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I am heading out tomorrow for a week’s retreat. This is something that I tried for the first time last year. It was a wonderful experience.

I set aside a week. No phone. No computer. I bought enough groceries for 2 meals a day, and stayed away from sugars and processed foods. I took books, paper, pens and the laptop if I wanted to write really fast! I also took some rudimentary art supplies. Then, I headed down to the beach which is about an hour from my house.

Out of that retreat last year came a flood of creative writing that resulted in two published stories this past year. I also created two stained glass window mosaics from which I continue to get daily pleasure.

I also learned that my family can survive without me for a full week. So can my email. And I can live without “being available” by phone and computer. The rejuvenative effects of that retreat lasted about 9 months. And, I’m ready for another!

This kind of self-care is one of the ways that I continue to recover the “good life” from anxiety and panic. This kind of peace, slowing down and making space for myself is the life experience that I can continue to create INSIDE my head and heart no matter where I am.

And that reduces panic, anxiety, fear and chaos.

So I bid you all a fond farewell for seven days — and look forward to returning refreshed, renewed and reflective!

Be well.

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Zen Habits, a blog that covers all sorts of topics related to positive life changes, has a good post on the three secrets to happiness. I think most of us here at WW already have some basic knowledge about what doesn’t bring happiness. When you live every day as if you were on the cusp of tragedy, it certainly brings into focus the basic truth that wealth and material gains won’t help much to alleviate our pain and promote well-being. Regardless, our perspective also causes us to lose focus on some of the other important aspects of happiness and health.

If you take a look at the Zen Habits post, pay particular attention to #3. This is something that I think most of us have a very difficult time with.

As far as #2 — positive thinking — this is a controversial topic amongst the professional worrisome. Personally, I try not to advocate “positive thinking” here on this blog because most people confuse it with thought control. Controlling your thoughts is impossible. Trying to control your thoughts as if you could you change your mind by brute force is a complete waste of your time. So, once again, let me remind you that positive thinking is not related to controlling your thoughts. Rather, think of it like positive redirection. By redirecting your attention (not simply your thoughts) to more positive things, you’re able to give yourself a unique way of approaching your problems. This positive redirection can become an unconscious habit if you work at it.

Read “The Three Secrets to Happiness” at Zen Habits.

Many of us worry about the death and suffering caused by disease, but few of us can really do much about it. Aside from getting a Ph.D. and working in a lab, we’re often relegated to sidelines to wait for promising new treatments for humanity’s most painful diseases.But now that’s all changed thanks to the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC). Now we can all help!

BOINC is a piece of software that runs on your computer in place of your normal screensaver. BOINC itself is not a research project, but rather a platform for you to choose which projects you want to participate in. Many research projects require massive amounts of computing power, and there are only a handful of supercomputers that are able to handle the enormous amount of data that must be processed. These supercomputers are in high demand and they are very expensive, so the solution to this is BOINC. BOINC allows researchers to use your computer when you’re not using it. Your computer automatically downloads packets of work, crunches the numbers, and then sends the results back to the lab. And all of this happens when you’re not even using your computer!

For example, SETI@home is probably the most well-known of these projects. In case you don’t know, SETI is an acronym for the “Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.” SETI@home really started the whole concept. I myself have run SETI@home for years.

The project I recommend is Rosetta@home: “Rosetta@home needs your help to determine the 3-dimensional shapes of proteins in research that may ultimately lead to finding cures for some major human diseases. By running the Rosetta program on your computer while you don’t need it you will help us speed up and extend our research in ways we couldn’t possibly attempt without your help. You will also be helping our efforts at designing new proteins to fight diseases such as HIV, Malaria, Cancer, and Alzheimer’s…”

Are you ready to help? If you’re not yet convinced, start by watching this promotional video for Rosetta@home. (Yeah, the speakers aren’t great but the video actually gets better a minute or two into it. Give it a chance.)

Otherwise, all you need to do is download BOINC and select Rosetta@home as one of your projects. Then watch it go to work! Full instructions can be found at Rosetta@home’s website. If you’d like to get started but are having trouble, feel free to e-mail me (see the About page) and I’ll gladly walk you through the process.

