Survival Smarts, Part 4: Life Killing Stress
Stress is the great global disease of modern times and the root of much of what ails us. I’m in a hurry. You’re in a hurry. Everybody is chasing around, cutting corners, trying to get stuff done. Human beings turn into human doings. You remain oblivious of the deepest part of your being in which there is never and can never be any stress. Stress cannot reach there. That depth of your being is deeper than stress can dive.
Change, you know, attracts your awareness outward, away from your being, to assess and respond with a view to survival. In non-emergency states, your awareness could be in touch with your being. But, the way you habitually operate, it’s most likely to be following thoughts of crisis even in the absence of crisis, or engaged in fantasies and distractions. You’re good at bringing our awareness outward from within but have little training in or practice of moving your awareness inward from outside.
How does stress work? Can you get a handle on it? Can you live without stress in the midst of stress? Once you know how it works and observe it working within you, it’s not difficult. Here’s how it goes.
Let’s say you’re at rest and your awareness is in touch with life inside the core of your being. Most people are in THAT place only during deep sleep, but then unaware of it. And so, in our experience, this feeling of being in touch with life does not exist. We miss it. It’s there but it’s not there for us. That’s the nature of experience. It’s real when you’re in it, and it doesn’t exist for you when you’re not in it.
For a moment, just pretend. There you are, all quiet and calm within yourself. A change happens. Immediately, your awareness disconnects from your quiet calm and moves outward to the source of the change. The change that attracts your attention is always about a person or a situation; someone or something. You identify a threat to survival. You react/respond with ‘fight or flight’. In your mind, you think, “That person or situation stressed me.” But is that really true? It is not. Let me explain.
People have different perceptions of what is stressful and what is not. Stressed out of my mind by an event, I could stand beside someone who remains utterly unstressed by the same event. What’s the difference between us? My emotional reaction to that person or event gets me into a flap. The other person is unaffected because it has no emotional meaning for her or him.
So I have a question for you? If I, like the other person, didn’t give a hoot about the event, would I get stressed? You know the answer. A person or event about which I’m neutral does not stress me. The truth is that it’s not the event that stresses me; it’s what I think in my head regarding the event. This means that I use the event as a trigger (or an excuse) to stress myself. Think about it. I blame a person or event for thoughts I create in my own mind. Is this also true for you? I think you know it is.
Remaining neutral, you will not be stressed. It takes effort to become aware of what you bring to people and events that turns on your stress response. You may think someone SHOULD act or something SHOULD be a certain way, but the person or situation is not how you made up in your mind it should be. You get stressed when you want people and events to be different from the way they are, and don’t accept people and events as they are. That’s the basic recipe for stress. Accept people and events as they are, and you own the equanimity that goes with acceptance.
So what can you do about it? Would you like to hear my cheeky short answer? I’ll follow it with an explanation. My cheeky answer is that you should mind your own business!!! You learned to think that you have to have an opinion on everything in the world. But you don't. You have another option, which is to follow your rules for how you live, and to accept that others live by other rules. As long as they don’t impose their opinion on you, you don’t have to impose yours on them. Acceptance is more powerful than judgment, and it works better in your life.
I said you should mind your own business. What’s your business? I’ll tell you, even though it is not my business to tell what your business should be. In the broadest, deepest, most profound sense, your business is to be, feel and enjoy the awesome, wondrous, magnificent, divine gift of your life by being fully present in its grandeur.
You were given life as a gift to enjoy. Enjoying it is not selfish. If you don’t enjoy it, it’s a wasted gift because no one else can enjoy it for you. Enjoying your existence is your business. Let me ask you one more question. If you’re busy enjoying your own life and have no time to mind everyone else’s, do you get stressed? No. You don’t have time to trigger yourself by making judgments.
Many of you think you need stress to motivate you to do what needs to be done. It’s not true. Usually, stress makes you less effective. You don’t have to feel stressed to do what needs to be done. Children get more done playing than ‘grownups’ do working. Why? Playing children are unstressed, so they’re free to create. They invent games, act them out and learn a lot. Content adults tend to do more than stressed adults. You do better work when you focus and enjoy what’s before you than when your mind is generating anxiety, anger and mean thoughts.
Feeling calm, accepting and content from the personal roots within you cures stress. These feelings are always in you. Bring and keep your awareness there while you attend to your tasks in the world. In time and with practice, you learn to be present and aware in both your own inner being and the external world at the same time. Some call it ‘simultaneous presence’. In that state, there’s no stress. It takes time to get good at it. Some situations may continue for a while to trigger stress within you. With practice, you’ll let these triggers go because nothing feels better with stress than it does without it.