Roots of Stress

Live in joy, even among the troubled.

The Buddha

It’s all around us. Pressure, strain, and anxiety with the resulting tension seem to be a common theme. It’s difficult to argue with the notion that life and the human experience are stressful. However, I can’t resist.

Stress is not a god given right. It is human made. We create it, we sustain it, and frequently, we nurture it.

There is always an opportunity for stress. With all that’s currently happening in the world, it may seem that the prospects for anxiety and worry are even greater than usual. Yet, even if the economy miraculously rebounded overnight, hunger was ended, and world peace prevailed, I think we would still find plenty of excuses for the creation of stress.

Stress – and all its accompanying symptoms – is a form of suffering. We may not be able to put an end to all of our suffering, but we can learn to recognize how and why we create it. Per usual, at the root is most likely a question of our worth. But, I also think there is a foundation of expectations. And with expectations, frequently comes judgment and pressure. Some bar that is placed out of reach. The consequences for failing to live up to expectations is often stress. In order to avoid facing our feelings of disappointment, it can be easy to create a sense of being overwhelmed, out of time, and out of control – maybe even unsupported and alone.

Disappointment can take many forms. Tension and defensiveness continue as our physical health and overall well-being take the hit. Our lives may even seem to be working against us as stressors increase and peace seems out of our grasp. Even when we know we are creating anxiety and tension, we may feel that we simply cannot stop. Yet, even in the most challenging of circumstances, we have a choice.

We can wake up and remember: Life is not a neatly organized experience with rules and structure to live up to. If we are feeling pressure to accomplish more, be more, have more, and so on, they are not based on some universal law. The rules are of our own making. Ironically, instead of fostering us to do better, our sense of inadequacy is more likely to impede our progress.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting a magical life that is free of stressors and challenges. Stress, from time to time, will happen. The challenge is how do we learn from stressful times in order to diminish our reactivity and let peace prevail?

Image by Lala

Observe. Pause, breathe, and expand your perspective. Remember that we cannot and do not live perfect lives. If we wait for everything to be taken care of, all of our tasks to be completed, and a certain look and feel to manifest, we will have a long stressful journey. Sometimes, simply taking a moment to recognize the trap we are creating is enough. We may not feel better right away, but as many teachers say, we are growing simply by waking up to the reality of what we are doing.

So why not lighten up on ourselves! Let go of the expectations and judgments that are creating pressure and tension. Give peace a chance. Choose an alternative view that conveys acceptance. In those times when all we can do is bear witness to another’s pain, we can chose to do so with an open heart. We can give ourselves permission to discover peace and happiness even when those around us cannot.

Pain is not eased by the creation of additional suffering. The welfare of earth, humanity, and the universe are served better with joy. We may not be able to change the world and control our lives in a manner that avoids stress, but we can promote peace by starting within. We can live with joy, even among the troubled.


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