For quite some time, I had made a truce with death. I had discovered some simple truths about my existence here on this beautiful rock and those truths comforted me. Once death no longer bothered me on a daily basis, my fears shifted to the many fates that I consider to be worse than death. But then, in the past few weeks, death has crept back into mind and it is again holding my feet to the fire.

My relapse began with an especially deadly week in my home town. There were a handful of car accidents, all of which claimed at least one life. I won’t go into the details, but one of these was especially brutal and involved an explosion. Then, right on cue, my imagination spun into action and I caught myself imagining — in great detail — the last few moments of the poor driver. My thoughts then shifted to my own vulnerability and the ridiculous naivety in which most of us live our daily lives. I noticed that every time I got into my car I was tense with fear while I wondered whether or not today would be the day.

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As I’ve been focusing lately on these Meditation CDs something amazing has come to my attention. I have a VERY sensitive startle reflex! I mean CRAZY sensitive!! I know that babies have this (called the “Morro reflex” I think) but it was always my understanding that we kind of grew out of it.

But I’ve had such a revelation.

I will be following the meditation, listening to the voice, focusing on my breathing. But in the CDs where there is perfect silence rather than any music or ambient noise I find that the next word by the teacher or the bell or even a distant “clunk” in the house causes me a SHOCK! I briefly shiver all over and jerk my eyes open, then feel a release of what must be adrenalin. My heart rate increases and my breathing sometimes stops — I seem to hold my breath.

Now that I’m more aware of this response it makes sense that anxiety and panic have been such a presence in my life. Maybe this happens regularly, and without my awareness. And maybe the Panic is actually a build up of these ‘startlings’ rather than some ‘attack’ from out of the blue. I’m thinking that I have a habit of reacting this way, and it is now automatic.

Paying attention to these times when I’m startled has allowed me to dissipate the feeling in the moment. I breathe it in and out. My heart rate settles back down. I come back in to my body and the moment. They don’t seem to be building up. I have a sense of clarity and awareness in my life, but not really any underlying anxiety or panic.

I’m not sure I understand it totally but I think I’m gaining some insight about myself here.

I’m currently working through three new CDs on Meditation and Guided Relaxation.

THe first one is called “Guided Meditations for calmness, awareness and love” led by Bodhipaksa. There are three meditations on this CD: one on the Mindfulness of Breathing, one on the Development of Lovingkindness and a third on which is called Walking Meditation Practices.

Bodhipaksa’s voice is very soothing, a deep, clear voice with a hint of Scottish brogue. He speaks plainly and simply. He explains what he is doing, and he speaks directly to you as if he is in the room with you. He begins with eyes open and this is unusual, but I liked it – especially for beginners.

The second one is from “The Mental Medicine Collection” and is called “Quiet Thoughts.”

The third is called “The Ease of Being: Guided Meditations for Centering and Healing.”

As I work through these and practice them I’ll keep posting. I think the sound of a voice, and the use of images, appeals to individual tastes, but perhaps it will be helpful and encourage someone to give this tool a try.

Sometimes I wonder how my grandmother wakes up every morning smiling, despite her frail heart, her arthritic joints, and the growing number of years behind her. (Surely it’d scare the hell out of me.) When I asked her about what keeps her going, she said to me, “What else is there to do?” I later learned that she has made all of her plans. She knows where she’ll be buried. She has all of the legal mumbo-jumbo in place. These things, along with the help of her natural jovial perspective, give her a sense of comfort. She’s ready for whatever, and this readiness allows her to face every day with confidence.

One of the interesting things about us worrywarts is that we excel at imagining the worst possible scenarios, but that’s where we stop. We rarely ever follow through and turn our anxiety into action. Most people don’t just sit around endlessly worrying about their problems… and those that do are likely dealing with some form of anxiety disorder, depression, or — at the very least — they’re not fun people to hang out with.

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My last post described how a small thing completely knocked me off my feet – how I went from feeling pretty much anxiety free to being afraid of my imminent doom – and how that affected me.

