Life and Stress — recent studies have declared that stress is at epidemic levels. This is certainly so with students. What can we do differently?
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As is quite atypical for me, I’ve sat staring at the computer monitor this morning, waiting for the bluebird of inspiration to arrive. (That’s actually an “Allen” joke — my mom, as she got older, would often stop mid‐sentence, sigh, and say, “I forgot what I was saying. It’s like the bird flew out of the room and I have to wait for it to fly back in.”)
Fortunately, I ended up focussing on world events, Trump, and life in general. And that led me to think about stress.
So, that’s where we’re going today, and then for a few extra weeks. I’ve also picked up some resources for dealing with stress, and will be creating a new stress‐management group. Most of the resources will be free — a few will require a (cheap!) membership.
I was talking with a friend the other day; his daughter had mentioned feeling the following: 1) tingling face, and 2) weak legs. She called EHealth (a Canadian thing, where you can call for medical advice) and was directed to a hospital. The doc there decided that her symptoms were “stress related.”
I guess that’s a second reason for writing this series.
Anyway, is life really more stressful, and even if it isn’t, (hint: it isn’t!) whatever shall we do with that tingly, numb, confused, scared feeling?
There seems to be a very human tendency to divide and subdivide. I’ve written of this in terms of the west’s penchant to break things apart in order to understand them (the scientific method) — while the east’s tendency is to look at unified wholes (systems thinking.)
The thing is, it’s not either / or. It’s both.
Because… everything contains its opposite.
Wholeness means that we combine what seems to be distinct. It’s only human arrogance that causes us to think that things are separate, anyway. For example, if there was no darkness, we would not be able to understand light. This is the point of the small circles in the yin/yang symbol.
Where all of this comes home to roost for me is how we create “us vs. them” games — this is where stress comes from. In many cases, the “us vs. them” game is “me vs. imaginary me.” But same game, though.
We stress when what we see and what we think we “ought to” see are different.
A simple current example, blown large, is the endless nattering over the current president* of the US of A. I mention him not to stoke the Trumpian ego, but to pick something obvious and overblown.
My background is to be politically left of centre by a fair piece (in Canada, I’m a natural NDP, but tend to vote Liberal strategically.) So, my tendency is to disagree with the Orange One about pretty much everything.
Others I know think he’s right on, and should do more of whatever it is he is doing.
So far, so good. If I can understand that I disagree with both him and his supporters, there may be anger, but there is no stress. If I shift to, “I am right and they are wrong” (“us vs. them”) the ONLY result is that I feel stress.
My indignation changes nothing. My desire for change changes nothing. All I get is stressed. On the other hand, if I make changes in what I am doing (how I am living) to reflect what I say I believe, well… that has some traction.
We don’t exist in a vacuum. Nothing can ever change the fact that the “us vs. them” contains human beings on both sides; we are therefore not so different — as people. But if all that happens is that our focus remains on the differences, nothing will be accomplished.
If the focus becomes what we have in common as citizens of a fractured world — a world in need of unity — then there is the possibility of change.
In our personal lives, this is equally the case. It appears that there is no choice about how we are with each other — people are people. And yet this is very far from being so.
If I turn my focus to conflict — to the things that separate and differentiate us, I will always feel isolated, stressed and scared.
If I focus on the things that we hold in common, the drama seems to drop away.
I see it like this — I am on a walk and the purpose of the walk is to understand myself, while appreciating the journey.
Each step of the way, I have the opportunity to simply walk, observe and be open, or to judge. The judgement can be about anything — the weather, the terrain, my travelling companions. If I choose to focus only on my judgments, I find (although I probably won’t notice) that I am in my head and missing the walk.
And yet, the walk is
all that there is.
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The conflicts and divisions I dream up in my head are convenient when I am running an experiment and I want to isolate something. In science labs, we do this all the time. When I apply is to my life, I simply isolate myself. Surely you have noticed this.
The isolation plays out in a frigidity of sensation, a rigidity in thought and a slowness of step. Suddenly, there is no “walk.” There is just the internal drama — the stories, the games I play with myself. I am no longer present in the walking — I am lost in the garden (or jungle) of my head — where nothing is real.
And a strange thing happens.
I am drawn — pulled — to make the
drama real and the walk the illusion!
It would be worth your while to notice your drama‐making, and to resist going there.
Stress is always the result of obsession. To repeat, it’s an internal process of comparing mental imaginings to reality, and choosing the imaginings. PLUS, then demanding that others change their being so you can stop feeling bad.
The problem is, they are thinking the same about you! Everybody blaming others for their internal games!
I propose a radical acceptance of the walk,
and a radical resistance of the internal drama.
As you notice a pull toward blaming, distance making, anger, conflict, have a breath and pull back a bit. Wonder why you are making this choice. Examine the self‐righteousness that comes with isolating yourself. Give yourself a shake, and come back to the walk.
You might just find that nothing much is really going on, the terrain is interesting and the people surrounding you are once again pretty much like you. You may notice commonalities as opposed to differences.
And then, if you are really, really lucky, you may just notice the essential oneness of it all. And you can settle in and enjoy the walk.
The walk is the walk is the walk. You have no choice about that. How you are and who you are, and how you focus on the walk — that’s your choice.
If you are going to walk (and you are!) choose to let the comparisons and blaming and finger‐pointing go, and live out of your integrity.
And the stress begins to fall away… and you can get on with actually doing something with your life…