The team at This Emotional Life asked me to address a post they received from their Facebook fan page:– “How about a blog or something for all of us out there dealing with the stress from unemployment, facing foreclosure and financial problems due to losing their jobs, etc. I would love to have all the help I can get to deal with these stresses and suggestions on how to cope and get through all.”
I know firsthand of the fear that comes with loss of security, income, etc. In fact, on March 18th I lost a contract that had provided me with the majority of my income for the last ten years. The timing couldn’t have been worse as my wife and I are expecting our first child in late April, but as my teacher often reminds me, the universe is neutral – you have to stand on your own two feet and generate results in spite of your feelings and the reality surrounding you.
This is Zen at its best. A good Zen master won’t console you; he or she will throw you right back into the fray and say “deal with it.” Sounds harsh, perhaps it is. The truth is that we have everything we need to respond to an unfortunate circumstance powerfully. This is why a good Zen master won’t let you remain stuck in your feelings. They are going to do everything they can to evoke your bigness and full capacity, and this requires throwing you back in the storm. In truth, there is no other way – you either go big, or fail small.
So how is it possible to get into action when fear is a constant, when the odds aren’t in your favor and more bad news is just over the horizon? This is where meditation comes in.
Meditation is not for sissies. If the mention of the word conjures up thoughts of checking out of life, you are way off. Rather, meditation is a highly effective way of clearing the debris of the mind so you can access your True Self and see into the nature of things…things such as an economic recession. It’s relevant, especially during tough economic times, regardless if you are a high-level executive, doctor, lawyer, artist or everyday person looking to get more satisfaction out of life.
Through meditation you will become aware that your ideas, thoughts, beliefs and perceptions are not real. As you sit quietly in meditation you eventually notice that there is a big gap between reality and the story you have made up about it. In Zen we refer to this as cutting through delusion. Knowing what is real and not grants you the capacity to impact reality versus reacting to your version of it. This is why I say that the practice is not for the lighthearted – it’s for those who are committed to operating outside of the individual and societal delusion that holds things like a bad economy in place.
Through meditation, fear and stress drop away. In other words, the brain’s tendency for fight, flight or freezing will subside and therein lays your opportunity. This is the clarity that I referred to. Having access to it will allow you to aggressively pursue a job, handle a mortgage that is in default, stay connected to your clients or manage stress at home.
Developing the capacity to respond effectively to whatever life throws at you comes with regular practice. Just like going to the gym, you have to maintain the muscles you develop over time or suffer atrophy. Over the years I have seen far too many people abandon their meditation practice. Soon after, the capacity to function outside of fear and uncertainty gives way to the brain’s need to avoid risk at all costs.
I have personally experienced the effects of being away from meditation. After many years of ongoing training and development at the Santa Monica Zen Center, where I am studying to be a teacher, I took a much-needed hiatus. During my time off, I put great effort into developing an introduction to my executive consulting business. I worked very hard on this, and eventually deemed myself ready to go public. Before doing so I conducted a couple of focus groups.
The focus groups revealed a painful reality. In the months that I had been away from my practice, my capacity to function under stress and pressure severely diminished. I literally could not deliver a powerful presentation – something that would have been easy to do prior to taking time off. The experience was very disappointing from a business perspective, but it motivated me to resume my Zen Training and meditation practice.
Upon my return, I immediately felt the positive effects. The impact on my self-expression and effectiveness was mind blowing. In the weeks following an intensive four-day period of training I was unrestrained, fearless and generated several business opportunities. Any trace of hesitancy was gone , I had the clearing I needed to do the things that were most critical to building my business and it was all effortless.
As I shared at the beginning of this piece, I can attest to feeling extremely vulnerable to what is happening out in the world. Over the years I have tried many things to counter life’s challenges and feel better – meditation in the context of Zen Training has been the most effective means toward that end for me.
There are a lot of people out there selling techniques like “personal power.” Most are tips, tools and strategies that don’t work over the long haul or when it really matters. What does work, and I know this from first hand experience, is mastering your humanity.
There is no reason why you cannot stand powerfully and confidently in the face of tough economic times. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Mark Eckhardt Bio
Since 1998, Mark Eckhardt has studied Zen Buddhism under the auspices of Bill Yoshin Jordan, Abbot of the Santa Monica Zen Center.Learn More