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Five Ways of Centering Yourself During Anxious or Negative Times

Taoism SandIf you have listened to my podcast, you'll hear me encourage listeners to "remain centered at all times."

In Taoist philosophy, one of the fundamental principles is to find balance and harmony within yourself and with the world around you. To center yourself in the face of anxiety about the future, here are some recommendations:

  1. Focus on the present moment: Instead of worrying about what the future might bring, focus on what you can do in the present moment to take care of yourself and your needs. This might mean practicing mindfulness or meditation such as qigong to help quiet your mind and bring your attention to the present. If you are washing your car, sweeping the floor or reading a book, focus on that one thing and if stray thoughts cross your mind, let them go and refocus to that one thing.

  2. Let go of attachments: In Taoism, as in Buddhism, it is believed that attachment to things outside of ourselves can lead to suffering. Instead, try to let go of attachments to outcomes or expectations and focus on living in the present moment with an open mind and heart. It can be very damaging to tie your happiness to any one thing, such as a job, or the amount of money you have, or a relationship. The more we attach to an idea or a thing, the more the loss of that thing can knock us mentally off-balance. This doesn't mean you should not care about people and relationships or money or achievement, just realize that happiness comes from within you, not what something else gives you.

  3. Cultivate gratitude: Focusing on what you are grateful for in your life can help shift your perspective from anxiety to a more positive outlook. Try making a short list of things you are grateful for each day, no matter how small they may seem. To people who are not religious, like me, "grateful" can be a loaded term. Grateful to who, or what? Perhaps a better term is "appreciate." Cultivate appreciation for the things you have. Remember, happiness does not depend on getting the things you want, it is wanting the things you've got. Sheryl Crow said that, I believe. 

  4. Practice self-care: Taking care of your physical and emotional well-being is essential to finding balance and harmony. Make time for activities that bring you joy, such as spending time in nature, practicing tai chi or exercise, or engaging in creative pursuits.

  5. Embrace change: Change is a natural part of life, and resisting it can cause anxiety and stress. Instead, try to embrace change as an opportunity for growth and learning. Trust in the natural ebb and flow of life, and have faith that you will be able to handle whatever the future may bring. Very often, the events that seem the most negative turn out to be very positive, as long as you "go with the flow" and persist through what you see as negative times. I lost a job in Cincinnati and moved to Omaha in 1987. At first, I considered myself a failure for losing the job and ending up in Omaha. But it was in Omaha that I met my first internal arts teacher. If I had not lost my job, I may never have been connected with these great arts. You can't stop change. It is constant. Roll with it, baby.

Remember, finding balance and centering yourself is an ongoing process that requires practice and patience. It takes real effort. By incorporating these Taoist principles into your daily life, you can learn to cultivate a sense of peace and calm in the face of anxiety about the future.

--by Ken Gullette

A Trip to the Oral Surgeon is a Reminder of the Importance of Mindfulness and Centering

Dental ImplantI had two teeth pulled yesterday and an implant screwed into my jaw -- all in the same appointment.

It used to take two appointments and two or three months to get an implant done, but new techniques have reduced the time.

This experience showed me again how important it is to be mindful and remain centered.

You see, very often the expectation of something makes us more distressed and unhappy than the actual event itself.

This is my third dental implant. The first one was a miserable experience. I remained awake even though I was numbed up with novocaine. There were moments when the pressure was so great, and the stress on my jaw was so intense, I was convinced it would crack at any moment. The surgeon put the screw in and used some type of socket wrench, jerking my head with each pull.

When it's over, I love my dental implants. With the crowns, they are better and more solid than my real teeth. The process of getting them is the rough part. And while they heal in your head, you have to avoid eating on that side of your mouth for a couple of months. 

This time, with two teeth being removed and then getting screwed, I opted for the IV sedative. Just knock me out, thank you. It costs more than $900 for the sedative? No problem. It's money well-spent.

As the day approached, however, I found myself worrying, not about the procedure itself as much as the aftermath. How much pain medication would I need? How loopy would I be on the pain meds? How hard will it be to eat only on the right side of my mouth?

The comedian Rita Rudner had a quote about exercise, but I apply it to medical procedures. Some people say "No Pain, No Gain!" But Rita had the right idea. Her slogan was "No Pain, No Pain!" 

Each time the worry would arise, I would center myself -- put part of my mind on my Dan T'ien -- and reminded myself to relax and focus on what I was doing at that moment. Be mindful and calm. Center yourself, Grasshopper.

I worked on this for a couple of days and I believe it helped.

Finally, the appointment arrived. I waited in the outer waiting room for an hour before I was taken to the operating room. Then I sat for over half-an-hour in the chair as the surgeon finished another patient, I listened to the music he had playing in the operating room. I told the nurse how much I enjoyed the songs. She said it was Dr. Lee's playlist.

When Dr. Lee finally entered with a couple of nurses, I said, "Hey, hey! You're interrupting my music!"

He laughed. We talked about one of the songs I had never heard before, "Strange American Dream" by Rayland Baxter, and he promised to share his Spotify playlist with me.

I hate being stuck with IV needles. When I was in Cleveland Clinic 15 years ago, they had a policy of changing the IV needle every couple of days. Since that time, being stuck with the IV needle is one of my least favorite things. But Dr. Lee took my arm and the needle went in painlessly.

They started the sedation and I told them it wasn't going to work on me.

Then I woke up and Dr. Lee was finishing the procedure. Because of one lung, my oxygen level had dropped a bit so they let the sedation up sooner than usual.

I went home with Nancy driving, and when the numbness wore off later in the day, there was very little pain. And now, a day later, I'm eating on the right side of my mouth and I haven't had to take one pain pill. Not one.

This is not what I was expecting.

Modern medicine is pretty cool. And so is mindfulness and centering. 

A lot of our happiness or unhappiness is created by expectations. We need this and this and this to be happy. If I get this job, I'll be happy. If I live in a home like that, I'll be happy.

If this happens, I'll be unhappy. If this relationship fails, my life is ruined. If I lose this job, I'm screwed.

But that's not being screwed. Being screwed is when they put a frikkin' implant in your face!!

Just kidding. But we expect that all these events are going to be horrible!

As usual, the bad things we fear are not always as bad as our expectations make them out to be. This is true, I believe, with everything from dental appointments to losing a job to death itself.

I've lost jobs, I've lost marriages, and I've had dental appointments. I'm still able to have fun, enjoy life, and to be honest, I found a much better marriage than I had before. 

When you have things coming up in your life that you assume are going to be horrible, just calm your mind, focus on something you are doing or on something fun, and really focus the mind. Let thoughts that worry you come up, acknowledge them, and then re-focus your mind on the present. Be engaged with the moment, and enjoy it.

It isn't easy. Talking about mindfulness and being centered is easy, but putting these concepts into action on a daily basis requires a little work.

It pays off in the end.

--by Ken Gullette