As a yoga teacher, what I am about to say might seem a bit radical so prepare yourself… I don’t believe stress is a bad thing or particularly unhealthy. In fact, I think stress is universally necessary for human growth and evolution. What can be unhealthy is our reaction to stress.
Now, before I go any further, I want to be very clear that I am not referring to the stress the results from a traumatic incident (abuse, war, etc.). I am talking about the stress of everyday life – too many emails, a boss or co-worker that you don’t agree with, 1700 to-dos and about 17 minutes to get them all done… That kind of stress.
When we look at our typical reactions to this type of stress – blame, judgement, obsession – it is pretty easy to see that most of these reactions come from a place of fear. Our ego is telling us in times of stress that “something/someone is trying to hurt me” or “I am bad/wrong”. My personal example from this week: I just returned from a week on vacation and when I sat down Monday morning in front of my computer, my head almost exploded when I saw the amount of unanswered email waiting in my inbox. Irrationally, my first response was one of irritation at the number of emails and the time it was going to take to respond. But, a few minutes pause allowed me to see that truly I wasn’t irritated at the number of emails. I was feeling guilty and “bad” for not responding to these emails sooner. My ego-self was worried that people were mad at me for not responding. Hmmm. Another pause to ask, is this true? Happily, in this situation I could tell myself that no one was going to be mad at me for not responding to an email immediately. Nothing was urgent; I had an out of office that gave folks notice that there would be a delay in responding. It was with these two steps that my entire reaction to this stress changed.
First, I noticed what I was really feeling underneath the initial reaction. Second, I looked for the actuality of the moment. The truth outside of my own story. Then I was able to see that this was no crisis. I didn’t have to respond to these emails immediately. I could respond thoughtfully and honestly as time allowed. Ah, breath again.
Albert Einstein once said, “we cannot solve problems with the same thinking that created them.”
We must make a critical shift in our thinking around stressful situations. Reminding ourself, nothing is wrong. Can we allow everything that happens in our day to be ok? Even the fender bender that makes us late to our meeting or the grocery store that doesn’t have the one thing we needed? If nothing is wrong, what are we upset about? Truly, what is the actuality of this moment? Is it that we are worried about losing a client if we miss the meeting? Or our families getting grumpy if dinner is an hour late?
Once we can see the true reason for our feelings, we can allow them to be present with a deeper attention. If I call home and tell the kids to eat a snack will that allow me to take a breath and try the next grocery store?
We build muscle by stressing the muscle and then allowing recovery time. In the same way, our spiritual awakening or personal growth is strengthened when we experience stress and allow time to investigate and maybe change our reaction to it.
May whatever circumstances arise serve the awakening of compassion and wisdom. May it serve the awakening of my heart & mind.