I’m up again. I’m feeling better. I even realized that the “slip” wasn’t all bad because it showed me how far I’ve come. It startled me when I actually felt the difference between “the old” and “the new”. When I fell, I had somewhere to fall from. This realization is fantastic.

I also realize now that I am more sensitive than I thought. It is easier to knock me off my feet than I knew. And there is my new battlefront. As soon as I’ve completely gotten rid of “the feeling of forthcoming doom”, which still rises in me now and then, I’m going to work on my mental toughness. I’m slowly getting to that place again, where I can brush off negative thoughts. When I’m there I’m going to focus on things that might unsettle me and how I can deal with them.

All advice would be welcome.

“Every tomorrow has two handles. We can take hold of it by the handle of anxiety, or by the handle of faith.”
— Author Unknown

I really liked this reading today — it goes along with exactly what I need to to remain mindful (and thus incorporate less Anxiety and Panic) in my day. You can read all the daily thoughts at http://www.dailyom.com

March 7, 2007
Decorating Life
The World As Home
There are few things more thrilling than having a new house or an empty room to decorate. Our imaginations soar as we consider the many possibilities. In the same way, our lives offer us the opportunity to express ourselves within various contexts, to ask ourselves questions about what we want to see as we move through our days and how we want things to flow. Some people do this instinctively, moving through the various environments they inhabit and shifting the energy with their presence. These people have a knack for decorating life. This can be as simple as the way they dress, the way they speak, or the fact that they always bring a bouquet of wildflowers when they come for a visit.

As we move through the world, we make a statement, whether we intend to or not. We shift the energy one way when we enter a room dressed elegantly and simply, and another when we show up in bright, cheerful colors and a floppy hat. One is not better than the other. It is simply a question of the mood we wish to create. What we wear is just one choice we can focus on. The way we speak to people, or touch them, shifts the energy more profoundly than almost anything else. The words we speak and the tone in which we say them are the music we choose to play in the world that is our home. Some of us fill the space with passionate arias, others with healing hymns. Again, one is not better than the other. We are all called to contribute.

Just as we consciously create an environment within our homes, we can consciously choose to decorate life itself with our particular energy. Ideally, in doing so, we express our deeper selves, so that the adornments we add to the world make it more meaningful, more beautiful, and as welcoming as a beloved home.

This morning I woke up hating Dick Cheney. Not in itself an unusual thing, I suppose, but the twist here is the particular reason I hate him today. You see, I hate Dick Cheney because he has a deep vein thrombosis, or blood clot, in his left leg.

 Blood clots have been a major theme in my health paranoia for quite some time and until this morning I rather thought I had warded their spector off forever. Or at least for a good long while. This morning when I woke up, though, I had a pain in my left leg. Just a sort of vague ache and tense feeling in one particular spot. Naturally the first thing that came to mind was Cheney’s deep vein thrombosis. Yippee!

Of course I have had this feeling over and over again in the past few years and never has it turned out to be anything even remotely dangerous. I get a little ache, a little twinge, a little stiffness in my muscle, I freak out about blood  clots and waste a lot of time and energy worrying, and then it goes away.

So why now? Why did this happen all last Summer, then not for months, and now all of a sudden again? Because both last Summer and in the past week or so I felt stressed out. The causes were different, but the effect was the same: I felt stressed, I worried, I tensed my muscles all over the place without realizing it, and that led to these weird little aches. Intellectually I know this, emotionally it still takes some convincing to make it stick.

But unlike last Summer, I now know the mechanism that is at work. Then I was just flipping out because I couldn’t imagine what could cause these very localized aches other than a blood clot. I had nowhere else to hang the explanation, and I am the sort of person who needs an explanation. That’s a problem in itself, but one for another day.

What’s helping me get through this current pain is knowing that the cause is stress and muscle tension, added to having a general feeling of stress that makes my mind more receptive to these thoughts. That’s the real lesson: watching your panic and seeing where it comes from in your mind. Why are you open to panic right now? Is there anything you can do to remove that source? If not at least you can recognize it for what it is and focus on that instead of the panic.

 Of course that doesn’t help me hate Dick Cheney any less.

"Drag your thoughts away from your troubles... by the ears, by the heels, or any other way you can manage it." -- Mark Twain

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