Getting Centered in a Reactive WorldPosted: February 8, 2017
It seems that our country and the world is being divided more and more with each passing day. With the political climate being tumultuous, freedoms and rights continuously threatened, and uncertainty of what lay ahead– this is an extremely stressful time. What can result from this stress is overwhelm, overload (of news and information), and loss of health. With a weakened immune system, physical illnesses can creep in, such as headaches, tight muscles in our backs, shoulders and necks, and the likelihood of not being able to fight off a cold or infection. This increased stress and decreased immunity also affects psychological conditions which can bring on anxiety or depression.
Additionally, this type of stress also increases our emotional reactivity — heightening irritability, intensifying emotions, and sending us on autopilot with emotional reactions, which may then affect our relationships. So, instead of allowing the turbulence of the world to build up stress within you and affect you in negative ways, invest in your own self-care. Taking care of yourself during this time is essential, so that you may be healthy enough to take care of others, and answer any call to action in a healthy way. One self-care solution that not only reduces stress and reactivity, and increases clarity, connection and compassion at the same time is meditation. The world can use more of these qualities, especially connection and compassion right now.
Try doing a 5-15 minute Loving-Kindness Meditation (LKM) to reduce stress and cultivate compassion, not just for yourself and loved ones, but for the world in general. Loving-Kindness Meditation acknowledges that all beings want to be safe, happy, healthy and live without stress or suffering. It builds the connection of humanity and life by acknowledging the shared experience of existence. Start by offering these wishes to a dear one, then a neutral one, and finally (get ready for this) a difficult one. Be sure to include yourself in this circle of compassion as well. By consistently meditating with Loving-Kindness, you are building your resilience, immune system, the ability to empathize with others, and take responsive action. Studies show this type of meditation has a positive effect on vagal tone as well, which is our ability to bounce back after a stressful event. Dr. Barbara Fredrickson wrote on this type of meditation in her book, “Love, 2.0“. Check out her guided LKM, or the guided LKM I offer on this site. Moreover, wisdom teachers all over the globe are encouraging this type of meditation right now, to bring compassion to the world, who so desperately needs it.
Awareness of Breath Meditation
This type of meditation focuses your attention on your breath, and the sensations involved in breathing. Why do this type of meditation? Again, studies show it has positive effects on your physical and psychological health. It reduces the effects of stress, and re-wires your brain– lessening the potential for autopilot and emotional reactivity. Moreover, it brings you back to the present moment, which is the only one we have. Instead of wasting your energy on ruminating what “should have” or “might” happen, focus on what is happening right now. Not only does this type of meditation bring you back to the present moment, it reduces the likelihood of “flipping our lids” in that heated moment (being hijacked by the amygdala– the area of the brain responsible for emotional regulation– which is impulse-based).
On the other hand, sometimes stress and tension can be a catalyst for action. By doing this type of meditation focusing on your breath instead of the stressful issue, once calm and focused you may ask your intuition, “What can I do right now to effectively respond?” Trusting in our intuition is one benefit of meditation, along with seeing choices in a clearer way. No matter the situation in which you find yourself, this type of meditation has positive effects. There are many guided Awareness of Breath meditations online, such as the ones at MARC (Mindfulness Awareness Research Center at UCLA), or the 10 minute guided Awareness of Breath meditation I offer.
If you do not have 5-15 minutes to set aside to meditate, try taking three mindful breaths at the time that you need it. This can be done anywhere. Just tune into your body and the sensation of slowly inhaling deeper than normal through your nostrils, for a count of four. Hold the breath for a count of seven, and then slowly release it out through your mouth over a count of eight. Breathing this way three times can trigger the relaxation response, activating your sympathetic system to slow down and reduce the possibility of unhealthy autopilot and emotional reactions.
Choose Your Response
The suggestions above will not fix the world’s problems, but they will allow you to be in a non-reactive space where you may choose a response. And in the words of Viktor Frankl, “In that response lies our growth and freedom.” How will you let the conditions in the world affect you today? How will you grow? Exercise your freedom, and choose a healthy and effective response, with clarity and perhaps some compassion. What would happen in this world if all human beings meditated? Perhaps the spread of compassion, cooperation, and love? Reframing the quote by Gandhi into a question, “How will you be the change you wish to see in the world?” Starting right now, with this breath. Ask yourself this question. And then listen for the answer to arise.