Monthly Archives: December 2009

Peace Is Power

Did you know that stress reduces the real estate in your higher brain? It shrinks the neural networks that light you up with creativity and problem-solving. It switches on negative emotion, debilitating the emotional intelligence for personal happiness and interpersonal strength. And it creates a physiological state called allostasis which make us sick and eventually can threaten our life. Simultaneously, stress increases the real estate in the lower, more primitive parts of the brain, which make you anxious, reactive, and compulsive.

In the last ten years, neuroscience has discovered that the polar opposite of stress reverses the damage, resprouting higher brain networks and shrinking the lower regions. Once the brain is rolling in this direction, a process takes over called neuroplasticity, expanding higher brain function to take you from stressed to good and from good to great, all in a matter of weeks.

What is the polar opposite of stress? The answer, of course, is peace. Being at peace is the most important thing you can do every day to restore your brain to its absolute best.

Fortunately, this dynamic state of calm and clarity that we call peace couldn’t be simpler to attain. Below is a list of its basic attributes and simple approaches that can help build the experience of peace in your daily life.

1. Peace is quiet, so start each day this season in quiet. First thing each morning, practice setting a peaceful day in motion. Close your eyes or take a downward gaze. Tilt your head toward your heart. Follow your breathing. Feel each breath softening your heart and opening it wider. Feel appreciation for the gift of another day of life. Set your intention to have a great day, filled with achieving things, feeling peaceful inside, regardless of what is happening outside.

2. Peace is spiritual, so take spiritual breaks. During the day, every couple of hours look out the window for a minute or so and let your mind go completely. Observe what the sky is doing. Watch the wind blow, the sun shine, or the snow fall. Allow yourself to feel connected to life.

3. Peace is grateful. So, once a week, before going to sleep, count your blessings. Name three things that happened this week for which you are grateful. Then name three aspects of your life, generally, for which you feel blessed.

4. Peace is spacious. Every now and then, take a time-out, close your eyes and talk to your mind like this: Please, mind, go a little slower. Don’t be so nervous. Open a little wider. Think less, love more and believe this: Everything is going to be alright.  Then go out into the world and smell the roses (or the holly). Hug the people you love. Watch children play. Play closer attention to this moment, right here, right now and let life surprise you.

5. Peace is forgiving. 100 per cent. So forgive everyone and every bad thing that has happened, is happening now, and is sure to happen again. Forgive the past so completely that you hardly see the past any more.

6. Peace is intelligent. It finds the middle path, the place of balance, where you don’t eat too much or spend too much or withhold too much. Where you don’t overdo much of anything.
Also, peace is not a doormat. Equally, it is smart enough not to stand in harm’s way. So if someone or some situation is abusive or stupid or dangerous, remove yourself.

7. Peace is secure within. So don’t worry about anything. Make it a pledge that during the holidays you will practice not worrying.

8. Peace does not judge, so judge nothing that occurs. Don’t judge yourself when you slip up, become stressed and maybe even behave badly. Let it go and choose peace all over again. The same goes for other people’s nonsense. Enjoy the dance of life on Earth and don’t judge any of it. Life isn’t supposed to make sense; neither is love. It’s all a mystery. Just listen and feel and see with such empathy that it no longer occurs to you to condemn any part of what you are hearing or feeling or seeing.

9. Peace is adaptable. If you are not at peace and peace of mind feels a thousand miles away, use the back door. Be at peace with your non-peace.

10. Peace is faith. Have faith. There is no degree of stress in any situation that faith cannot remove. Often the problem in life is not the situation we face but the lack of faith with which we face it

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The Question That Transcends Stress

Fear is the trigger for a stress reaction. If you are stressed, biologically you are in some form of fear.

 

So, whenever you feel stressed on the inside:

 

 

The relevant question to ask yourself is:
What am I afraid of?Ask what am I afraid of five or six times and let the answers come straight from the brain’s primitive fear center, called the amygdala. The amygdala is in charge of fight or flight. It is a highly paranoid feature, designed to see potential calamities but often it mistakes sticks for snakes. Its language is raw, edgy and negative. During the exercise, don’t edit or sugar-coat what it tells you. Allow the amygdala to forecast all the fearful things it tends to predict. Exposing these illusions to the light of day nullifies its power to torment you.

For example, your credit card bill is larger than you expected and the fact scares you. The amygdala is likely to start predicting outcomes that gradually paint the mental picture of you being thrown into poverty. Of course, it’s not true. However, this thought, when operating unconsciously, can form an emotional cloud that darkens your mood and makes you vulnerable to misperceiving events and overreacting.

Once I conducted the What Am I Afraid Of? exercise, one on one, with a prominent corporate lawyer. The lawyer was in litigation, about to go to court, and he was immobilized by stress. So, I asked him, in this legal situation, what are you afraid of?

Losing the case, was his answer.

 

What are you afraid of if you lose the case? I asked. I will lose my reputation, he answered.
And what are you afraid of if you lose your reputation? Losing my clients.
What’s the fear in losing your clients? Being asked to leave the firm.
And what’s the fear under this? With eyes wide, he answered. I’ll end up pushing a shopping cart down Main Street

 

Afterwards, I asked him if there was a chance he could still win the case. He answered yes. I asked if he would lose his reputation if he lost. No, not really, he said. Everyone knows you win some, you lose some. I then asked if it was realistic that he could lose all his clients. He answered, no, saying his clients were loyal because he had served them well for many years.
At this point the lawyer saw through his anxious thought process and the disaster it was fabricating. It’s all in my head, isn’t it, he said and he began to laugh.  Fear’s illusions are comic, but they can become tragic if they go unchecked.
During the holidays, there are family members who can also send our mind into a tail spin, through a condescending remark about our weight or some such thing. If we let it insult us, our primitive brain is going to dig into its emotional memory bank and flash back to all the times family and others hurt us in some way. When that happens, fight or flight is sure to follow.
On the other hand, if we can intercede by investigating the fear behind the reaction, we might find a voice at the bottom that says: I am worthless. Of course, it is not true. We can refute it, simply by not believing it. We can ask ourselves, who would I be without that thought? Invariably, the answer is we would be larger than the box fear was about to squeeze us into.
Whenever we exercise the power of not believing fearful thoughts, a spaciousness of mind opens up inside of us. We become larger than a challenging situation. The self-confidence fear erodes is suddenly restored.
The spaciousness that leads to
this larger sense of self is peace.
Letting go of fear by not believing what it says provides a dependable entry way to peace. Finding peace can be that simple. Try it. When you are in the throes of a burgeoning stress reaction, take a time-out and ask yourself what am I afraid of. Bring into the light of day all the terrible calamities the amygdala predicts. In the clear light, these brain-made calamities are exposed for what they are: ridiculous.
Laugh at them instead of believing them, and your life will move forward again into being happy and at peace, empowered to create a great day in which you achieve something amazing with your stress-free brain.