“When you react, you let other control you. When you respond, you are in control.” ― Bohdi Sanders
I recently led an all-day meditation retreat on managing stress. During the dharma talk portion of the day, I shared many tools for handling stress from top spiritual leaders. I am going to share some of the tools I highlighted during the workshop in the upcoming blog posts.
The first tool I would like to share is from my meditation guru, davidji, and his book destressifying: The Real-World Guide to Personal Empowerment, Lasting Fulfillment, and Peace of Mind. The key thing I have learned about stress is that it is crucial to stop the cycle before I spin out of control. The best way to do that is to come back to the present moment. Awareness is the key, and a great tool to interrupt the pattern is SODA. Davidji tells us that when we start to feel stressed, we should reach for SODA. The letters in the acronym SODA stand for:
The first thing is to stop whatever I am doing. That pause causes me to break the cycle and not get angrier or more upset. It gets me to come back to the present moment and consciously think about my next actions, thoughts or words.
The second step is to become the witnessing observer. It is as if I step out of my body and look down at what I am doing, who I am with, and determine what is going on. This helps me put perspective on things and many times I will see that I am throwing a tantrum or about to cry for a silly reason that is not warranting that behavior. It is important to observe objectively without judgment. For me, this means that I don’t beat myself up for the behavior and I just witness the circumstances from a compassionate viewpoint.
Next, I detach from the drama and emotion of the situation. This is where I take a long slow deep breath in followed by an extended exhale. My breath is my anchor. Slowing my breath helps to slow my body and get out of fight or flight mode. This is turn, slows my thoughts, which are coming faster than a steam locomotive. I know that my thoughts mimic my body and if I slow my body, by slowing my breath, I will slow my thoughts. davidji encourages us to subtly step or lean back a few inches to create some energetic and physical distance from the irritant.
Finally, I want to awaken to my highest self. I want to respond from the best version of myself, not that little child who is throwing a tantrum. I typically channel my inner Eckhart Tolle as he epitomizes living in the present moment and not reacting to external situations. This helps me to respond to the situation from a more conscious perspective.
Do I do remember to do this every time I encounter stress? Heck no! But it is like everything else in life, the more I practice, the better I become. Awareness helps me to realize sooner that I am stressed and I use tools like SODA to interrupt the habitual reaction when faced with tense situations.
I think the quote by Sanders above is at the heart of mindfulness and dealing with challenging situations. I have learned that when I am mindful and living in the present moment that I respond to difficult situations instead of my auto-pilot knee jerk reaction. Tools like SODA help me to respond instead of react. Try reaching for SODA the next time you encounter a stressful situation.
What tools to you use when you are stressed?
How might SODA help you in the future?
Peggy Steffens is an artist and Chopra Certified Meditation Instructor
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