A cure for stress

From the last paragraph of Andy Olendzki’s essay (previous post),

Meanwhile, peace is accessible. This too is an empirically demonstrable fact: try turning off the radio, the phone, the computer, and the TV; sit comfortably in a quiet place, relaxing the body and mind; mindfully breathing in, mindfully breathing out, and abandon – just for now – any thought or response that tends to disburse and divide your awareness… The Buddha might have said, “I know of no single thing more healthy than than doing one thing at a time”.

I’ve just done this experiment myself, spending some time with less input. No TV, no computer, no books, no human interactions (except a bit of food shopping). It was pretty extreme, and I don’t recommend it to those who haven’t done a number of meditation retreats beforehand. But it was revealing. One discovery was the joy to be found in doing one thing at a time, with full attention.

Each of us can evaluate our current situation and look for ways to stop multi-tasking and start doing one thing at a time. Habits resist change, so it’s best to start small. Try driving without the radio or other auditory input; when driving, just drive. Or have breakfast without reading, talking, or listening to anything; when eating, just eat.

Another approach: it can clear the mind to get outside, regardless of the weather. When we are entirely cut off from nature, it’s easy to get into an endless loop of activity and lose perspective. Try just walking when walking – feel the air, smell the odors, experience the sensations of foot striking ground, notice where the hands are and how they feel. If you can’t get outside, go to a window and check out the weather, the color of the sky, whether there is any wind. Take a few deliberate breaths before returning to whatever you were doing.

Other things we might do one-at-a-time:
– play with children
– cook
– wash dishes
– ride the bus
– listen on the phone or in person
– make a plan
– sew or knit
– study
– think or write
– brush teeth

Anything can be done more mindfully simply by slowing down. It takes an extra beat of time to be aware of what’s happening with all of the available senses, but this is the activity of mindfulness – knowing what we’re doing while we’re doing it.

To start deconstructing the causes of our stress, we need to resist the external and internal signals telling us, “Do more!”, “Do it faster!”. We can answer, “I’m just going to do one thing at a time!”

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Filed under Causes and results, Mindfulness

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