But what if you were in a car accident or a sudden emergency? Would you have time to do the three steps?

In fact, I was in a car accident about two months ago. I was driving my five-year-old daughter home from school, and we got rear-ended real hard. We pulled over, and of course my first response was fight-or-flight. Hyperarousal. I just started breathing really fast. I turned to check if my daughter was OK-fortunately she was. The person behind us had really smashed his car in. And I stopped for a second, and I thought, "What do I do? I need to move my body." So I stood up and I walked toward the other car. And I thought, "I need to narrow my focus. What can I do right now? Ask this man how he's doing. Don't worry about anything else. Make sure that he is OK." Because he was just sitting there, stunned.

Wow. That was a very generous act-to ask him how he was doing.

Well, I was OK. And he clearly wasn't. So it was a natural response. And then I took action, and I said, "Please come on, step out, let's talk." And then he was able to get out. The thing about using these three steps is that one needs to practice them just like anything. I got a lot of practice when I was dealing with my mom. And once I practiced it, it came very naturally and now I do it all the time.

What stands out to me again is that you didn't accuse the man.you didn't start screaming at him.

No. That wouldn't have been a wholesome behavior. And the whole purpose of these steps is to do something that's wholesome. And I felt empowered because I had moved my body. That created just enough movement for me to take all that anxiety that would say "What the heck are you doing!" and just pump it right out through my large muscles. So I didn't have to suddenly lash out. But that only comes with practice. If I had lashed out-"Oh my gosh, you ran into us! What about my poor daughter!"-which is natural, a person could certainly overreact in a situation like that, then I would try to get my mind back and say, "Wait a minute. Move my body, narrow my focus, deal with what I just said. `Oh, I'm sorry, I'm really upset. I just need to tell you how I'm feeling right now. I'm really scared and upset.' Take action. `What can we do about this? Do you have a cell phone?'" Does that make sense?

 

Yes, it makes perfect sense..You refer a lot in your book to Buddhist practices, such as meditation and "beginner's mind." Are you a Buddhist?

I am.

I also see that you're a minister. What denomination?

My church is called The Center. It's down in San Diego, and I am up here in Bellingham, Washington. Reverend Marilyn Hall Day leads it. It is an independent church that works with Science of Mind-type principles, so it's similar to Religious Science or Unity. I've been a licensed minister for nine years now. I don't have a church because my natural skill in ministry isn't in running an organization-it's writing and speaking. And basically sharing all my flaws. I find the greatest gift I could give people is to tell them how badly I mess up and then how I dealt with it, because then they feel they can be honest! And then we can all be human together and there's great relief in the room.

What are some of the symptoms of the stress you've seen lately?

Ask yourself one question. Can you tell the difference between a weekday and the weekend? And if you can't-if you're not sure what day it is, you're stressed out. That's a really simple way of asking yourself if you need to cut back on the stress in your life.

Because you're doing the same things on the weekend that you're doing during the week?

That's right. And even if you're not doing it, you're taking the behaviors that you use at work and applying them to your home life. So there's no rest. A person who is stressed out just sees everything as a burden, including the things that should be most supportive to them-their familes, their home life.

So even their spiritual practice or spiritual responsibilities, like going to church or going to meditation group, might seem like another burden.

Absolutely. It's another have-to. And that's the last thing anybody needs, so they're going to reject everything that helps them. They're going to say, "I can't go to church, I can't pray. It's another have-to in my life." And when they do get a moment's time, they just sit there stunned. Or they turn on the television and numb out. Another way you can tell if you're stressed out is looking at your body. Look at your hands. When the body is relaxed, the fingers are somewhat loose and open. People who live in a state of hyperarousal, high anxiety-they're often clenched.

Our body will tell us. Most of us have a place in our body that's the weakest. There's usually a place and when we start to overdo it, that place is the one that starts hammering us. If we pay attention, that place is a gift. It's telling us something. If we don't pay attention, then it just gets worse and worse.