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STRESS AND ANXIETY


Excerpted with permission from The Seeker's Guide (previously
published as The New American Spirituality
by Elizabeth Lesser (Villard, October 3, 2000) .


STRESS AND ANXIETY

"There is no need to struggle to be free; the absence of struggle is in itself freedom." -- Chogyam Trungpa

Many of us will come to meditation to deal with stress, and the anxiety, worry, or depression that often accompany stressful situations. On its own, stress is benign. It is the natural unfolding of life -- karma, or the law of cause and effect. Take on a new job and your amount of work increases. Have a baby and your amount of sleep decreases. Fall in love and you're in a relationship. Fall out of love and you're lonely. Buy a house, take a trip, quit your job, accept a promotion -- everything we do causes stress -- physically, mentally, emotionally. No matter how careful we are, stress happens. We all make mistakes, get hurt, fall ill, lose people we love. Really, one could account for all of the stress in our lives by saying, "become a human being and take on stress."

Stress is; anxiety doesn't have to be. The problem is that for most of us, anxiety, worry, and depression take on a life of their own. We can tell ourselves over and over that stress is a natural part of life, or that we're making a mountain out of a molehill, but we just can't seem to break the pattern of stress leading to anxiety, which then leads to worry, or anger, or depression. This is where regular meditation practice, done patiently and with a sense of lively commitment, really begins to show positive results. Meditation helps us separate the fact of stress from our anxious reactions to it.

The most common reaction to a stressful situation is the attempt to control it. Sometimes this works. Sometimes it's even necessary. If your briefcase falls open on a crowded street, it's a good idea to rush about gathering your lost papers. But most of the time when we try to control things, we're wasting our time. We're blocking the very energy flow that could be our best ally. Think right now about the stress in your life causing you the most pain and anxiety: is it your boss's demanding personality? The seemingly never-ending tasks on the job? The fact that your child is going through a rough period? Is it that your parents are ill? Or your marriage is in trouble?

None of these stressors are like the open briefcase in the street. You cannot fix them right away by running around and gathering up the pieces. The papers are already on the wind, out of hand, out of control. They've landed in the river and are flowing downstream.

When we meditate we stretch out on the river, we relax on our backs, and move with the flow. We don't fight the contents of our lives; rather we discover a freedom that encompasses the whole dynamic river. We observe ourselves and all others -- the phenomenal world itself -- from that vantage point of freedom. We do this not by fighting, not by forcing, but by freely being in the world just as it is. "Do you know what astonished me most in the world?" Napoleon asked at the end of his life. "The inability of force to create anything. In the long run, the sword is always beaten by spirit." This from a man who spent his life, and the lives of others, fighting, forcing, and never giving in.

"We can stop struggling with what occurs and see its true face without calling it the enemy," writes Pema Chodron in a beautiful book about stress titled When Things Fall Apart. She says, "It helps to remember that our practice is not about accomplishing anything -- not about winning or losing -- but about ceasing to struggle and relaxing as it is. That is what we are doing when we sit down to meditate. That attitude spreads into the rest of our lives."

I want to say here that serious anxiety and depression are not to be taken lightly. Meditation and spiritual practice alone cannot necessarily help those who suffer from chronic, debilitating anxiety and depression. I know people who practiced meditation diligently for years and whose pessimism and nervousness continued to dominate their experience of living. I also know people who were able to awaken from their misery by combining mindfulness practice with therapy, and sometimes with medication. If you have chronic anxiety, panic attacks, or crippling depression you should still pursue meditation. But you may need to combine it with other methods to interrupt the cycle and make real progress.

