Can Meditation Help Relieve Our Stress?
So my topic this afternoon is dealing with stress. And what I’d like to look at is how we can use Buddhist meditation in particular to help us really recognize what stress is and how we can let go and reduce the amount of stress we have in our lives, actually find the opening up the prospect of being able to let go stress completely. I think within our culture, this is a big deal, this is a big topic because I don’t know if you’ve noticed but everybody is stressed out.
Everybody is stressed out: you know folks going off to work, the folks staying at home, the grandparents are stressed out, the kids are stressed out, everybody is stressed out. The parents are stressed out taking the kids to recreation. Everybody is stressed out and we know actually within our society we discussed this, that stress is a big problem that causes a lot of disease physical disease: backaches, headaches, chronic fatigue, depression and anxiety all these things are stress-related, apparently it’s the biggest cause.
People are staying at home from work, missing work because of stress. And yet the word is actually fairly mysterious. Stress: what is it? What does it indicate? We sort of know, it seems, we talk about it a lot but what does it actually indicate? What’s actually going on when we’re experiencing stress when we are stressed out?
At the moment I think our understanding is that stress comes from the external situation so we feel that there are certain situations that are stressful.
At work it’s stressful, it’s a stressful environment my boss; not just situations but people: my boss stresses me out, at home my partner stresses me out, my kid stresses me out. Whatever it is, we feel it’s coming from the external situation and in that sense we have no choice but to get stressed out, because it’s a stressful situation.
And that’s what we say to folks “I’m in a stressful situation,” and they nod sympathetically, stressful situation. No choice. As if, you know, you see your boss coming, and he’s like a stress-inducer, he’s like radiating stress vibes and you have no choice just like being stressed just by seeing him. But clearly, if that were the case, if stress were being aroused from the external situation, then everybody who saw your boss would be responding in the same way. Everybody who was in that situation would be responding in this same way. Everybody would be losing their heads, so to speak, simultaneously.
Clearly that’s not the case you know you can be with people who are responding very positively while you’re responding by freaking out, become stressed out. So that in itself is a clear sign that it’s not the situation itself that is producing stress but rather your response. In other words, your mind is creating the stressful situation. Stress is created by your mind.
Then we need to investigate further what mind, what mind is creating stress? How is it that you’re responding to the situation so as to produce stress? I think that using and relying on Geshe Kelsang’s teachings, where we really look in-depth at the nature of the mind, we can learn to examine the mind and explore a stressful situation, and determine which states of mind are creating what we call stress.
So I think on at least as a the way of introduction we might say that stress is the tension that arises between what we want to happen and what is happening. it’s the tension that arises between what we want to happen and what is happening. I’ll just give you a simple example, a Manhattan example, because that’s where I live.
When you’re running to catch the subway, you know the train, and there you are. You want to catch it; you need to catch it because you have to go to a certain destination. You arrive there almost in the nick of time and the door closes right in front of you. It’s an interesting experiment that you can sometimes see it in the train and watch this happen at every station to a couple people. And you will see that there is seemingly universal response, as if this were a stressful situation from its own side, because everybody goes universally, no! Like that, no!
And then they immediately respond by looking up towards the conductor with this hopeful look in their eyes. The conductor is looking in the other direction, paying no attention. And then you can see, because you know from your own experience, that your mind immediately then starts basically thinking not very pleasant thoughts about the conductor, as if he was doing this purposefully to you. In fact, he probably planned the whole thing, waited until you just got there before he hit that close button, snickering to himself.
You want something to happen, and then something else happens. And what we do we reject? We reject it, we reject what’s happening. We become unhappy and we can get trapped in that state unhappiness. You can actually sometimes spend the next five to ten minutes being essentially bummed-out about what just took place.
Why, because you’re angry. Anger has just arisen in your mind you are rejecting what took place. That’s what anger does: it rejects what takes place and then it fixates on that, it fixates on the problem and exaggerates the problem. And you get caught up in this big fantasy and you can stay there for a long time feeling pain. It’s useless isn’t it? It’s much better if we responded with a solution-oriented mind, saying “yes, the train doors have closed.
Yes, I accept.” And therefore what should I do? Should I catch the next train? Should I run up to catch a taxi? Whatever you do, you respond with a solution-oriented mind if you’re practicing patient acceptance.
Let’s look at a more kind of commonly stressful situation. There you are at work and you are multitasking because that’s what we do: we multi task doing many things at one time. You’re like a juggler right? You’re juggling you’ve got your balls up in the air, maybe you’re feeling pretty good because you’re on top of it, like in the groove. You’re in the zone. Everything’s going well. Your boss comes along says, “Can you do this?” “No problem,” you say.
You can you take another ball, keep it all flowing. Another ball: no problem. Then your boss says, “by the way can you just do this?” And at this point now it’s getting a little bit edgy cause now you reach the limit of what you feel to be your capacity. And then they say “can you just do this?” and “can you also just do this?” And then at a certain point right you feel like you’re about to start dropping balls. Your mind goes “no.” Same thing: “no,” rejection. I don’t accept. But of course it’s your boss so yes, externally you’re saying yes, internally you’re saying no. And what happens is your mind gets fixated on the “No,” right?
Because you’re angry you start weaving the self-same elaboration on the disappointment and you’re holding on to that thinking “oh my boss, they always always ask too much of me, they’re so demanding. Don’t they understand my situation?” Blah blah blah blah blah. And of course now you’re dropping balls, and as you’re dropping balls you are becoming more overwhelmed because things are getting out of control.
You start worrying about you losing your job or this or that. Whatever it is, but you get trapped in a negative cycle of mind created by your mind, created by your mind of rejection. And it’s just increasing stress, its increasing pain, increasing the tension in your mind and things are spiraling downwards. Things are getting worse. And all the time you’re blaming your boss for the situation or whatever it is right. You can apply this analogy to it any number of situations. So you’re externalizing the source of the problem but in truth the problem is your own mind of anger.