Donald Altman is the author of the new book, Reflect: Awaken to the Wisdom of the Here and Now. Donald Altman is a psychotherapist, an award-winning author, and a former Buddhist monk. Featured in The Mindfulness Movie and profiled in The Living Spiritual Teachers Project, he has written over 15 books that teach how to incorporate mindfulness into daily life. Award-winning books include: The Mindfulness Toolbox-winner of two Gold IBPA Benjamin Franklin Awards as the best book in the “Psychology” and “Body-Mind-Spirit” categories, Clearing Emotional Clutter-named “One of the Best Spiritual Books of 2016,” and The Mindfulness Code-named “One of the Best Spiritual Books of 2010.”
Feel rushed? Even when you’re on vacation? Worried about the future? Overwhelmed? Fast-paced living creates “hurry-sickness”– a sense of desperation and time-pressures that are draining. We’re conditioned to chase money, power, success – ever embracing a wilder, faster pace of life. Despite a rise in stress-induced illnesses, we continue onward in a furious race to an imaginary finish line. The anxiety we feel breeds muddled thinking which leads to poor choices. Poor choices lead to more problems, pain and suffering. It’s a race to the finish that we’re destined to lose.
Yun Rou, a modern Taoist monk I interviewed on my Pathways show, offers wisdom pointing to a better way. Tao, in fact, means “the Way.” It refers to living life in harmony with nature. Many of us spend our time and energy doing battle with life when the key is to live in harmony – through a Taoist alchemy that finds the balance between action and non-action, between assertion and letting go of resistance, as circumstances dictate. Yun Rou uses the term ‘rectify’ to refer to the effort it takes to bring things out of whack back into balance. We will never finally achieve perfect balance – we will always be rectifying – but it’s fun trying and getting better at it. Otherwise, we squander considerable effort and time trying to force the universe to bend to our will. So very exhausting!
Below are four Taoist secrets to doing less and getting more done.
1. Be like water – in the flow.
In his book, Mad Monk Manifesto, Yun Rou notes that we are each called upon to become a sage, defining sage as “a person who deeply senses the flow of the world and moves with it, not against it.” But how do we learn to yield and not resist? Taoists embrace the image of flowing water: when a stream of water is confronted by a rock in its path, it flows effortlessly around it or over it, rather than banging its head against the rock. Flow like water.
2. Cultivate inner peace.
Meditation, Tai Chi, Yoga – all of these ancient methods can be used to help us calm our anxious minds and reduce stress. If we imagine the principles of yielding, softness, centeredness, slowness, balance, suppleness and rootedness that these methods draw upon in a balance of stillness and movement, then we will sense our connection with nature, harmonize ourselves to her ways, and cultivate the inner peace that we all need and subconsciously crave.
3. Find the balance.
An important first step toward attaining this solution to modern stress is by learning to recognize and align ourselves with the movement of life itself. This is achieved through an understanding of yin and yang and finding the balance points of life’s ever-changing dance of polarities – light or dark, up or down, feminine and masculine, giving and receiving, consuming and sacrificing. Balance is the Way.
4.Practice gentleness and compassion.
Mistakenly interpreted as weakness, true gentleness is a courageous sensitivity, respect, and reverence for all life. Its companion virtue, compassion, brings acceptance, generosity, forgiveness, and love. How wonderfully ironic that caring about others’ happiness as if it were your own will reduce your stress level and improve overall well-being for everyone. Yun Rou sums it up: “Compassion is the key element of the awakened, rectified life.”
John Pavlovitz is the author of the new book, Hope and Other Superpowers: A life affirming, love-defending, butt-kicking, world-saving manifesto. John is a pastor and blogger from Wake Forest, North Carolina. In the past two years his blog, Stuff That Needs To Be Said, has reached a diverse audience of millions of people throughout the world, with an average monthly readership of over a million people. His home church, North Raleigh Community Church, is a growing, nontraditional Christian community dedicated to radical hospitality, mutual respect, and diversity of doctrine.
Corinne Zupko, EdS, LPC, is the author of From Anxiety to Love: a radical new approach for letting go of fear and finding lasting peace. As a licensed counselor and keynote speaker, she has helped thousands of individuals through her one-on-one counseling, weekly meditation classes for corporations, and the largest virtual conference of ACIM in the world, through the organization Miracle Share International, which she cofounded. She lives in New Jersey.
In a world of increasing polarization, there has never been a better time to learn the art of peacemaking. Most of us aren’t taught to manage our emotions or the emotions of others, especially people who see the world very differently. In this respect, we are emotionally incompetent and have difficulty coexisting with people who hold different values.