For those whose lives have been thrown off-course by stress to the extent that they suffer from serious anxiety and depression (as well as from acute physical pain, heart disease, or other stress-induced illnesses,) I recommend attending a program like the one offered at the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and at similar clinics around the country. In the back of the book I include ways of participating in this and other programs and centers. Being around others who share your own brand of suffering, in the presence of a skilled practitioner, is tremendously helpful. In ground-breaking studies done at the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, clinical psychologist Jon Kabat-Zinn led intensive mindfulness meditation programs for people who suffered from stress-related anxiety and pain. He found that "both anxiety and depression dropped markedly in virtually every person in the study. So did the frequency and severity of their panic attacks. The three-month follow-up showed that they maintained their improvements after completion of the program."

Four Kinds of Stress

Stress has been around since the big bang, but never before in human history have individuals had so much of it. The pace of modern life is faster, the content unusually full, and the texture varied and changeable. The need to balance and juggle a variety of skills, people, places, and situations often feels daunting. It's an exciting time to be alive, but also a taxing one. The amount of stress-related illnesses -- like heart disease, hypertension, and sleep disorders -- has been steadily climbing. Obsessive compulsive disorders, eating disorders, attention deficit disorders, and hyperactivity are common. Studies show that women in their forties and fifties are now experiencing memory loss at unprecedented rates due to the increased amount of data they must process and store.

At the same time, we have nearly forgotten how to slow down and experience life's simple pleasures. Working long hours, rushing home, and pursuing entertainment come more naturally to us than communing with each other around the dinner table or taking a quiet walk in the neighborhood. We're almost addicted to stress. We seek out action, friction, and motion, and avoid "doing nothing." For this reason, meditation can be particularly difficult for Americans. To focus with calm awareness on the breath; to relax the body; to find within clarity, stability, and equanimity -- these have not been wildly popular American pursuits. In fact, we resist this kind of non-dramatic, non-activity.

The word "stress" has become a catch-all term for the pressures of daily life, large and small, as well as our reactions to them. That's a lot of meaning for one word to handle. In learning how to use meditation to deal with stress, I divide it into these four categories: choice-based stress, or the kind of stress we can consciously choose to deal with or to eliminate; unavoidable stress, or the kind that is innate and therefore out of our control; reactive stress, which stems from the ways in which we react to both choice-based and unavoidable stress; and time stress, a deep-seated, very human anxiety about the passing of time.

Choice-Based Stress

Sociologist Barbara Ehrenreich notes that in times of war, ratings for American television news shows rise dramatically, and then fall off the minute the crisis is over. More than that, she writes, "We are unnerved by peace and seem to find it boring." At the root of choice-based stress is our misgivings about peace and our addiction to activity and things. One of the best social commentaries I have heard on choice-based stress is from the stand-up comedian George Carlin. His rap on "stuff," where he describes the process of filling his home with so many items that he must keep moving to bigger houses and renting more space in storage units, is hilariously apt.

Choice-based stress is not a popular subject in stress literature because it quickly leaves the domain of health care or spirituality or psychology and enters the politically incorrect waters of "values." If you look closely and honestly at the most stressful situations in your life, you will see that some of them fall clearly into the category of choice-based stress, while some are clearly unavoidable stress. For instance, a family member -- your parent or child or mate -- becomes ill. This is clearly an unavoidable stress. We all must deal with sick kids, or aging parents, or friends and lovers who need us. This is an unavoidable fact of life. But what about that additional work project you recently took on to pay for the rising costs of living? You would have more time to give to yourself and your family if you came home earlier or didn't have to work once at home. Do you really need that income? Could you make do with less "stuff"? What's more important to you, stuff or Self, getting or giving?

When we look deeply at the stresses we could choose to walk away from, we are forced to ask questions about our personal values and the values of our society. It may sound simplistic, but I believe it is just plain simple: many of us have too much stress in our lives. You can meditate as much as you like, but meditation alone will bring peace of mind. If you have a family, a home, a high-pressured job, community commitments, and an active social life there's a high probability that your life would benefit from some degree of simplification. As helpful as a spiritual outlook or meditation practice can be, it's not enough for those overwhelmed by stress to merely learn how to face it well. It may be time for you to make difficult value judgements about the content and speed of your life.

