of our own minds, we can recognize them. When we are angry or anxious or sad, we can know that it is the same thing that happened yesterday. Or the week before. We see the thought pattern behind the feeling. That thought pattern that is unique to us. And now we know that just like our instinctual fear of thunder, we don't have to take it seriously.

So we can react to it with peace. We can calm the mind that wants to rise above us so bad like a dark cloud. We can start being the masters of the mind, instead of being its slaves.

It is not easy. It is the biggest boss of the game. Maybe it's not even a boss, but the game itself. And every day we have to make an effort to go through a level. We might not be able to leave the game behind, but we can learn to master it. And even if it's hard sometimes, we can make it hella fun, that's for sure. It's just a game, after all.

“Mind: A beautiful servant, a dangerous master.” - Osho

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