Apparently You Need Even More, More, More (!) Anxiety Reduction, Well I Can Help You With That!

I received several emails after I wrote about how to reduce stress. They were all the same: I want more, please!
Publish date:
June 14, 2013
anxiety, stress reduction

I'm so glad that you guys dug my three favorite stress reduction techniques. But when I checked my in-box, I could tell that I hit a nerve.

Y'all are hella stressed. And you said what I wrote was lovely, but what else did I have? Because for some people your stress and anxiety is really messing with your health and happiness. Trust me, I relate so much to this. If you were to have seen me when I was younger, you would have gotten transference stress just by being near me. Because I was just that radioactive in my boiling-over anxiety levels.

I still get anxious, but I now use that whole Free Will re-framing technique to get out of my funk. And sometimes that just means searching out whatever tools might change my state.

So when I was reading your emails I realized that giving you the exact tool that helped me most recently might resonate with some of you. And here it is. The last time I was really having a hard time, I went through the final gift my mom sent me from San Diego. It was called "The Compassion Box," with 59 cards on Buddhist teachings written by Pema Chodron. I went through each one and read them slowly, and then set aside the ones that really resonated.

So I share them with you now. If you're anything like me, you'll read them again and again.

(UPDATE: As a commenter noted below, Pema uses a lot of stressy ultimatum-style language like DO! DON'T! ALWAYS! But keep in mind, she's just cribbing Buddhism to help folks lead more peaceful lives. And since some of the principles are intended as instructions and instructives, they are written in that language. But she is human, we are human and obviously we're never -- NEVER! more ultimatum-language -- going to achieve all these unless we are actual Buddha, dude. So just take what you like and leave the rest. And whatever you do, don't look at it as a failure inventory. It's not. For me, I look at it it as a GPS for my soul to help me remember to let go of insignificant stresses and priorities and work on what actually matters and what I actually control. xoxox)


1. Teaching: Don't talk about injured limbs.

Commentary: Don't try to build yourself up by talking about other people's defects.

2. Teaching: Work with the greatest defilements first.

Commentary: Gain insight into your greatest obstacles -- pride, aggression, self-denigration, and so forth -- and work with those first. Do this with clarity and compassion.

3. Teaching: Abandon poisonous food.

Commentary: You can use these slogans to build up your ego. For instance, you refrain from talking about others' defects or maligning them but only so people will praise you. In this way, compassionate teachings designed to lessen your sense of self-centeredness become like rotten food that poisons you and deceives others.

4. Teaching: Don't transfer the ox's load to the cow.

Commentary: Don't transfer your load to someone else. Take responsibility for what is yours.

5. Teaching: Don't misinterpret.

Commentary: There are six teachings that you might misinterpret: patience, yearning, excitement, compassion, priorities and joy. The misinterpretations are: (1) You're patient when it means you'll get your way but not when your practice brings up challenges. (2) You yearn for worldly things but not for an open heart and mind. (3) You get excited about wealth and entertainment but not about your potential for enlightenment. (4) You have compassion for those you like and admire but not for those you don't. (5) Worldly gain is your priority rather than cultivating loving-kindness and compassion. (6) You feel joy when your enemies suffer, but you do not rejoice in others' good fortune.

6. Teaching: Whichever of the two occurs, be patient.

Commentary: Whatever happens in your life, joyful or painful, do not be swept away by reactivity. Be patient with yourself and don't lose your sense of perspective.

7. Teaching: Abandon any hope of fruition.

Commentary: The key instruction is to stay in the present. Don't get caught up in hopes of what you'll achieve and how good your situation will be some day in the future. What you do right now is what matters.

8. Teaching: Don't be jealous.

Commentary: Work with jealousy when it's small, otherwise when it hits full force, you'll be swept away.

9. Teaching: Self-liberate even the antidote.

Commentary: Do Not hang on to anything -- even the realization that there's nothing solid to hold onto.

10. Teaching: Always maintain only a joyful mind.

Commentary: Constantly apply cheerfulness, if for no other reason than because you are on this spiritual path. Have a sense of gratitude to everything, even difficult emotions, because of their potential to wake you up.

11. Teaching: Train without bias in all areas. It is crucial always to do this pervasively and wholeheartedly.

Commentary: It is important to include everyone and everything that you meet as part of your practice. They become the means by which you cultivate compassion and wisdom.

12. Teaching: All activities should be done with one intention.

Commentary: Whatever you are doing, take the attitude of wanting it directly or indirectly to benefit others. Take the attitude of wanting it to increase your experience of kinship with your fellow beings.

13. Teaching: Don't make gods into demons.

Commentary: Don't use these teachings and practices to strengthen your self-absorption.

14. Teaching: Don't be so predictable.

Commentary: Do not hold a grudge against those who have done you wrong.

15. Teaching: Three objects, three poisons, and three seeds of virtue.

Commentary: The three objects are: Friends, enemies and neutrals. The three poisons are: craving, aversion and indifference. When you feel craving, you own it fully and wish that all beings could be free of it. When you feel aggression or indifference you do the same. In this way what usually causes suffering -- what poisons us and others -- becomes a seed of compassion and loving-kindness, a seed of virtue.

16. Teaching: In postmeditation, be a child of illusion.

Commentary: When you finish sitting meditation, if things become heavy and solid, be fully present and realize that everything is actually pliable, open and workable. This is instruction for meditation in action, realizing that you don't have to feel claustrophobic because there is always lots of room, lots of space.

17. Teaching: Don't seek others' pain as the limbs of your own happiness.

Commentary: Don't build your happiness on the suffering of others.

18. Teaching: Begin the sequence of sending and taking with yourself.

Commentary: Whatever pain you feel, take it in, wishing for all beings to be free of it. Whatever pleasure you feel, send it out to others. In this way, our personal problems and delights become a stepping-stone for understanding the suffering and happiness of all beings.

19. Teaching: Don't wallow in self-pity.

Commentary: Catch yourself when you do this and recognize that it just increases your suffering (and that of others).

20. Teaching: Two activities: one at the beginning, one at the end.

Commentary: In the morning when you wake up, you reflect on the day ahead and aspire to use it to keep a wide-open heart and mind. At the end of the day, before going to sleep, you think over what you have done. If you fulfilled your aspiration, even once, rejoice in that. If you went against your aspiration, rejoice that you are able to see what you did and are no longer living in ignorance. This way you will be inspired to go forward with increasing clarity, confidence and compassion in the days that follow.


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