Lasting Calm in 16 Minutes (Or Less)
Step One: Shrink the Bundle, Expand Like the Sky (3 minutes)Why do it: The Buddha advises you to "make your mind vast like the sky," because when you lose perspective, your mind contracts into tight patterns of worry and fear. When you open your perspective, calm returns.
How to do it: Picture or imagine putting all your problems in a big package, a huge bundle all wrapped up. Take your time. Let it be as big as it needs to be. Now, picture or imagine that you can slowly shrink the bundle smaller and smaller, until it can fit in the palm of your hand. Place the bundle in the hands of your higher power or whoever is your spiritual support so he/she can help you care for it. Now, with your worries being held, relax. Imagine your mind can open to be vast like the sky. Thoughts and feelings move through the sky like clouds, but you are the sky, open and calm. Even if storms come, the sky remains open and lets them come and go. Rest.
Step Two: Reconnect with Your Best Intention (3 minutes)Why do it: Your best intention is just another way of describing your heart's wisest and most compassionate motivation. You cannot always control the outcome of events, but you can act with your best intention no matter what. Stress usually evaporates when you know you've done what your best self believes in; there is no reason to regret your choices.
How to do it: Whatever the difficult circumstances, take a minute to stop and reconnect with your best intention. Stop in the middle of that tough conversation, frustrating conflict or troubling email—and pause. Turn away for a moment. Take three breaths. Ask yourself, "What is my best intention?" When your heart gives you the answer, then turn back and respond.
Step Three: Move (5 minutes)Why do it: Body and mind are connected. Modern neuroscience shows that when the body relaxes, the nervous system can regulate itself, and the mind calms.
How to do it: Find a place where you can move (without looking weird). Stand. Begin to shake your body out, let it move. Really let the tension out. Shake your arms and flap your hands strongly. Move your legs, shake, dance, kick, stomp. Shake your head, flop your shoulders, make faces, make noises like you are a kid. Move until you feel some release (two minutes).
Now find a place to sit down. Close your eyes. Start at the top of your head. Slowly tighten and relax your body, one part at a time. Relax your eyes and face. Squint and release your eyes; loosen your jaw. Roll your head in a circle to relax your neck. Raise and lower your shoulders several times and let them relax. Tighten and release your arms and hands. Move on to relax your chest, belly, back, pelvis, genitals, butt, thighs, legs, ankles and feet. Drink in the relaxation (three minutes).
Step Four: Hold Yourself with Kindness (5 minutes)Why do it: When a baby is distressed, holding her gently, with kindness, settles her down. In the same way, you can calm your own mind and ease your heart by holding yourself with compassion.
What to do: Sit comfortably. Notice whatever stress and problems you still carry, and how they feel in your mind and body. Instead of struggling against the problems, imagine you are holding them with kindness as if they were crying children. Next, put a hand on your heart. Hold yourself with kindness. With each breath, bring in care for yourself in the midst of struggles and difficulties. Note how your heart eases, your mind quiets, grace and calm return.
Jack Kornfield is the author of A Path with Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life and Meditation for Beginners.
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