When my children were all in the height of their teen-age years I began to experience a kind of anxiety I had never known before. I was worrying more than I used to, having trouble sleeping, and feeling irritated most of the time. At first I chalked it off to the normal angst parents have when their children suddenly transform themselves from cute kids into sullen aliens who drive cars and stay out late. But as the years went on and my health began to suffer (muscle spasms in my neck, constant low-grade intestinal problems, headaches,) I realized that I had to do something. My oldest son was 18, my middle was 15, and my youngest was 14. Six more long years of teen mania stretched in front of me. Deep inside, I knew that it had to be more than my children's growing up that was causing such stress in my body and mind. I had always enjoyed each stage of my kid's development, no matter how maddening or worrisome. Something else was going on here.

And so, in a haphazard sort of way, I made an inventory of my life. I began to deconstruct the content of each day and by doing so, I discovered that I was attempting the impossible. I had three sons and a husband. I wanted to be there for them and to enjoy our life together. Especially in the teen years when parental involvement is so difficult, yet so critical, I wanted to have time for my boys. I wanted enough creative energy to make our home one that nurtured their bodies and souls. But I also had a full-time job and a demanding one at that. I was in a leadership role at a large, growing organization. Deadlines, budgets, staff issues: I brought these concerns home with me. On top of all of this, I was beginning to write magazine articles for some extra money. Their dead-lines constantly loomed over me.

One of those articles caught the attention of a book editor and suddenly I was also writing a book. Perhaps to an outsider, my over-extended life was obviously un-doable. Yet to me it seemed normal. Most of my friends were in similar situations. Our late-night phone conversations sounded as if we were calling each other from the front lines of a war. We compared notes about our kids, our jobs, our health. We tried to help each other out. We gave each other support even as we colluded in maintaining a group trance of unworkable stress.

I can name the hour and the day when I suddenly woke up from the trance and decided that something had to give. I was driving home from the airport. It was autumn, 9 p.m., two days before Halloween. I had been at a Board of Directors meeting where my own role within Omega was being discussed. I had spent most of the weekend feeling angry, mistreated, tired. I was tired of being the only woman in power; tired of having to defend my point of view over and over; tired of dividing my life into a zillion different segments. Driving through the dark night at 70 miles per hour all I wanted to do was go home and sleep. I wasn't looking forward to reentering family life. I just wanted to be left alone. Ahh, that sounded so good. Just as I was forming the thought, I saw something coming toward my car. Out of the darkness, rushing through the night, was the face of a deer. For a split second that felt more like several minutes, I wondered what was going on. Was I imagining things? And then the windshield shattered, the deer's antlers came through the glass, and I lost control of the car.

Minutes later, at the side of the road, I realized what had happened. But during the swirling, glass-shattering moments, as my car miraculously swerved through the heavy traffic on the Thruway, I left normal consciousness and felt only an overwhelming sense of composure and peace. I let go of control for those seconds. I put down the awful burden of my over-extended life and I floated, totally out of control. I will never forget those moments. Their memory served me well over the next year as I gave up my leadership position at work, trained others to take over many of my tasks, and walked away from the power and control that had defined my life for fifteen years.

My fateful meeting with the buck killed the animal and totaled my car. On the outside, my body was only bruised and scratched; on the inside my psyche was deeply altered. In my meditations, and in conversations with friends and helpers, I used the imagery of the accident to shed light on the nature of the different stresses in my life. I decided to use the experience as a gift in the form of a warning. I was grateful that the warning I had received hadn't killed me, though sorry that it had killed the deer. I was grateful that I was ready to listen to the accident's messages; grateful that I could use them to make meaningful changes in my life.

