The Stress-Out Mind's Guide to Enlightenment (it is this simple)

The Stress-Out Mind's Guide to Enlightenment (it is this simple)
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I once coached a woman who was very stressed. She was a single mother of two, the primary caregiver for her elderly father, and a project manager in a high-pressure start-up company. The stress she experienced in keeping all the balls in the air was causing health problems.

For three weeks, she followed a very simple practice I laid out for her, waking up twenty minutes early each morning to start her day in quiet, practicing gratitude and asserting her unconditional worth as a person. She didn’t see herself that way at first; she’d missed the news that research had found human nature to be basically loving, constructive, and trustworthy when functioning freely (see my HuffPost article on the science proving your unconditional worth).

Then, throughout the day, she practiced becoming more and more aware of stressful thoughts and judgments that her brain was generating, and observing how quickly these thoughts morphed into upsetting emotions producing the expectation of something unfortunate. She began to see how the negativity caused her to misperceive people and events and at times to jump to dire conclusions, placing her in conflict with whomever or whatever was involved. It become clear to her that the habitually negative thinking her brain manufactured could not help but produce a stressful day, and that even the fatigue she tended to experience by three in the afternoon had more to do with a long string of stressful thoughts than a long day.

Psychology has known for decades that awareness can heal the mind and gradually her simple two-step practice began to quiet the knee jerk mental reactivity that stressed her. It wasn’t long until she was laughing at her stressful thoughts; what had once been a horror movie was becoming a comedy. As she worked at not believing her stressful thoughts and perceptions, she began to experience the spaciousness and freedom on the other side of fear, worry, and pessimism.

Then one day about two weeks into her practice, she was walking across the parking lot at the end of the day and for no reason she could identify, she experienced a spontaneous moment of joy. It stopped her in her tracks and she stood still for a moment. She hadn’t felt joy in a long time that it took a moment for her to recognize that the fullness of her heart was joy. She looked at the world around her and thought, What a beautiful world. She described it as a “perfect moment.”

Joy is what you experience when you’ve liberated yourself from stressful, worried, and anxious thinking. In that moment, you will know what it means to live without fear and stress. That’s life changing. The joyful affect my client experienced rose from her basic nature. Of course any experience associated with love is more complete in its effect and more enduring.

Transcending stress takes a clear goal and a practice moving steadily in this direction. If, as you practice, you find that everyday things are a little better, a little more harmonious, a little more health giving and joyous; if each day you are expressing more life, then you are going in the right direction.

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