For about a year and a half, from around the time I began this blog till about four months ago, I lived on the corner of Prince and Broadway in Soho. I'd venture to say at the mere mention of that crapulous locale anyone who lives or has lived in New York City automatically clenched their teeth and stopped breathing. If Hell truly is what Jean-Paul Sartre calls "other people", the corner of Prince and Broadway is the apex of Hell. Soho has become the place to shop in New York City, and since that is what most tourists come to New York to do most of those tourists end up there-- right there on that much beaten block of cement between the subways at Prince and Houston. It is one of the most crowded, impersonal, elbow-jostling spots on the planet, and I had to live there-- my husband's lease was unbreakable, or so we thought, for more than a year. Happily, we did manage to break the lease and move to peaceable Brooklyn, but just as I began to breathe again I found out my mother had cancer. I realized I couldn't live that way-- always waiting for life to be perfect before I could enjoy myself.The stress from those few months taught me the most valuable lesson I've learned so far. There are always going to be things out of your control, but what you can control is your reaction-- that bit's up to you.
Just like all moral lessons it sounds oh so pat and easy. Oh, of course! Don't be stressed out. Be relaxed and enjoy life. Carpe diem, blah, blah, blah. No, it wasn't as easy as all that. I had to make a lot of changes in my life and lifestyle first. I've found luck gets on your side if you only give it a chance to. And chance led me to a thin, little book I happened to pick up at the Javitz Center Green Festival where I'd volunteered to model for Hemptopia Apparel.
The Stress-Free Habit: Powerful Techniques for Health and Longevity from the Andes, Yucatan and the Far East by John M. Perkins felt nice and thin in my hand. A quick read I thought, and when I opened it up and read the first page I liked the tone of the author-- equal parts practical and mystical. John Perkins is a businessman who spent a lot of time travelling the world and working for the Peace Corps in his youth. I wouldn't say it was the book that changed my life, but it was a book that helped give me the tools I needed to make the changes I wanted to make anyway. Below I've shared Mr. Perkins five basic rules for living a stress-free life. If those pique your interest or speak to you in any way, I'd encourage you to order the book. Like I said it's a quick, concise work, well-written and very informative...Maybe it will change your life even! Okay... and maybe not, but it's not a huge investment of time or money, so if you're suffering from anxiety the way I was and don't want to try out medications as I didn't, why not give it a shot?**
1. Be who you are...
Okay. I agree. At first this almost sounds like those pretend zen-sayings: always remember you're unique. Just like everybody else. However, if you read the passage in context what I think the author was trying to say here is something that sounds at first ridiculously simple, but if you think about it is actually quite profound and quite contrary to popular thinking. Be the person you want to become right now; you don't have to put off being the person you want to be, waiting for other people's official say-so. For example I was recently waiting to be seen to audition for a short film. In fact the producers were very behind, so there were several of us all waiting and waiting outside the audition room-- some of the other actors had already been there for hours! Finally, the waiting time became ludicrous-- every 30 minutes a head would pop out asking us to be patient-- so we all started talking and laughing. I found out we were from all over the world-- Paris, Oregon, Israel, but we all had this one thing in common-- this desire to express ourselves through playing a character. At that moment I realized it wasn't so much about getting the part-- my reasons for waiting there like that for hours. It was about wanting to be there, wanting to be a dreamer around other dreamers--real actors are the chummiest, nicest folks on Earth. It was just nice to be there in their company and to be one of them. I think what Mr. Perkins means is don't wait to get the part or get published or get the job to feel like you're your authentic self-- an actor, a poet, a policeman, what have you. To me this was a revolutionary concept. It put my thinking on its head. And that moment in the audition room sort of sealed the simple concept for me.
2. Balance the problem-solution concept: try to see problems as an issue for which you seek a solution. The lack of the solution is the problem.
My experience breaking a lease in New York City and then going through the arduous process of finding a new home in Brooklyn happened before I read the book, but in retrospect that experience helped me feel the kind of agency I think Mr. Perkins means you should feel in the face of most problems. Instead of seeing our lease as an insuperable block to our happiness, my husband and I finally acted to change our circumstances. We did end up losing some money, but by working with the real estate company we didn't face any legal action or lose as much money as we had first worried. It was worth so much more than money anyway to find a home that could handle a dog, two cats and two human beings. It made us both realize how important it is to face problems and act on them rather than just letting things go and remaining miserable for months... Life is too short!
3. Concentrate. Get in the habit of concentrating and compartmentalizing.
This chapter is the most business-oriented out of all the chapters in the book. Here Mr. Perkins notes the number one quality all the CEOs he's worked with posses-- the ability to concentrate 100 percent on the task at hand, complete it before moving on to another task and then concentrate 100 percent on that. I've been working on compartmentalizing and scheduling my time, and it really does help me not only to accomplish more but to feel less anxious and stressed while doing so. It's this flipping from one topic to another, trying to get as much done as possible, internet-surfing, rushing off to do something else that leads to the most stress. Whatever it is I'm doing, whether it's brushing the puppy's teeth or working on my manuscript I try to give it my full attention before I move on to the next task. Not to mention it's a nice feeling just getting things done whatever they are versus frenetically wiling away the hours trying to get everything done and accomplishing nothing at all.
4. Have faith. Believe in what you know is right; a religion, yourself, an idea, a goal.
This is definitely a quality I brought to New York and that living in New York has tested more than any other. New York City is a place for the very ambitious, what one of my favorite poets called the worshippers of "Mammon"-- i.e. money. It's hard to keep your perspective here. Everyone I know is so damn talented and successful-- vice presidents of banks, professors at Harvard, world-famous yoga teachers. Sometimes it can be hard to remember that there are other qualities that count more-- both to personal happiness and to quality of life. I've met some very famous people and some very wealthy people, and I have to say it's really true what all the poets and musicians and preachers try to warn us vain, silly humans about: they are not the happiest people I know. Not even close. Focusing on what I believe in and what makes me happy has helped me remember who I am and not what I feel like would impress other people most. Again that sounds obvious...but life has a way of getting to peole I've noticed. One day, ifyou're lucky, you wake up 50-- you can be lonely and jaded or you can be young at heart. I want to be the latter.
Last but not least Mr. Perkins offers some valuable, practical how-to advice about meditation. It's a device to relieve stress that he's found in one form or another in indigenous cultures throughout the world. As part of my mad, vain attempts to be happy last year I got certified to be a yoga instructor. It wasn't really what I wanted to do, but I did take several courses on meditation. I'm no expert, but I found this works well for me.
a. Be consistent. I try to meditate every day if only for five or ten minutes.
b. Try to find a quiet spot and make yourself comfortable. I prefer to sit on a cushion legs crossed Indian-style with my hands in my lap. How ever you're most comfortable works but try to keep your spine straight, posture relaxed, shoulders down.
c. Breathe in slowly and deeply and exhale slowly and deeply. You can count to ten and then start again or imagine you're at the bottom of a lake and thoughts are bubbles floating by. Don't turn your head to follow them, but don't give yourself a real hard time if you can't concentrate. You can also focus on concepts like love or peace or even just your breath.
That's all! If you stumble on this article because you googled stress relief or anxiety, I hope this works as well for you as it did for me!
**I respect anyone's decision to take medication. When I was little I almost died from an allergic reaction to medecine for an ear infection, so I've always been very anti-drugs of any kind since. This was just my alternate path to peace. If you feel you need professional help, then I urge you to seek it out.