I have heard other people speak of their heart attacks or the loss of a relationship or other traumatic events as wake-up calls to make important changes. May I recommend, however, that you analyze the stress in your life before it turns into an illness or accident. This type of analysis brings you up against your self-image, your expectations, your relationships, your fears. As you look clearly at the content of your daily life, you may discover that you are using your high-stress lifestyle to put off making an important decision. You may find that you are afraid to slow down because then you'd have to feel some long-buried pain. Sometimes the only way to let go of "the bone of worry" is to "feel the original pain through and through," writes psychiatrist, Edward Hallowell, in Worry. It's difficult to access deep feelings without slowing down.

By constantly running towards something, you may actually be running away from something much more important.

In Book III, The Landscape of the Heart, we question why we load so much "stuff" into each day. We use mindfulness as a base, and turn to psychology to gain perspective on what we really want. By combining the inner listening skills gained through meditation with the self-knowledge gained through therapy, we can courageously and gracefully make important value-based decisions that will actually eliminate some of the stress in our lives.

Unavoidable Stress

But what can we do with the unavoidable stress, the stress that is just part of living, the "death and taxes" kind of stress? Loss, illness, aging; relationships, family, environment: these are obvious stressors over which we have little control. We couldn't give up this kind of stress even if we tried. Unavoidable stress also includes the stress that comes when we consciously choose a challenging job, or have children, or buy a house, or pursue a talent. We don't have to take these on, but they bring meaning to our lives, even as they breed tense moments, ongoing worries, and real responsibilities. There's a difference between excessive activity and an interesting, rich life. The point is not to get rid of so much stress that we become bored and boring. The point is to find our own unique balance and then to learn how to handle the "full catastrophe."

In one of the best books written on stress, Full Catastrophe Living, author Jon Kabat-Zinn says, "For me, facing the full catastrophe means finding and coming to terms with what is most human in ourselves. There is not one person on the planet who does not have his or her own version of the full catastrophe. Catastrophe here does not mean disaster. Rather it means the poignant enormity of our life experience. It includes crises and disaster but also all the little things that go wrong and that add up. The phrase reminds us that life is always in flux, that everything we think is permanent is actually only temporary and constantly changing, This includes our ideas, our opinions, our relationships, our jobs, our possessions, our creations, our bodies, everything."

It is with the unavoidable kind of stress, the "full catastrophe" of human existence, that meditation can work its wonders. Kabat-Zinn says that "the major avenue available to us as individuals for handling stress effectively is to understand what we are going through. We can best do this by cultivating our ability to perceive our experience in its full context...So it can be particularly helpful to keep in mind from moment to moment that it is not so much the stressors in our lives but how we see them and what we do with them that determines how much we are at their mercy. If we can change the way we see, we can change the way we respond." Meditation changes the way we see and therefore respond to the unavoidable stress in life. There are other ways to change the way we see as well. I have created a top-ten list of practical, daily ways to deal with unavoidable stress.

TEN WAYS TO DEAL WITH UNAVOIDABLE STRESS

1. Meditate for twenty minutes. Do this every day or at least a few times a week.

2. When you feel stress creeping up on you, take short meditative"time-outs," even ones that last for a few seconds. Take a deep breath in, and exhale slowly. If there's no one around, sigh. Check your posture, relax your jaw, drop your shoulders, and slowly breath in and out again. Return again to your inner dignity and peace.

3. Keep mindfulness reminders around you: little quotes tacked on the wall; objects that express spaciousness, or peace, or clarity; pictures of people who inspire you to open your heart and quiet your mind.

4. Walk a little more slowly, a little more mindfully, as you move about during your day.

5. When you are driving, be aware of your breath and your thoughts. Use your time in the car to concentrate fully on driving. If you're stuck in traffic or late for an appointment, use the time to let go of control and accept where you are. Be mindful of your reactions to other drivers. Say, "anger, anger" instead of leaning on the horn; take in a breath of kindness and release a sigh instead of shouting, "You asshole!" to the guy who cuts you off.

6. Don't rush to answer the phone when it first rings. Pretend it's a church bell, ringing to remind you to relax. Soften your belly, relax your jaw, and smile gently. Then answer the phone in a more mindful way.

