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"Lightheartedness" Helps You Cope

A Zen Approach to Staying Afloat in Times of Stress

Recently I attended a course on Positive Psychotherapy at Harvard Medical School and a lecturer discussed lightheartedness as healing phenomenon. It seemed almost paradoxical that a psychiatrist would suggest this method, as our traditional approach is to move through dark states of mind. Grappling with memories and fears facilitates a freer state of being or so the thinking goes. The poet Robert Frost wrote, “The best way out is always through.”

But as it turns out, detachment may be more effective than immersion when it comes to managing angst. “Lightheartedness” may be a wiser path to enlightenment, peace and mental balance.

What is lightheartedness? Lightheartedness in the dictionary and lightheartedness in Eastern Philosophy are defined differently. Buddhist thought purports that cares co-exist with cheer. The dictionary suggests that lightheartedness involves the absence of cares.

Lightheartedness in Wiktionary: the property of being lighthearted, joyous, cheerful, without a care.

Lightheartedness in Buddhism: “Light-heartedness is a state of mind and being that combines the elements of serious mindedness and deep caring with a sense of lightness and fun. It avoids the extremes of either being over serious and heavy in our approach or resorting to purely superficial/hedonistic fun as an “escape” from the pressures of our life.” This is a quote from Tony Ouvry, meditation expert. light-heartedness-as-your-object-of-meditation\

So how can you cultivate “lightheartedness?” It may seem impossible if you are weighed down with worry, but it is not. Research shows that meditation practice, and the key word is practice, is a powerful treatment for cultivating lightheartedness as well as reducing anxiety. When a coping technique is a learned habit, when it is built into our being, we can rely on it to carry us through difficult periods. It is there to fall back on when stressors strike.

Here is one form of meditation that can lead to lightheartedness. It called The Relaxation Response, has four main components and was developed by Harvard cardiologist, Dr. Herbert Benson.

1. Sit in a comfortable position

2. Repeat a comforting phrase, prayer, poem, song or rhyme

3. Breathe in a concentrated way

4. Maintain a passive attitude.

Heart rates, blood pressure, stress and anxiety decrease with this method. Benson found that removing actual stressors was not crucial (and often not possible) but altering one’s approach to them was. To achieve lightheartedness, Ouvry suggests that you say, “I hold it lightly,” to yourself when you breathe in and “I care deeply,” when you breathe out.

With this method, you are not denying your concerns or being controlled by them but rather changing what you do or rather don’t do with them. By filling your mind with calming words and your body with air, you invite in alternative thoughts, feelings and experiences. When worries move from all consuming to just existing, lightheartedness– a “playful, involved detachment” (Ouvry) – arises and helps you cope.

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