A key to surviving just about anything in life is to find ways to find your cool and calm in the midst of chaos.
So many times we have preconceived notions rambling about our brain of how things should be. We try so hard to construct memories of the perfect this or that…
When my kids were little, I used to watch Martha Stewart’s decorating and cooking show. “That looks easy enough,” I told myself. I would decorate as she did.
I would strategically place sprigs of holly and pine here and there; I would make batches upon batches of evenly-baked, delectable sugar cookies—prime for painting with Martha’s amazing frosting. Martha also had this awesome centerpiece on her table. It consisted of whole apples and pears. The fruit was painted with egg white and lightly sprinkled with sugar. It looked all sparkly and amazing.
I followed Martha’s instructions to the letter. I couldn’t go wrong. Christmas in my house would surely be a beautiful memory for my kids! The sights, the sounds, the enchantment!
Enchantment my ass.What I wound up with was a house that looked like I forgot to clean up pine sprigs, crappy looking cookies semi-burnt on one end, and one really odd centerpiece with clumps of egg white and sugar dried on the fruit. I was a little disappointed to realize I was not in fact—a mini-Martha. My house looked a bit like it was decorated by Martha Stewart on crack.
Back in those days, I did that all the time—try to construct memories.
What mother doesn’t dream of having her children remember events and outings as absolutely wonderful and awesome? It was something I was plagued with. From big things like our cross-country road trip to little things like going for a hike in the park.
I had these grandiose illusions about shared laughter and great times and there would be no arguing. Each time my illusions were shattered with constant bickering and complaining. Someone looked at someone funny; someone’s sense of humor offended someone else; someone was bossy or mean. Oh sure, there was laughter in there, but it still didn’t wind up being that perfect scenario I envisioned.
The funny thing is that my memories of things back then are so much different from my kid’s memory of things. Mine was busted up illusion with bits of fun thrown in and their memory were tons of fun and good times with a barely a recollection of any negative parts.
It was shortly after our big cross-country road trip, that I started looking for my Zen. It was time because we were looking through photo albums of the trip and my kids were going on and on about how fun the trip was—that it was the “best time ever.” Meanwhile, I remembered having a series of mini-meltdowns.
This was in the days before cell phones with GPS so I was armed with folders of maps I had printed off, and roadmaps for each state from AAA. I was an obsessive planner, which was only 95% of my problem. Our second stop of the trip was Custer, South Dakota. It took us an extra 4 hours to get there because the maps I printed were wrong. It was super dark and almost midnight as we flew through the winding Black Hills—several times because we kept taking wrong turns. We finally made it to our hotel but we were starving, exhausted, and frustrated. It was so incredibly dark out that we couldn’t see what our hotel even looked like, until morning. It was beautiful, nestled in the valley.
You can drive for hours and not come into contact with another human being. Or a restroom, or a place to eat. And then of course, when you do find food, some won’t eat there because they wanted something else. Have fun eating granola bars and fruit snacks for the next umpteen hours.
I was pulled over for speeding in Wyoming. I’m not proud of it. I was, sorta, hoping to God they would arrest me and give me a night in jail, but the officer was mean and just gave me a warning. What kind of nut plans a cross-country road trip with two teens and a pre-teen AND expects them all to get along perfectly? Just silly.
A day or so later, we entered Yellowstone Park and shortly into the drive we got stuck behind a herd of buffalo that stopped traffic for about an hour or so. Oh, it was pretty cool at first—then hunger set in and we all had to use the restroom. Once traffic started moving we drove another hour and found Old Faithful. We were in luck! We were just 20 minutes from the time it was supposed to spout off! That gave us all time to use the restroom and get a prime spot on the viewing bench! This will be an awesome memory!
We sat on the wooden bench and I gathered my wits. We were out of the car, had a snack, and everyone emptied their bladder. Turns out Old Faithful isn’t really about being on-time. It was an hour and a half late. So we had now been sitting there, thigh to thigh, nearly two hours.
Back into the car for more bickering—I mean, quality family time.
We headed for the exit of the park on the West end of the park—because it was closest to our next stop on the trip—but it was blocked by more buffalo. Onward to the Northern exit, all the way up by Montana. We pulled over for a few sights along the way—one was Sulphur Springs—the kids complained and held their noses because it smelled like rotten eggs.
The other was the Yellowstone Salt Flats which was beautiful to look at. The problem for me was the constant arguing between the kids. They were ruining my idea of family fun. When we pulled over at the Salt Flats, the kids got out to look around. I sobbed like a baby to my husband. Was the entire trip going to be like this? (Turns out, yes, pretty much.) What I had clearly envisioned as family bonding was obviously a mistake.