7. When you don't know what to say or what to do, don't panic. Take a deep breath and slow down. Welcome beginner's mind into your muddled mind. If you feel intimidated or jeopardized at work, you can take a long and conscious breath, straighten your shoulders, and say, "I don't know, I'll get back to you on that." If you're alone, you can lighten up for a moment and give yourself a break. You don't have to know everything. You don't have to be perfect.

8. When you feel a sense of dread, or panic, or anxiety, slow down, breath quietly, and locate the tension in the body. Where do you feel it? Place your hand there and gently pat yourself, as if you were calming a child.

9. Energize your body -- move around, take a walk, exercise.

10. Check out if your unavoidable stress is really unavoidable. Take a curious, fearless glance within.
Listen deeply, give your feelings room to express themselves, and wait patiently for the truth to be revealed.

Reactive Stress

It's easy intellectually to accept that some stress is unavoidable, out of our control; it's less easy, but certainly doable, to get rid of some of the choice-based stress in our lives. Our most difficult task is to master our reaction to stress. Reactive stress is the way in which the mind takes hold of stress and warps it into anxiety, worry, frustration, anger, or depression. Meditation is custom-made for reactive stress. When we meditate we get to see the difference between a particular situation and our reaction to it. We begin to strip the benign fact of stress from the irrational judgements, worries, and anxiety that we attach to it.

To understand how meditation works with reactive stress, it is helpful to understand the physiology of stress in the brain and the body. Research done in stress clinics by doctors like Herbert Benson of the Harvard Medical School and Jon Kabat-Zinn, at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, sheds fascinating light on how stress affects physical health and emotional well being. I recommend that anyone, from the normally uptight to the seriously overwrought, learn more about the physiology of stress in the body and mind. This kind of understanding lends support to a meditation practice. Benson's book, The Relaxation Response, and Kabat-Zinn's book, Full Catastrophe Living, are excellent, highly readable primers, as are many others in the mind-body genre, including the ground-breaking Emotional Intelligence, by Daniel Goleman.

I discuss the physiology of stress in Book IV, The Landscape of the Body. For now, it is sufficient to know that the body/mind interaction is so seamless and powerful that reactive stress naturally spills over into physical health. So learning how to deal effectively with reactive stress can not only bring us peace of mind, it can also help us heal from pain and illness. Likewise, learning how to care for and relax the body can help us with anxiety and depression. Diet and exercise are often the simplest and most effective anti-anxiety agents we can use.

I want to mention another way to handle stress -- less of a practice and more of a philosophy. When we find ourselves reacting to a stressful situation -- coming out of a meeting with a headache, yelling at our child when she spills her juice, feeling our heart race and our muscles tense when we receive bad news -- we can greet our reactions as messages from reality. Instead of trying to change our reactions, we can welcome them as news about ourselves. We can stop for a minute, and fully experience the symptoms of stress. "The way of mindfulness is to accept ourselves right now, as we are, symptoms or no symptoms, pain or no pain, fear or no fear," says Jon Kabat-Zinn. "Instead of rejecting our experience as undesirable, we ask, 'What is this symptom saying, what is it telling me about my body and my mind right now?' We allow ourselves, for a moment at least, to go right into the full-blown feeling of the symptom. This takes a certain amount of courage, especially if the symptom involves pain or a chronic illness, or fear of death."

We can break through a ceaseless cycle of worry by remembering that everything that comes our way is workable if we greet life mindfully, moment by moment. "Everything that occurs is not only usable and workable but it is actually the path itself. We can use everything that happens to us as the means for waking up," says Pema Chodron. I know that it's easier for some of us to do this. Some peoples' life situations are just plain harder than others. Some peoples' constitutions are so fragile that it seems as if they're too sensitive for this world. While I am a world-class worrier, I know that my affliction is nothing compared with the crippling anxiety that many people face. Mindfulness philosophy usually can get me past anxiety's tape-loop. It has been my greatest friend in times of trouble and change. But I have also seen it work for people dealing with more serious challenges, tragedies, and obstacles.