These days, families can be torn apart over conflicting beliefs. Peacemaking is a skill that takes practice. According to Doug Noll, author of De-Escalate: How to Calm an Angry Person in 90 Seconds or Less (whom I recently featured on my Pathways interview program), it can be learned, and can greatly improve your emotional intelligence.
What better time to practice this fine art than during the holidays? Imagine this: You’re sitting down to a feast with relatives, a group that includes a cantankerous right-wing uncle (the Republican elephant in the room). Suddenly, this uncle says something obnoxious and hateful. Your first instinct is to problem-solve – to set things straight about the facts, dispute what he’s swallowed from Fox Fake News, etc. But things only get worse and he becomes insulting. An ugly argument ensues and you wonder if you can tolerate holidays with extended family anymore.
In our Pathways interview, Doug reveals how recent advances in neuroscience confirm that we are still largely emotional creatures, with a newer and less compelling rational brain. Emotional intelligence is a learning process, not a facility that is intrinsic by nature. The only way to calm your uncle down is to speak to his emotions, not logic. Never argue against an emotional belief, Doug says, because logic and reasoning cannot change an emotional mind. Arguing against emotional beliefs only strengthens, rather than weakens, them.
Imagine being able to withstand your uncle’s insults, provocations and misinformation without losing your cool. With a little skill, such holiday dread can be avoided. Using Doug’s three easy steps, you can increase empathy, reduce reactivity, increase enjoyment with family, and restore peace at the dinner table (and elsewhere in your life).
First tip: Ignore the words (or so-called “facts”) and listen only to the underlying emotions behind what the person is saying. Express a guess at what they are feeling; the most common emotional reactions are anger, frustration, betrayal, anxiety, fear, sadness or feeling unloved. Label their emotion in words (as in, “you are feeling frustrated”). This helps them gain clarity and provides them the emotional satisfaction of being heard. Rapidly, you will discover that your uncle (or whoever) is calming down and maybe even able to listen a little bit. Only now might there be an opening for problem solving, coming to some level of agreement or understanding.
In essence, the art of emotional intelligence is being able to listen for emotions and using language to keep yourself centered, help you navigate through conflict successfully, resolve issues of contention, and develop deeper empathic connections. With this simple method you can continue to care for someone whose perspective clashes with your own, without becoming derailed or upset. We can feel heard and respected despite differing beliefs, and do the same for others. (There’s so much more in the Pathways interview with Doug Noll… I hope you check it out!)
Douglas Noll is the author of the new book, De-Escalate: How to Calm an Angry Person in 90 Seconds or Less. Doug is a lawyer turned peacemaker. He is a teacher, speaker, and trainer, and the award-winning author of three other books — one of which we discussed five years ago on Pathways named Elusive Peace. A co-founder of the Prison of Peace non-profit service organization, Doug’s vocation is to serve humanity, and he executes this calling on many levels. Using pragmatic and practical skills of peacemaking, he helps people resolve deep interpersonal and ideological conflicts.
Douglas E. Noll, Esq is author of the new book, Elusive Peace: How Modern Diplomatic Strategies Could Better Resolve World Conflict. Doug is a full time internationally recognized mediator and peacemaker, specializing in difficult, complex, and intractable conflicts. He is a Fellow of the International Academy of Mediators, a Fellow of the American College of Civil Trial Mediators, on the American Arbitration Association panel of mediators and arbitrators, and is certified under international standards established by the International Mediation Institute.
Isha, the world-renowned spiritual teacher discusses her book, Why Walk When You Can Fly: Soar Beyond Your Fears and Love Yourself and Others Unconditionally. In this inspiring and uplifting book, Isha uses parables, moving stories, and humor to impart essential truths and powerful tools, which she calls “facets”, in order to help people soar past their fears and find happiness, fulfillment, and peace.
Bob Kull discusses his adventures and his book, Solitude: Seeking Wisdom in Extremes-A Year Alone in the Patagonia Wilderness. Years after a motorcycle accident left him with one leg, Bob traveled to a remote island in the Patagonia wilderness with supplies to live completely alone for a year. He sought to explore the effects of deep solitude on the body and mind and to find answers to the spiritual questions that had plagued him his entire life. Bob has spent years wandering North and South America, working as a scuba instructor, wilderness guide, construction worker, dishwasher, truck driver, bartender, painter, firefighter, and professor. He began undergraduate studies at age forty and now holds a Ph.D. from University of British Columbia. He lives in Vancouver.