Close your eyes and think of the single most stressful thing that has ever happened in your life. Is that memory making your palms sweat? Are you clenching your jaw? Is your heart racing?
This is what stress does to us—all of us. Stress is a basic element of the human condition, a self-preservation mechanism woven into every animal on the planet for tens of thousands of years. It’s how we respond when our needs are not met, and this happens to each of us eight to 15 times a day. But it’s what we do with it, it’s how we respond to our unmet needs—what we think, the words we speak, and how we react to each other and our unmet needs—that makes all the difference in managing stress.
Finding the Tools to Manage Stress
As the world swirls around us, we experience a million critical moments in which we crave clarity and the right thought, word or action that will allow us to make the best, most conscious choice for ourselves and everyone around us. People suffer with stress because they don’t have the right tools to address it—until now.
Using a pattern interrupt is a powerful tool in changing our perception of a stressful moment. When we interrupt our flow of thoughts, we can gently step aside from the uneasy memories of the past or the anxious thoughts of the future and ground ourselves back into the present moment. Our body-mind moves beyond all that irritation, anger, discomfort, anxiety and less-than or “it’s not fair” thinking. Constriction vanishes instantly and we are primed for greater possibilities, novel solutions and infinite potential. Whatever limiting belief was holding us back is momentarily suspended.
All It Takes Is 16 Seconds
“Sixteen seconds to clarity” is a simple yet powerful pattern-interrupt technique. Not only does it have a profound de-stressing impact in the moment, but it can also be the foundation for greater clarity of thought, heightened creativity, deeper intuition and making better choices. Let’s try it right now. (It’s OK to keep reading as you go through this exercise.)
- Think of something that has irritated or bothered you in the past few days, such as a difficult conversation, a disappointment or an unmet expectation. Replay the moment in your mind’s eye—even notice a place in your body that feels connected to the irritation. Settle into that space.
- Now take a long, slow, deep breath in through your nostrils, and as you do, slowly count to four, and observe the air as it moves into your nostrils and to the back of your throat. Watch your breath as it moves down your chest and deep into your lungs. Feel your belly expand.
- Observe your lungs filling, and hold that breath in to the count of four. Witness the breath in your chest as you silently count: one, two, three, four.
- Now slowly, to the count of four, release your breath and watch it as it moves up into your chest, into your throat, into your sinuses, and out through your nostrils.
- And when the last wisp of air is out of you, hold that breath out to the count of four. Observe it, watch it, witness it as it dissipates into the air.
- Now breathe normally, and try it with your eyes closed. Remember: in four, hold four, out four, hold four. And make sure you follow your breath. Observing it along the way is key to the process.
Why “16 Seconds to Clarity” Works
In just half a minute while you were observing your breath (assuming you were playing along), you were totally present. You were not thinking about the past or any of its grievances or regrets, nor moving into the future with all of its predictions and projections. Your mind is a little calmer and your heartbeat has slowed a bit. You’ve filled your body with heavily oxygenated blood and nourishing hormones, and in the process, you’ve released a little bit of stress.
Now imagine if you could string together minutes of that. Well, you actually do every time you use a de-stressing technique such as “16 seconds.” This process of repeated mini-immersions into stillness and silence is such a profound departure from our conditioned patterns and behaviors that we very quickly start to see the world differently. Each moment carries a little extra stillness, almost as if life is flowing at us in slow motion. We begin to reawaken our natural equilibrium, our organic, unconditioned set point, which connects us effortlessly to the core of our creativity and intuition.
If you’ve ever been reluctant to try meditation, don’t be—because you just did it with 16 seconds. Keep doing it just a little longer each day. Practicing meditation on a daily basis allows you to weave silence and stillness into your mind and body to create a life of greater compassion and fulfillment.
More Tools for Creating Sacred Space for Mindful Meditation
Looking for more ways to enhance your health and wellness? Check out our remastered recordings of Bodhi Talks given by authors, healers, philosophers, teachers and scientists at the original Bodhi Tree Bookstore. Explore now here!