A dear friend of mine who already suffered from extreme sensitivity and anxiety lost his seven year old daughter in a terrible car accident. Unable to deal with the loss, and with his feelings that he had neglected to protect his beloved daughter, he turned to alcohol. After two years of destructive living and heavy drinking he ended up in a treatment center that used the philosophy of Alcoholics Anonymous in its daily meetings and groups. I visited him a few days before he was about to leave the center. He was scared about re-entering daily life, of getting a job, keeping a job, and being around people who might not understand his problems. He said that the only thing that helped him to deal with his sometimes crushing anxiety was to repeat the AA slogan, "One day at a time," over and over to himself, as a form of prayerful meditation.

I asked him what that meant to him, "One day at a time?" He explained that the past was over -- he had already done what he had done. He had lost his daughter. He had started to drink. He had stopped working and functioning in the world. That was done. That was the past. No need to dwell on it because it was over. The future seemed frightening: How would he resist the urge to drink? What kind of work would he be able to find? Where would he live? How would he find supportive friends? Worrying about these unknown, yet-to-occur events served no purpose. They paralyzed his ability to move forward. So what was left? Only the "now," he said. Only this one day, this one step, this one breath.

As he began to notice that he was fine in the "now" moment, he also began to trust that he would be fine in the next one. This had a profound effect on his life. He slowly started to repair his inner world and take successful steps to work and live again.

"One day at a time" is the backbone of the AA movement, one of America's most successful, non-denominational, home-grown spiritual paths. It has enabled millions of people to deal with addiction, find solace and strength, and create spiritual community. At its core is the practice of mindfulness as expressed by that most American mantra, "one day at a time." If it can work for people in as much inner turmoil as my friend, it can work for all of us.

Time Stress

"The secret in life is enjoying the passage of time."

-- Richie Havens

At the root of most anxiety is the passing of time. The inevitability of change, aging, and death grabs at different people in different ways. Some fear the body's aging; some fear dying itself; some fear not living fully. All of these fears produce an underlying anxiety, whether or not we are aware of its root cause. And we do different things to deal with this anxiety. We fight it, we deny it, we bemoan it, we hate it. Whatever we do, time pays us no heed. It marches onward at a clip that seems to quicken as we age. There should be one of those warning stickers in our date books, like the one on the passenger's side-view mirror: Warning: Dates in calendar are closer than they appear.

Meditation and the mindful attitude it cultivates are powerful antidotes to the fear of the passing of time. Through them we become more aware of time being dependant on our own consciousness. Consider this: time seems to exist as a constant, and yet, depending on our state of mind, time can slowly drag its feet or it can race ahead of us. A child wants time to pass quickly. She anxiously awaits her next birthday party, longing for the future. The child's mother crams so much into a day that time whirls around her with no beginning and end. She would like to catch a few moments of time just for herself. This woman's father, the little girl's grandfather, feels as if his granddaughter's birthday parties are strung together like days in a week. He wants time to slow itself, to widen the spaces between spring and summer, autumn and winter. They sit together blowing balloons for the party, sharing the same moment, yet perceiving it quite differently. Is time a constant? Is it a figment of our perspective?

A friend of mine, with whom I had worked for years, recently switched jobs, left her community, moved across the country, and settled in Seattle. Now, instead of working at a spiritual retreat center, she was writing advertising copy for a cutting-edge computer company. She wrote to me about the radical difference in her daily life -- how she rose early, downed some coffee, and spent long days in witty repartee with young, smart people, all of whom had been hired to think big and write fast. She was in a new world and it was exhilarating. " Life isn't short," she wrote me. "They were wrong. Life is long. There's plenty of time for everything."

