I watched my video last night before posting it here, and some words stuck out to me: "We're all so stressed out these days." Now, I could come up with a number of reasons why that seems to be the case, but it occurred to me that "being stressed out" might just be a matter of choice. And then, wouldn'tcha know it, I was reading this morning in my new Essence of the Upanishads by Eknath Easwaren (one-word review: wow) about the origin and causes of stress. Briefly, it appears I am on to something, according to this timeless Indian spiritual classic.
Apparently, in addition to the untrained human mind's default setting of living in the past (anger, regret, resentment, etc.) or the future (anxiety, fear, anticipation, etc.), our minds tend to react to circumstances and events based on an extremely narrow set of requirements that make up our definition of what's "acceptable."
It's kind of like if your body needed the temperature to be always 72-75 degree outside for it to survive. Anything outside that tiny range would prompt extraordinary, life-or-death measures to neutralize the threat.
That's pretty much what our untrained minds are doing when we feel the emotional and physiological symptoms of stress: high blood pressure, pounding heart, anger, depression (anger turned inwards), headache, upset stomach, and eventually the whole range of illness that can come with chronic, unrelenting stress.
Our untrained minds are reacting to a perceived threat to our survival. Common examples today include losing a job, a house, or a spouse, and hostile encounters daily with other peoples' hair triggers.
Easwaren writes, "Stress is not caused so much by difficult conditions as by what we think of such conditions.... [T]he world does not impose stress upon us; we impose stress on ourselves.... [W]hat brings on stress is often no more or less than our strong, self-centered desires and self-will—the fierce need to have what we want when we want it, and in the way we want it, too. If you look at anyone who seems chronically under stress, you will often find that person subject to rigid likes and dislikes which he or she cannot stand to have thwarted."
Easwaren goes on to tell the story of a famous surgeon whose reputation as high strung and opinionated was legendary. He often used to complain, "My life is at the mercy of any rascal who chooses to annoy me." He died of a massive heart attack one day immediately after a colleague contradicted him.
Can you relate? I know I can. How many of my days have I allowed to be ruined by a harsh word, an unintended slight, or even (gasp!) constructive criticism delivered with love?
Here's what we can do: train the mind through meditation. According to the Katha Upanishad (in modern language courtesy of the brilliant Easwaren): "When your mind is calm, patient, and compassionate, you do not respond to life with anger.... All the vital functions of the body keep their appropriate pace [despite the circumstances you find yourself in]. This is the kind of control I am interested in, for it has a direct bearing on living in full health, free from rigidity and destructive ways of thinking."
Well, here's Cisco's and my (poorly lighted) video of the week, which sparked my little epiphany! We hope you like it and benefit from it. Please let us know your thoughts!