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The boon of regular practice

We are all occasionally derailed from time to time by things that are any combination of frustrating, traumatic, painful, infuriating, tragic, etc. I have been thinking about this lately and how a regular meditation practice can help me to handle these situations better. I used to meditate daily and fell out of the habit for years, then I decided to pick it up again and I notice a difference in how I respond to stresses. For example, I am more aware of how I am responding to something and as a result I am more likely to think something through. Essential oils have helped me in these situations too. More on that later.

I used to think that my goal was to remain completely centered, grounded, peaceful and happy or neutral in emotion through any situation, no matter how troubling. Today I realized what I actually want to strive toward is feeling that emotion without getting lost in it, much like riding a wave while keeping my head above water.

Have you ever tried to meditate your way out of an acute emotional response? I don’t often choose meditation in the moment, but as an ongoing practice it acts a general support. Judging from personal experience, I believe that managing an acute situation is going to go better if you have a foundation you have built through consistent practice to support you. I’ve heard how regular practice at something helps to strengthen those connections in your brain, making whatever you’re reinforcing stronger and more accessible. In addition to a regular practice, knowing how to prepare for things that you can prepare for, and knowing what coping mechanisms or other skills work for you can help too (don’t just rely on one thing to help you cope).

This applies to other things too. In the context of art, drawing or painting regularly will strengthen your skill for when you want to work on a specific piece. Not everything you do in art has to be perfect – there is value in the experience, even if you don’t like what you created (So many capitalized societies have put an unhealthy emphasis on productivity). In the context of health, if you have a regular practice that includes movement, strengthening, and balance, you might be less likely to lose your balance when that person accidentally bumps into you. If you are in a regular practice of watching your income and expenses you might find it easier to remember an emergency source of income you could draw on, or know where you could cut spending to deal with that emergency plumbing bill. I recognize that these examples do come from a perspective of privilege and ability, and might not apply to everyone, but are just to demonstrate the idea that consistency and familiarity with skills we build in consistent regular practice help us have more resources to draw on when things derail us, emotionally or otherwise. It is a way to work toward a bigger goal with small sustainable actions.

A recent situation got me thinking about this. A small frustration that built up over a couple of days and culminating in a potential loss. I got pretty angry and hadn’t meditated yet, and didn’t feel like it would help in the moment. I had to fall back on some other ways to cope with this frustration – essential oils. I found and smelled the closest one I could find and very soon felt calmer. I feel that having the foundation of regular meditation gave me a calmer “baseline” but having other resources to draw on in the moment helped as well.

Try this! Find the closest essential oil or aromatic substance that you like, wherever you are. It doesn’t have to be an essential oil – maybe it’s an herb on your counter or a cherry blossom on the tree next to you, or the coffee in your cup. Smell that aromatic and and notice how you feel in that moment. Do you feel energized? More relaxed? Do you have more capacity to reflect or form ideas? Did your mind stop racing?

What was the last thing that derailed you? What was the triggering event? Did your response result in more problems down the road? How could it have gone better? What can you do to prepare for the next time it happens?

Identify a challenge (example: “when something upsets me it ruins my day”)

knowing your triggers, and your reactions, effects (example: “one trigger is not being able to reach someone. I get frustrated and send an angry email. I obsess about it and ignore other things I need to do, I stay frustrated and end up working on things much later into the evening”)

Identifying resources – what helps in the moment and what helps as an ongoing practice (example: “smelling essential oils helps me to remember to breathe and improves my mood” “writing out my thoughts privately helps me to organize them for the next time I communicate and puts a situation into context”)

Being prepared (example: “I will have something uplifting to smell and a journal in a place I can easily find them” “I will start with meditation 5 minutes a day and work up to longer periods of time”)

Practice (It takes practice, so don’t expect perfection)

Instead of clinging to the phrase “Practice makes perfect” I’d rather let go of the need for perfection and instead appreciate the value of experience. Did you hear the story about the person who fell in a hole, then realized what happened and was going to watch for the hole the next time, saw it, but fell in anyway, and was able to avoid it later on? We usually don’t get things perfect right away, but I personally feel better knowing I have a couple of skills or resources to lean on when something threatens to derail me. Do I expect to sail through it happily? Definitely not! I’m trying to get better at observing emotions rather than judging them.

A note about meditation

I’m not an expert at meditation, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. For me sometimes it’s as simple as letting my thoughts come and go without focusing on them, and focusing instead on breathing a little deeper. Years ago I took some classes at the Oriental Healing Arts Center and learned this Three Centered Meditation and now I do a version of it almost daily.

A note about essential oils

Some essential oils that can help to ease stress and anxious feelings are Bergamot, Roman Chamomile, Citrus oils, Lavender, Palmarosa, and Bergamot Mint. Smell is the only sense that isn’t processed first by the thalamus. The signal that is created in response to a scent reaches the limbic system quickly and can have noticeable effect on mood, the fight-or-flight response, memory, focus, breath, heart rate, and more. This is why essential oils are sometimes the first thing I reach for because it helps me to remember to breathe and regain focus.

Would you like to learn more?

How to make an Aromatherapy inhaler (a how-to video by Aromahead Institute)

Schedule a class (with me)

Request a custom holistic aromatherapy blend (from me)

Where to order supplies: check my resources page for recommendations or order here

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