This is a transcript of a talk I gave recently to teachers in Tolleson, AZ. If you have school-aged children, please be kind to your teachers. They are under incredible pressure and duress. It is a crisis that does not get talked about enough.
How many of you in the course of your day, experience stress? How many of you with all you deal with feel overwhelmed? The good news is that with what you all deal with in the environments your working in your body and mind are working as they were designed to. Stress is the fight or flight reaction your brain and body experience to get you out of trouble. The bad news is if you don’t do something to manage that natural, healthy reaction your health, both mentally and physically, will suffer. There is an old Chinese saying “The years tell you what the days cannot.” The continual release of stress hormones and the reactions that your bodies experience will take its toll if it hasn’t already begun to do so. I suspect that many of you already experience stress-related illnesses. In the short time that I have here tonight, I can’t give you all the answers, but I am going to share with you three practices that you can incorporate into your daily life that will give you some relief.
I’m going to talk about a daily morning routine that will benefit you mentally and physically. Next, I will discuss the importance and benefit of having a daily meditation practice. Finally, we will talk about practicing the appreciation of impermanence and making that into a habit and routine.
How many of you have a morning routine beyond the normal preparedness for the day? If you do not, I would strongly encourage you to develop one. I know your days are beyond full, and you probably feel you have no extra time. A quote from Henry Ward Beecher that I tell myself all the time is “The first hour is the rudder of the day.” It truly will help set the tone for the day. There are a few activities that you can do to prep yourself to handle whatever may pass in a calmly active and an actively calm manner. The first thing I would recommend doing when you first wake up is to begin the day with gratitude. In front of you is a twenty-one-day gratitude journal that I put together. [Here is the link to get a twenty-one-day gratitude journal.] I would recommend keeping this on your nightstand or somewhere close so you can have easy access. I would also suggest that you make this your first action upon waking. Just reach over and grab your journal and write down three things that you are grateful for. This can be anything, something as simple as I’m grateful that I am still breathing. There is no better way to start your day. Now there will be some mornings when perhaps you’re not feeling well, or you have a stressful day ahead of you, and you have trouble finding gratitude. Find a way. If you think there is nothing you can be grateful for your not thinking hard enough.
The next thing you can do, perhaps while you’re waiting for the coffee to brew is to get some movement in your body. The first thing that I would suggest would be simply jumping up a down for a moment or two. What does this do? It gets the lymphatic system flowing. Just jump up on your toes for a couple of minutes. I would then get some movement in your spine. Get your energy flowing. You can twist your torso and be moving your arms back and forth. Like the old Chubby Checker song and dance. Another great activity to get your energy flowing that I do every morning is what is called holding the teacup. Get in a stance with your feet spread about shoulder length apart or more and hold one palm over the other in front of you like this. Now pretend that in both hands you are holding a teacup filled with tea and you want to get that teacup above your head without spilling the tea. You can start by making ten rotations with each arm. [Watch this video to see a demonstation] You can, of course, expand upon these, but the idea is to get your system flowing, in particular, the energy flowing in the spine.
Next what I would suggest you do is a breathing exercise. There are many that one can do, such as pranayama. The best way to start a practice is to start with something simple. There is a simple yet effective method you can easily do. It is called the 4x4x4. The Navy Seals are taught this method to help them when they are in high-stress situations. If it helps the Navy Seals, it will help you control your stress. What you do is breath in for four seconds then breathe out for four seconds and repeat for four minutes. You already breathing all the time but with this method, you are taking complete deep breaths and being aware of your breath. I want to touch on this a moment. Whenever you feel stressed or overwhelmed get in the habit of bringing your attention to your breath. In fact, whenever you are stressed it is critical that you bring your attention to your breath. When you’re stressed, you’re not breathing properly. You're taking shorter breaths and not utilizing your full lung capacity. Your breathing as you should if some tiger was chasing you. Our bodies are ancient technology. Millions of years in the making. There aren’t any tigers chasing you anymore, but your body doesn’t know that or care. It senses threats, whether real or not and reacts to keep you alive.
