Next week, I am leading a webinar on mindfulness at work, specifically in the library. Mindfulness, since I learned about it earlier this year, has truly changed my life. I have struggled with depression and anxiety my entire life. While mindfulness and meditation are not cures or catchalls, they are tools for the repertoire, swords for fighting the beast. There are many factors that produce depression and anxiety, and not every technique works for everyone. It doesn’t even work for me all the time. But now, I practice these skills every day, with the intent of building them bigger and stronger.
I’m doing these posts for the students in my webinar, but I’m also doing them for anyone who wants to know more about this practice and how it helps one individual person. I don’t speak for everyone, and I have so much more to learn.
My road began with the book 10% Happier by Dan Harris. I’ve talked about this book ad nauseam since then. Harris, a television anchor, had a panic attack on air. He was struggling with drug dependency and anxiety, and he decided to look into ways to help himself. He interviewed Deepak Chopra and Eckhart Tolle, and he went on a ten-day retreat with no speaking. The stories are fascinating, but it’s his conclusions that meant the most to me. I wrote down his tenets, “The Way of the Worrier,” as he calls them, and stick to them as best I can every day. Among them: don’t be a jerk, hide the zen if you have to, and realize everything is temporary.
Next I went on to Taming the Drunken Monkey by William Mikulas. I picked that one up at ALA and added it to my already overflowing bag of ARCs. This book stresses three concepts: awareness, flexibility, and concentration. It progresses in stages through the levels of exercises, so if you’re a beginner, you can start with the first level and move up. I’m somewhere in the second level right now. It’s extremely practical, and if you want to practice meditation, it’s a good place to start.
On the plane back from ALA, I read another advanced reading copy, The End of Stress by Don Joseph Goewey. My takeaway from that book was that there were even more techniques and tools I could be using, and more that I’m probably not even aware of. My favorite tool in that book is simple – when you’re feeling stressed, tell yourself, “I could be at peace right now.” The anxiety in my head is temporary, created of my own nervous mental energy, and unnecessary. When I use this tool, I feel all the stress disappear from my body instantly, and all my breath goes out in a whoosh. Focusing on the breath is very important in this practice.
Here’s how I currently apply the skills I learned in these books:
- A lot of my stress comes from interpreting inconsiderate things said to me, often by people who care about me. By understanding that everything is temporary, and that I should focus on the moment, I know that what they think or say doesn’t matter. I am the only one in control of my own destiny. If they don’t like me, it only harms them. I strive to be a good person, so if I make a mistake, it’s not the end of the world. I can take responsibility for my actions and move on to the next thing.
- My calendar is packed. I work full-time and do a lot of freelance side work. I also have a toddler and a husband. Balancing it all can be stressful. Focusing on the moment allows me to put my concentration and efforts on what I’m doing right now. I can put aside the endless to-do list and know that it will get done another time, as long as I write it down for later.
- My child will only be two once. Knowing that helps me catalog the special moments and soak them in so I remember them forever.
- Awareness of the moment has helped me connect with the world more. When life flies by, it’s easy to ignore everything and put blinders on. When you are focusing on the moment, you notice more: the beauty of a sunset, the unique softness of a child’s skin, unusual names on tombstones. Lately, this has created a powerful awe in me, and a profound gratefulness that I have this life, that I live in this world. My writing has improved with these observations as well.
Recently, I started wondering how I could apply these principles to other anxieties and neuroses I’ve held for a long time. I’ll talk about those in my next post.