THINGS TO THINK by Robert Bly
“When someone knocks on the door, think that he is about to give you something large: tell you you’re forgiven, or that it’s not necessary to work all the time, or that it’s been decided that if you lie down no one will die.”
Slow Down, One Step at a Time, Keep At It
The cooler temperatures of Fall move us into the chilly Holiday season and for many, this is a time with family and unfortunately for many, a time of stress. For some, working at home these days, the boundaries between the office and home fade and there is no escaping getting our jobs done. The pressure to get work done is internal and external, exemplified by the falling leaves in our yard and our feeling of responsibility to rake the leaves. How we perceive these perennial tasks can define them as stressful or not. If we see the task as an opportunity to ‘enjoy’ the work of putting things in order that creates a different internal demand than seeing the task as a ‘burden’ on our time and effort. The point of view of “before enlightenment chopping wood and totting water and after enlightenment chopping wood and totting water” suggests that happiness can be found by joyfully embracing many of the activities in our lives.
To develop this more ‘enlightened’ stance a dear friend once said to me, “Slow down, take one step at a time and keep at it”. This slower more mindful movement of our body and mind gives us a chance to experience ourselves in the moment. This is an opportunity to realize the wonder and awe of being alive. John Cabot Zinn has noted that there are more things going well than going wrong with ourselves and the world; of course, disregarding the evening news on television. The fact that we are able to rake the leaves, water the plants, make lunch for the kids, complete this blog, and drive the children to school could be joyfully celebrated, among the other 10,000 things life asks of us. I know some of you reading this article are saying “That is easy for you to say but if you could experience what I am going through you wouldn’t have such a rose-colored view of reality”.
I would suggest to everyone feeling overly stressed at this moment by life’s demands to ‘slow down’ and choose to share your story with someone that you feel will listen and empathize with your dilemma. The social support of another person who is able to be personally present and reflect on having heard you is an important source of relief. Internalizing the stress and the harmful emotional impact of isolating ourselves from others compounds the stress. It is also important to acknowledge that others truly listening does help but that no one else can be expected to save us from our own dilemmas. Use the help of social support to mobilize yourself for taking rational actions to resolve your stress. Define each step or action required to reduce each element of the task rather than overwhelming yourself by looking at ‘everything’. This ‘one step at a time’ is key to mindfully making progress by breaking down in a methodical and rational manner the elements of your situation that require individual attention and actions. Explore the pros and cons of taking each individual action with consideration of its potential benefit to you and others. This is the process of discernment using your head and heart to make good choices. Once you have shared your issues with others, carefully studied the individual actions to be taken and connected with your heart-felt ‘intuition’ about choices that best serve you and others, act accordingly. If it is a good idea do it immediately. If doubts linger commit to more study until your heart says, ‘Yes’.
Ultimately, successful reduction of stress is dependent on determination and persistence to apply what you have deemed the right thing to do by doing it. If resolution doesn’t come immediately remain resolved to ‘keep at it’. This may require more individual study that could involve discussing your efforts with others who universally share similar issues or seeking coaching from wise counsel in your community that empowers you to find your own solutions rather than oversteering you. When seeking help we may also be helping others who have similar issues. Just as we don’t want to do for others what they can do for themselves we want social support that empowers us to solve our own problems. Rather than co-dependence, we can best be served through balanced coordinated cooperation with others. With persistence and a balance between positive social support and individual effort, we can surmount the stresses in our lives. So remember to ‘slow down, one step at a time, and keep at it’. It is a choice to replace stress with joy.
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Prama Institute & Wellness Center in Marshall, N.C.
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