The next few hours were great. They were getting along. We were in Nevada now. We took a wrong turn and ended up in the parking lot just off the highway. I looked up at the sign on the building. What are the odds that we were at the Oldest Brothel in the United States? We read our maps and quickly left. All the way to California I explained what a brothel was… 🤪
We spent a couple nights in Pacifica, right on the ocean. We made our way home through Barstow, the Hoover Dam, and Sedona.
A week later we made it back to Ohio.
I have learned to stop envisioning the perfect anything ahead of time…
In the years since I have learned to stop trying to create memories. I have learned to stop envisioning the perfect anything ahead of time. As it turns out, those memories are perfect just the way they turn out—all by themselves—on their own. Sometimes you just have to wait a little while to see them unfold.
I have gone through a lot of self-discovery since that trip over a decade ago. I have invested time in myself. I have learned to be flexible and to go with the flow. I have discovered that meditation and relearning to breathe are a couple of the major ways to a healthy well-being. I have learned to put things on pause and turn my focus to less stressful things. I have found my Zen.
But, just because I am Zen, that doesn’t mean I have it with me all the time. It doesn’t mean that things don’t bother me. It means that I have the ability to control how I allow myself to feel. I suppose finding your Zen would be the difference between having enough of a situation and ripping into the person to tell them how awful they are OR letting go of the frustration by finding something else do, or focus on. And let me tell you, it’s not always easy.
I have learned over the years that my body really feels the impact when I am frustrated, angry, or experience a negative situation. I used to get stomach aches, feel my blood pressure rising, or my adrenaline rushing when around certain people or during high anxiety situations—feelings of which could literally last all day, because every time I thought about them, it started all over inside me.
These feelings also impacted relationships with those around me. When I was feeling them, for example, I might be short and snippy with others. It’s like one big snowball effect of negative energy. I absorb his negative energy, I let that affect me, and then I inflict that negative energy upon others. Ughhh. What a crappy thing to do.
So I have learned how to experience the feeling, let it go, and move onward. Yes, that person is annoying—I feel stressed around them. Wow, that driver who cut me off really made me mad—I felt annoyed and scared. But that moment is over and done with. In the big picture of my whole day, my whole life—it really doesn’t matter at all? I choose to live the in the present moment, not to keep reliving the last.
Learn this from water: loud splashes the brook but the oceans depth are calm. – Siddhārtha Gautama
When your head is clear you are in a better place to handle things and make better decisions. Finding my Zen, for me, is about how to deal with a problem and whether to let it affect me. The Zen of it is to understand and deal with emotions in a healthy, positive way, acknowledge it, and let it go. We all make mistakes. It’s all part of the journey.
Studies on Buddhist monks indicate long-lasting positive changes in the brain centers that control learning, attention, memory, and perception!
Medical practitioners have learned that meditation improves PMS symptoms, hot flashes, and infertility issues when practiced on a regular basis. It’s great for your immune system, heart, blood pressure, and so much more.
Think about it.
When you de-stress, you are ridding yourself of a lot of depression and anxiety that your body would otherwise have to use important energy to deal with. If you’re meditating your body doesn’t have as much anxiety, therefore, the energy can be used elsewhere in your system.
YouTube is full of free beginner meditations and is a great, free, place to start.
Relearning how to breathe is another great way to find your Zen place within.
Right now, lie down or sit comfortably in a quiet place. Breathe normally. Your mind is floating everywhere. From laundry left in the dryer to your grocery list. Your breath is probably shallow and you’re breathing without thinking about it.
Now, put your hand on your abdomen. Close your eyes. Focus on your breath. Breathe in deeply through your nose. Focus on your breath coming in through your nose and mentally focus on it as it travels to your chest and fills your lungs. Your chest rises. Keep breathing but don’t force it, just breathe deeply.) Your abdomen fills and rises. You can literally feel the breath filling your body, every inch of it. Hold the breath a few seconds focusing on it. Now let it out. Slowly. Still focusing on that breath as your abdomen sinks down. Your chest falls. The breath exits your body through your mouth or nose.
Now try it with visualization! As the breath enters your nose picture a soft sandy beach with the waves touching your toes, or sitting atop a mountain with a cool breeze on your face. (Whatever makes you happy and calm, it can be anything!) The breath coming in is clean and pure. As the breath fills your body, imagine it turning your stress in the o clean filtered air to nourish your body. As you breathe out, picture yourself releasing good vibes into the world around you.
Practice this at least 10 minutes daily and you’ll be well on your way to a healthy mind and body, and you’ll be better able to ward off stressful times in the future just by changing the way you breathe.
Would you like to give mindfulness meditation a go?
Here are two lectures by Tara Brach that will help you start your practice.