It’s Monday morning after Thanksgiving weekend. Even coffee and leftover pumpkin pie can’t soothe the ache from the realization that the holidays have arrived. And with them, the inevitable … STRESS.
What is stress? No, really. We all complain about stress; how much of it we have, how it affects our sleep and eating, our overall health. It can cause all kinds of physical ailments: cancer, ulcers, heart attacks, the list goes on. But what IS this STRESS thing that is quite literally killing us?
Stress is simply a state of mind. OUR own mind out of OUR control. How strange a concept is that? We are the creator of the stress that causes all kinds of harm to us! As ridiculous as that is, think about this: Our society actually places VALUE on stress. We are rewarded when others see us stressed out. We have all collectively agreed that people who are frantically scurrying around in a hypertensive state of mind are highly motivated, busy people who are really getting things done. But ask yourself; are you really doing a good job when you are in a stressed out state of mind?
Not only do we value stress, we are addicted to it! It gives us a charged up sensation, which can feel good at first. However, it functions like any addiction, requiring more and more to get the adrenaline rush. Also, just like any other addiction, it will eventually have the opposite effect. Right now, there is a lot of talk about a new disease termed “adrenal fatigue” – overexertion to the point of exhausting the endocrine system! Just like any other addiction, it can be difficult to stop the stress, particularly if you are convinced that some good comes from it, and the society you live in rewards you for having a great deal of it.
Think about how you feel when you are under stress. Your mind is tight, rigid, inflexible, and anxious. Things become difficult, the world and our problems feel overwhelming. Just when you need to be flexible to move with the many changing situations, stress immobilizes you mentally. The pressure builds up. You become more rigid as deadlines approach; perhaps things don’t go as planned and your mind becomes a pressure cooker. Your mind elicits a feeling of being trapped. The mind and the body are connected, so on the physical level your body tightens as well – muscles and ligaments literally tighten up. You begin quickly to develop physical symptoms of stress such as tension headaches, migraines, skin problems, respiratory failure, heart palpitations, even strokes. Ultimately, stress shortens lifespan and can lessen the joy and love in our hearts which is what makes life worth living in the first place.
Think about longer periods of stress on a mental/emotional level. The pressure becomes so great, it turns to depression. Stress destroys our happiness and our relationships with others. We can easily develop resentment of others, particularly if they are not as “stressed out” as we are. If they aren’t racing around like mad, we think they aren’t as busy and stressed as we are. We quickly become irritable, short-tempered, even critical of them. The truth is, they might be dealing with even more life situations than we are, but they have control over their mind, so they are not experiencing stress!
Where does all this stress come from in the first place? Think about the things that stress you out. Usually it is people, work, or home situations that cause the stress. We can’t change the situation, and even if we do, we quickly realize that it’s not the things that are the problem, it’s the mind’s reaction to them. There has always has been a lot of things going on and there always will be. But when we are in a state of stress, the world around us seems uncontrolled, but really it is the mind that is out of control.
We are basically hallucinating when we are under stress. Seeing the situations of life as big, bad and permanent creates overwhelm, negativity and desperation.
When you start to look at how harmful stress really is, it becomes an addiction that you not only WANT to rid your mind of, but you absolutely MUST.
The only solution to a stress-free life is to get your mind under control. First, by realizing the delusions taking place, and then to actively alter your viewpoint.
We tend to air on the side of negative. We become fearful when things are going well. If happiness is based on external, it won’t last. We can call it the “yeah, but” syndrome. Whenever you talk about something “good” that happened, check yourself for the “yeah, but,” as that’s negativity sneaking in. You got a great new job, but now you’re working more hours. The vacation was wonderful, but it rained. When you catch yourself in the “yeah, but” syndrome, move your mind to a place of positivity. Start a daily activity of staying positive about the same situations you have been looking at through dark glasses. Once you see how much you really have going for you, maintaining a positive outlook becomes much easier.
The most important way to maintain control of your mind is to recognize the Law of Impermanence. It is the changing nature of everything. People change every moment. Nothing lasts forever. Situations change. Don’t hold on. Let go. Holding on weighs us down and makes us feel negative about ourselves and other people. Holding on to the past doesn’t help us. It’s like walking through life with a bag of stones on our back. Why hold on to the past? It doesn’t exist now. Only in our mind do the people and situations of the past continue to exist. Have a mental garage sale. Experience a sensation of relief as you let go of all the stuff that is keeping your mind in the pressure cooker. Sometimes we identify with those things from the past. You are not that person from the past. You are not the same person and the world has completely changed. All these big things that seem permanent today will be gone in a moment when they become part of the past.
We also are carrying a great deal of stress now because we’re thinking about future unknowns and fears. We actually will cause negative karma to ripen and it might come true by fixating on all the
“what ifs” of the future. But, we can’t control the future as it doesn’t exist, so again, we are allowing our mind to fall into the stress state over something that doesn’t even exist!
Everything we experience is our junk. We threw it overboard in past lives and it’s washing up on our shore now. We look to blame others, but it’s ours. We have to learn to deal with that trash because it’s ours. Lighten up and see your circumstances as opportunities. Ask yourself “what can I do with this?” when difficulties arise. Think of people who make beautiful art out of trash when you are looking at your life situations in this new light.
Remind yourself that it’s not that bad, it’s not that big and NOTHING is permanent. Think of something funny when you get stressed, laughing lightens the mind. Remember that you grow through challenges. Don’t give up on yourself. With a positive mind, you can change everything. Things are just how they appear. Change your mind and you will change your world. Accept the challenge.
By Todd Garrity, L.Ac.
Based on a lecture by Gen Losel at Avalokiteshvara Buddhist Center