I shared this startling revelation with another friend of mine, the mother of a young child who also works as a nurse practitioner at a busy medical office. Her response was, "There may be time for everything, but there's no time to experience it." Like most parents, this one's attention was divided from morning to night between a multitude of seemingly insatiable demands.

"Life may be long, but it sure goes fast," I wrote to my friend in Seattle. I was struggling to make sense of the awe-inspiring departure of my sons, who were growing up, leaving home, and becoming men. How could this have happened, I would muse on a daily basis? How could my little boys have morphed over night into men? Suddenly I had time to reflect on my whirlwind years as a mother. It felt as if I were viewing selected vignettes, roughly edited together, into a movie about someone else' life. Meanwhile, my friend the mother and nurse was wondering if she would make it through another endless day of early rising, packing lunches, driving her daughter from this to that, care-taking her patients, shopping for groceries, cooking dinner, reading a good-night book, cleaning the house, and catching a conversation with her husband before dropping into bed. Out in Seattle, our mutual friend was probably wearing a little black dress and laughing merrily with her new friends at an art opening, trying to decide whether to go home and enjoy a long bath or to take in a late movie.

Through the practice of mindfulness we learn to stop for brief periods in the midst of our day, whether the texture of our current life is choppy, or steady, or crowded, or lonesome. During that time we observe our relationship with time. Do we want it to speed up, so that we will escape the boredom or pain of the moment? Do we long for the past when things seemed better, fuller, happier? Or do we fret about the passing of time and the lost opportunities along the way? Whatever our relationship to time, during meditation we suspend our time-anxiety long enough to sink deeply into the present moment. We rest gently in the rich expanse of now. We observe the way the mind fights against the steady tide of time.

This kind of practice has a curious effect. One might think that sitting alone in the empty stillness might isolate us from others. But instead, it links us with the world. One might think that by living in the present moment we lose touch with the connections of the past; that we must dwell in our memories in order to preserve meaningfulness. But this is not so. "For a life in the past cannot be shared with the present," writes Alan Lightman in Einstein's Dreams, a beautiful book about time. "Each person who gets stuck in time gets stuck alone."

Like it does with all aspects of our lives, meditation puts us in reality about time. We begin to accept that here on planet earth time seems to march forward, dragging us all on a predictable path toward aging and death. We make peace with that reality. And yet at the same time we become aware of the ways in which the human mind interprets reality in erroneous ways. We sense how our perception of time and the reality of time may indeed be different. We stay open to this possibility even as we accept the rules of what appears to be a fixed causal world. We begin to live in between two realities: the one our minds believe is so, and the one that whispers to us when our minds are deeply quiet.



Excerpted with permission from The Seeker's Guide (previously
published as The New American Spirituality
by Elizabeth Lesser (Villard, October 3, 2000) .

Excerpt from Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow by Elizabeth Lesser:

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Elizabeth Lesser is the co-founder and senior advisor of Omega Institute, this country's largest adult education center focusing on health, wellness, spirituality, and creativity. She is the author of The New American Spirituality: A Seeker's Guide (published in paperback with the title The Seeker's Guide.) For 30 years she has studied and worked with leading figures in the field of healing-healing self and healing society. She attended Barnard College and San Francisco State University. Previous to her work at Omega, she was a midwife and birth educator. The mother of three sons, she lives in the Hudson Valley with her husband.

ABOUT OMEGA INSTITUTE
Omega Institute is a holistic education center at the forefront of personal and professional development, dedicated to "awakening the best in the human spirit." More that 20,000 participants attend workshops and conferences each year on its 140-acre campus in Rhinebeck, New York, as well as at sites throughout the United States, including it's new center, The Crossings in Austin, Texas, and through travel programs in St. John, Virgin Islands, and Costa Rica. Founded in 1977, Omega is recognized worldwide for its broad-based curriculum and its unique community spirit. Its course work includes holistic health trainings for medical professionals and lay people, spiritual retreats, sports clinics, cross-cultural arts workshops, and a wide variety of classes in human development. www.eomega.org



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