- Liberating Your SELF From Stress
During the last decade we have all been exposed to an avalanche of insight and wisdom into how ‘to do’ life with a greater degree of success and happiness. Books, seminars, workshops, DVDs, CDs etc. have flooded the personal growth and spiritual awareness arenas with everything from basic mental principles on how to ‘think your way’ to happiness, to the deepest spiritual wisdom on how to create a fulfilling and purposeful life. There is, however, one habit that keeps getting in the way of our intention to apply any new and potentially life enhancing strategy, sometimes referred to as the ‘stress habit’. Living a stress free life is not an easy achievement. It can only start when we have realised and re-established within our consciousness three fundamental truths about stress.
Truth 1 - Stress is a form of pain or discomfort that comes to tell you there is something you need to change.
All pain, suffering and discomfort are messengers saying there is something we need to learn or more often, unlearn. For example, we are sitting on our chair and your body sends us a message that it is uncomfortable. So what do we do? We change our position in the chair. We don’t turn to the chair and start saying, “You rotten, nasty chair, it’s you that’s making me so uncomfortable”. (although, somewhat amazingly, some do and they spend their life blaming their chairs…so to speak!). If you put your hand in the fire what do you feel? Pain, obviously. What do you learn? Never to put your hand in the fire again. And you never do. A lesson is quickly learned and behaviour is quickly changed. So stress is a messenger and not a companion.
Truth 2 - All our mental and emotional stress is 100% self created.
This truth flies on the face of the primary beliefs that we all seem to assimilate at an early age including the belief that other people are responsible for our stress. We easily forget that it’s not the other person or the deadline or the circumstances that stress us, it is how we respond. It’s our response that ‘contains’ the stress. While this is easy theory it’s challenging to practice after a lifetime of projecting our suffering on to others. For example, you are in your car on the way to an important meeting. The person in front is driving very slowly on a winding, single lane road. There is no way you can pass. You begin to feel irritated, then frustrated, then downright angry. You are in pain, you are stressed. Who creates your pain? You do! What do you learn?
Absolutely nothing. Why? Because, like many of us, you are carrying and holding on to three learned beliefs that block your ability to change how you respond. Belief One is that it’s OK to feel angry, it’s natural, it’s a normal response in such situations. Besides, mum and dad used to get upset too! Belief Two, it’s the person in the car in front, it’s ‘them’ that is making us angry! Obviously not true. Our anger is entirely created by us. Belief Three is more like an addiction. Some of us are addicted to the suffering of anger because it gives us a quick hit of adrenaline which makes us feel more alive for a short while. The car in front of us is a great excuse to generate two stimulating chemicals in our body, cortisol and adrenaline.
Truth 3 - Stress is NOT a ‘natural’ part of life.
Having learned to believe that stress comes with the package we call ‘living’ we simply accept our suffering and do little or nothing to liberate ourselves. We say stress is a natural part of life usually because everyone else seems to be stressed. Many even seem proud of their stress and can often be heard competing to be more stressed than others! So we don’t challenge the conventional thinking that it’s natural. Which is like saying the emotions that constitute our stress i.e. sadness, anger and fear are natural when, in truth, they are signals that we have lost our inner connection with our ‘true nature’ which is peaceful, loving and contented.
If you take a moment and reflect on a recent stress experience you will notice the presence of one or more of these emotions. If you can be aware after the experience of any anger (irritation/frustration) has passed you may notice the emotion that always precedes anger. It may last only a few seconds, maybe a few minutes, but it’s always there. It’s called sadness. Sadness always precedes anger. And sadness always follows from a sense of loss. When you desire something you already have the object of your desire in your mind, (including getting to that meeting on time) and when it doesn’t show up in reality exactly when and how you ‘expect’, or when it looks like something is getting in the way, (like that car in front) it is as if you have lost it. But the sadness, like all emotion, does not last as it turns, turns, turns into anger as you look for someone or something to blame for your loss. Even the anger does not last as it will eventually turn, turn, turn into fear – the fear that such an event might happen again. Hence our most frequent ‘stress habit’ which we call ‘worry’. Worry is simply fear of loss projected into the future. It is a misuse of our imagination. And if we fear losing something enough it will happen and we are back in sadness.
