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Hello, Madeline --

This is just my .02:

One major goal of meditation is to achieve clarity of mind. Different traditions use differing means to help beginners achieve this. Some people are naturally gifted and can clear and quiet their minds without "gimmicks". Most of us need something to focus on -- a sound or a candleflame, for example -- in order to help quiet our busy minds.

Other than the benefits of daily meditation over a long period of time, can it be used for immediate relief, as well?

I think that for most beginners this would be difficult. When people are stressed, their minds are racing even more than usual, and -- for me, at least --it takes a few minutes for a meditation to "take hold" -- minutes that won't be available in the heat of a situation. The issues of silence/background noise/inside or outside/music -- these are matters of personal preference to someone who is not following an established tradition with its own protocols. Personally, I prefer silence when I can get it, but I can't often get it. (I have identified five levels of background noise, not including human voices, in my office where I do my morning meditation. I have been meditating for a fairly long time, though, so I can ignore most of it -- most of the time -- I still have a long way to go.)

If I were guiding a new meditator, I would probably recommend that they initially try an indoor location with as few distractions as possible. If they are an auditory kind of person, I would start them with a sound-based meditation. If they are a visually oriented person, I would see how they do with a candle meditation. (I sometimes combine the two for myself.) I might recommend a breath-focussed technique to the kinesthetically inclined (which is what I am). Once my new meditator had gained some "momentum", I would not have a problem with them experimenting with outdoor meditation locations or music or chanting.

Does anyone use various techniques from various methods?

I guess I do. :)

But I feel we are still left with your original question about stress management.

My own experience tells me that I am a calmer, less stressed person because I meditate twice a day. However, meditation is a preventive when used in this way. For me, it does not lend itself to use as a "magic bullet" once the stress has already happened. Meditating twice a day is still the best single thing that anyone can do for their physical and mental health -- IMHO.

However -- for immediate stress relief, the technique I have found remarkably effective for me is "witnessing the stress". I hope I can describe this well enough that you will be able to try it:

There is a place inside you that is always calm. I will call it the Real You. The basic idea is that you are not your feelings. Your feelings are like a wind passing through a tree; when the wind is gone, the tree is still there. And so the Real You is there before, during, and after any feelings of stress, grief, joy, depression fear, etc. The trick is retreat into the Real You during these feelings (particularly the unpleasant ones), and watch them. You do not try to suppress them, or label them, or control them. You just watch from that place in you that is always serene and eternal. (At first, this may sound (and feel) like "self-consciousness", but it isn't. It is self-awareness. "Self-consciousness" is an unpleasant feeling that the Real You can sit back and watch. I sure hope this makes sense!)

When I implement this technique, the feeling I am watching gets all whiney and starts trying to defend itself and justify itself. If I stay in the Real Me and keep on watching, it is almost as though the stress or the irritation gets uncomfortable at being watched ("stage fright" sort of) and it decides it would rather go away. This involves absolutely no effort on my part except that of remembering to use the technique.

I am finding that once the Real Me has watched a particular feeling two or three times, that feeling starts coming around less and less. The same situations that always bugged the be-whatsits out of me do not stress me like they used to.

I hope this does not sound too bizarre. It only takes a quiet minute or two to implement (instead of the twenty to thirty minutes of a good meditation), and though it may be kind of hard to use the technique at first, persistence does pay off, and even a little practice makes it much easier and quicker to use.

(P.S. This is also a good technique to use during meditation, if you are struggling with racing thoughts or intrusive feelings.)

Sorry to make this such a long post, but I hate to see anyone being victimized by stress. I hope that you can find the time both to meditate AND to use the "self-awareness first aid" technique. But use what feels right for you, and let the rest go.

Many blessings!
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