Before we move on to the next step lets, do a quick review. What is the first thing you should do upon waking? Right grab your gratitude journal and write down three things you’re grateful for this morning. Next, we want to get our body and system flowing. What are the three things that you can do to accomplish this which only takes about five minutes? Jumping, do the twist and hold the teacups. Then we do the 4x4x4 breathing exercise.
The next thing that I would suggest doing every day and every morning is taking a few minutes and having a visit with yourself. Or what some call meditation. The benefits of meditation are numerous. I’m sure you have heard of some. But I think that the most important benefit that I have reaped over the years from doing it every day is that I am a much calmer person than I was 5 years ago. For many in our culture meditation is a strange or alien thing. I know it was for me. I thought it was something that monks and hippies did. What is meditation? I’m sure you have all heard the Socrates saying ‘Know Thyself.’ How does one get to know thyself? By observing ourselves. What is the best way to observe ourselves? By observing our thoughts. How to best observe our thoughts? By being still and watching them. How many of you have a daily meditation practice? For those who don’t, when you develop a daily practice you soon discover that your thoughts think themselves. They will go from this subject to that subject and travel a thousand miles in a second. We have about 50,000 thoughts a day. That is a lot of thoughts. You can learn to not get attached to each and every one of them. The challenge is that most of the thoughts that you had today will be the same ones you have tomorrow. We are what are habits are, and this begins with your mental habits. Two things will happen when you begin a daily practice. The first is that you will stop worrying as much. Many of the little things that use to bother you will no longer do so. Secondly, you will also begin to see more of the synchronization that is present in all of our lives. It is like getting a new car, all of sudden you see that car everywhere. It was always there you just couldn't see it. You will become a calmer person. Your spouse or significant other will notice, and your students will notice. You students may begin to act differently. It is not that they will change. You will change, there for your world changes. So take five or ten minutes each morning and be still. Your future self will thank you. There is a great app that I have been using for the past three years. It is called Insight Timer. Most features are available for free, but if you pay the minimal $5 to purchase it will be well worth it. There are thousands of guided meditations you can listen to and numerous groups you can join.
The last activity I want to mention you can begin practicing immediately. This habit is to practice contemplating impermanence. What does it mean to practice impermanence? Does anyone have an idea of what I am speaking about? It means to get yourself in the habit of thinking about the fact that nothing lasts. Everything in your life will someday end, including yourself. Nothing lasts. Even our sun someday will no longer be as it is. Some may find that depressing. I find it liberating. Why do I find it liberating you may ask? There are two reasons. The first reason is when everything is going to leave you including yourself what are you trying to hold on to? What is there to grasp. It is all fleeting. This doesn't mean you go around being a nihilist. Acting as if nothing matters and you have no regard for others. It means that you try not to have emotional attachments to things as if they are unchanging. Again, it is not that you don’t care it is your living in the moment and appreciating it now instead of clinging to what was or worrying about what will be. The desire for things to be different then they are causes a great many troubles for us. Some would say it is the root of suffering. The second reason it is such a powerful practice is that it helps you live in the moment. We know this life could end at any moment, but so we live as if it could? If this could end at any time then how are you going to live your life from now until then? Is your ideal self in congruence with your habits?
The question is how do you establish the habit if practicing impermance? I think the best way would be to develop a worldview that reminds you. Make it a part of your morning routine. Contemplate it as you are having a quiet visit with yourself. Perhaps use some jewelry or bracelet to remind you until it is an established mental habit. Then when you catch your emotions getting the best of you remember that nothing lasts. It will pass. Everything will pass.
You have all have an incredibly underappreciated stressful job. However, you can learn to manage your stress. You must learn to manage your stress, or the consequences are not promising. Creating the habit of writing in a daily gratitude/intention journal, practicing meditation, and realizing impermanence will have an immediate impact on your life. If you feel that you don’t have the time. Find the time. If you feel you can not do this every day then find a way. Your future self will thank you, and I thank you for allowing me the time to speak to you this evening.