And so we create and live in a cycle of stressful emotions, an emotional rollercoaster that goes up and down and round and round. We become trapped in the Cycle of Suffering without being aware that we are trapped. There is a way to free ourselves from each emotion but it requires certain ‘moments of realisation’. While these solutions can be articulated here in words, they can’t give us the power to change our stress habits, the habits of creating sadness, anger and fear, until we realise their truth for our self. The three key ‘possible truths’ (in the form of words) are as follows and, as the old saying goes, the truth will set you free. (but only if you realise it to be true for you too)
1 Freedom from the Family of SADNESS (depression, melancholy, hopelessness)
Possible Truth - You have nothing and no one to lose because you don’t actually own or possess anything or anyone. Nothing is ‘mine’! Easy theory, but it is challenging to practice as we have been deeply conditioned to believe that we do own and possess things. And yet if we look at the evidence of our entire life so far, everything and everybody that comes, eventually goes. It has to because that’s the way life flows. Nothing stays. When we truly realise we have nothing to lose, and that nothing and no one is mine, we will never experience sadness or sorrow again. Even the passing of a ‘loved one’ would no longer trigger tears but restore our capacity for ‘retrospective gratitude’ for the gift and privilege of their company. Only then do we have the ability to ‘move on’ with our life.
2 Freedom from the Family of ANGER (irritation, frustration, resentment, envy, rage)
Possible Truth - You cannot control or change the past or other people and they are not responsible for our happiness.
Anger is always the result of expecting others to do things that will make us happy and then trying to change the past and other people when they don’t, which is to try to do the impossible. This is why whenever we get angry it means we are ‘clinically insane’. Apart from the fact that we are out of control (the emotion is in control) and that we are irrational, the real reason for our temporary insanity is we are attempting to do the impossible. Fortunately it is momentary as it’s impossible to stay angry. Once you see this and stop resisting and trying to change a) what has already happened and b) other people, you will never get angry again.
3 Freedom from the Family of FEAR (anxiety, tension, worry, panic, terror)
Possible Truth – Fear is often referred to as False Experience Appearing Real – which means we misuse our faculty of imagination to ‘imagine’ some future loss and then give it the status of present reality.
It may be loss of an object, loss of health, loss of a comfort zone, loss of anything. It’s simply worry. So instead of creating images of the worst possible outcome (loss) we can turn our thinking, our ‘imaging’ around, and visualise the best, the positive, the anastrophe and not the catastrophe. But don’t make it a desire, don’t get attached to your vision. Just create it, let it go, and return to live in the present moment.
Yet despite the messenger of our emotional suffering coming to tell us there is something we need to change we often wonder why nothing changes! We either have a tendency ignore the messenger or to shoot messenger! And the stress that we create continues, as habits do! And every time we do we become a little better at being stressed! It becomes just a little bit harder to de-stress as the ‘stress habit’ becomes deeper. Eventually we may even identify so strongly with our suffering that we feel uncomfortable (somewhat guilty) if we are too relaxed and not stressed! That’s when we start thinking we are happy only when we are unhappy. It’s a truly a bizarre way to live when it reaches that stage. And for many of us, some say most of us, it can easily become just like that.
And so in a slightly updated version of the now famous Serenity Prayer we have a reminder to help us maintain the focus our attention if we want to achieve a stress free life.
“God grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change, the courage to change the one I can, and the wisdom to know it's me”
Question: Which of the three emotions do you seem to create most? Why do you think that is?
Reflection: Emotion is the price you pay today for your attachments yesterday – what does this mean?
Action: During the coming week take a moment at the start of each day to remind your self of one of the three ‘possible truths’ and then consciously practice it throughout that day.
The last two Clear Thinking e-articles were:
Are YOU Patient or Just the Patient?
How do I LIVE…NOW?
Clear Thinking is fortnightly at the moment
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