Read an Excerpt
Chapter 1: The One Minute MindYour breathing can be ever so relaxing. Why? Because, believe it or not, your mind follows your breath. As you deliberately savor the cool air flowing in, and feel the warm air coursing out, you slow the flow of your thoughts and emotions. As you slow your breath, you soothe your mind. As an experiment, try the reverse: pant like a dog. You'll find you feel a bit nervy.
If you breathe each breath with full attention, you also narrow your mental focus. When you focus on just one thing, your mind lets go of a lot of other things-often dozens or hundreds of others. Consider that, as a routine, you think about one thought per second. That's about 3,600 per waking hour, or 60,000 thoughts per day. Cutting down on all the hustle and bustle can dampen a lot of tension and anxiety.
Why is this so? Because an overly busy mind runs away from the present moment. It flashes between the future and the past. At one moment, you're busy regretting a spat with a friend. The next, you're fretting over blowing the toast at your brother's wedding. Absorbed in the past and future, you lose track of the here and now. And that is where stress arises: from missing the joy of the present moment, getting lost in the past and future.
Paying attention to what you're doing right now is mindfulness. Just breathing-that's mindfulness! Just walking-that's mindfulness! Just eating-that's mindfulness! In mindfulness is relaxation. How many moments of the gazillion in your life have you lived mindfully? The more you can count, the better you probably feel.
Paying little attention to the present moment is mindlessness. Just regretting or fretting or wishing or expecting-that's mindlessness. In this chapter, you'll discover that stress comes from mindlessness. It comes from letting ourselves get swept away in an avalanche of thought and emotion. We may find many gems in that avalanche. Gems of wisdom, compassion, grace, creativity, and joy. We don't want to lose them. But we do want to dodge the hurtful stones of stressful thoughts that come whistling by at the same time.
Makings of a Stressful Life
In Maria Borne's life you might see hints of how stress disrupts the calm of your own life. Enlisting in the U.S. Army at nineteen, Maria became a one-star general's secretary in just four years. She won the job as a specialist when the general passed over a pool of other worthy candidates from the entire post. She handled all her boss's communications at division headquarters-and even ran the office on her own when he flew overseas. Maria had succeeded in a way many of her peers could envy.
But consider how, after "succeeding," she felt more stress. "Part of my job was to be the ideal soldier," she explains. So she trained to meet those high expectations. Among her top goals: to hold her top-ten spot in her group's physical-training test. To do so, she got up at 4:30 A.M., ran a loop through the neighborhood, spit-shined her boots, and donned a starched uniform. At 6:30 A.M., she did physical training. She worked out-doing lots of sit-ups and push-ups-for sixty to ninety minutes.
Now consider Maria's job duties. Under the army's opendoor policy, all soldiers can call a general to air a gripe. They can call a general's secretary, too. Maria thus fielded five or six ticklish calls every day. Parents railed about daughters' or sons' treatment by officers. Soldiers pleaded for leniency after crimes or drunkenness. Maria listened. She absorbed the distress. Then she played back the reality of army regulations to her callers. "I was always the bearer of bad news," she says.
Maria didn't have a lot of control over her work. Does this sound familiar? A lack of control stresses all of us. In Maria's case, the stress was compounded by a huge work...