I slumped down amongst the mountain of luggage, feeling defeated.
Tears of frustration—fused with unexpressed anger and guilt—streamed down my cheeks.
I was travelling to Greece in the summer with friends. The travel agent, whom I had recommended, confirmed only two of four seats on an overbooked flight. We’d later find out in Athens that the agent didn’t confirm our connecting flights either, or an alternative route. To add to my growing anxiety, my verbally abusive, narcissistic boss was undercutting my biggest deal, cursing me out on the cellphone, probably watching himself scream at me in the large mirror positioned across from his desk.
What should have been a moment of happiness in anticipation of the holiday to come, was turning rapidly into a moment of insanity.
A tightness gripped my throat and chest.
Tip #1: Becoming aware of negative thoughts and emotions are the first step toward managing them.
I knew I needed to center myself. I couldn’t control the chaos that was exploding around me, but I could control my reaction to it by watching my breath.
Tip #2: Breathing helps.
I closed my eyes and began to watch my breath. I focused on the cool air going in at the entrance of my nostrils and warm air moving out. I mentally repeated, “I am breathing in, I am breathing out.” This practice slows the rate of respiration and calms the nervous system.
Meanwhile, my girlfriend balls-out lied to the airline agent and said we were bridesmaids for a wedding in Greece the next day, and managed to book two tickets on a separate airline, one seat that did not recline—mine. Thankfully, my friend switched her seat with me half-way through the flight—a compassionate gesture.
Tip #3: Extending compassion to others during challenging times creates feelings of trust, goodwill and empathy.
My friend’s compassion helped me to get beyond my residual negative feelings. She literally put herself in my seat, which bonded us to the experience and each other.
In Athens, we were forced to take a 12-hour slow boat to our fake wedding in Santorini. Thirty-six hours later, we arrived at two a.m., deliriously tired. One friend reminded us that two a.m. happens to be a great time for the Greeks and tourists, and that we should put on a new attitude. It took us a minute, but after clearing our minds, we agreed that we would make the best of the trip, no matter what, and seek out fun with every mishap or mistake. And, so we did, and went out that evening, creating happy memories.
Tip #4: Take a moment, close the eyes, and imagine space in your mind. In that space, contemplate an intention for the vacation.
What would you like to achieve and what is actually within your means of influencing? Small steps are advisable. If the intention is too broad or large, and we are overwhelmed, then the ego will bombard us with blame, shame and guilt, which will only create more tension. Affirm the intention in the present tense, such as, “I am having fun,” or “I react with patience and understanding,” or “I let go of that which I cannot control.” Visualize and feel as if you have fulfilled the intention while repeating it three times.
Intentions work best if done at regular intervals and in a quiet mind. Notice a trigger, then ground with the breath and repeat the intention while seeing and feeling it as if already manifest. When the mind imprints the intention, behaviors align with realizing the intention. Research shows that the goals and intentions we set changes the way our brain perceives the world. This practice engages the neo-cortex of the brain, and helps us to stay centered and non-reactive, instead of reacting in frustration, which often damages trust and feelings. (1.)
After embracing our intention for the trip, my friends and I related to the foibles with more humor and perspective, diminishing frustrations that were beyond our control.
The trip’s mishaps continued. We got stuck on an island, Naxos, for two days. We wondered, who had heard of Naxos and what would we do there? Thanks to Naxos, we discovered on-road dune-buggies, exploring the island. We loved the experience, so we rented them again in Mykonos.
Tip #5: Be grateful for what arises. There is always a silver lining, an “upside,” to be found.
When we returned back home, there were plenty of stories to tell family and friends. Those which stood out were the situations which challenged us the most, but provided the most satisfaction, as we had stuck to the original intentions we set on the trip.
Tip #6: Stories from your trip, even the challenging ones, can provide positive emotional memories of bonding, problem-solving, laughter or fun, and be used in your meditations too.
- The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time– March 1, 2015 by Alex Korb PhD, New Harbinger Publications
Author: Karen Nourizadeh
Image: Westvan Archives/ Flickr
Editors: Khara-Jade Warren; Emily Bartran