“Where the heart is willing, it will find a thousand ways. Where it is unwilling, it will find a thousand excuses.”
I haven’t experienced stress for quite a long time—until recently. All of a sudden, I found myself anxious, pressured, and ruled by my to-do list which contains way too many things to accomplish.
I know how it happened—it’s the way any habit takes hold. In a moment of unconsciousness, a thought seems to be meaningful and important. It feeds a story about things to do and not enough time to do them. It shows up as tension in the body. And a veil of stress descends as pleasure and enjoyment in the doing melt away.
Sure, I can apply some techniques to reduce stress. I can take deep breaths, exercise, and get massages, all of which I do. But these are temporary fixes. I don’t want to live under the shadow of impending stress, hoping I can find some relief.
I want to get to the source of the problem so I can be free of it. I want true, abiding peace. Why? Because it’s possible.
What I know to be absolutely true is that my essential nature is not capable of stress. There has to be a way to return to peace. And there is.
So let’s explore what we call stress because I’m far from the only one on the planet who experiences it. In the spirit of clear seeing, let’s bring out the laser to investigate:
- What exactly is the direct experience of stress?
- What does it take to shift from peace to stress?
An Opportunity for Exploration
It’s not wrong to feel stress, or anything for that matter. I know it’s a platitude to say that every experience is your teacher, but it’s true. Every single thing that occurs is either about fear or love.
If it comes from love, there’s nothing to do but enjoy and celebrate. But if it’s about fear, there is an opportunity for an empowering insight that can set you free. So let’s see what stress has to offer.
Events and happenings in the world aren’t inherently stressful. They just occur. What makes them stressful is the thoughts you have about them.
Stressful thoughts evaluate, compare, and make the present seem like it’s inadequate. They create a story of urgency. Things have to get done, they’re so important, and something terrible will happen if the list doesn’t get accomplished.
When stressful thoughts are in control, who’s the victim? You. Your whole reality centers around doing what they require of you in hopes that they will just stop. If only you push yourself to do the impossible, then maybe you will feel a smidgeon of peace. It’s a setup for…more stress.
And where are wisdom, intelligence, and clarity? Hidden behind the fog of thought. In order to access them, you need to look outside of your thoughts.
When you are feeling stressed:
- Take a moment to become aware of the way you are thinking about the situation.
- Recognize that these are distorted thoughts that don’t serve peace and happiness.
- Find those lovely, transcendent qualities of wisdom, intelligence, and clarity, and establish yourself in them.
- You have returned home. Now go forth from here.
Take away the urgency, and see everything with fresh eyes. Stress is replaced by wise choosing and efficient action.
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that stress has a physical component. Tightness in the chest and shoulders, a stomach in knots—these are hallmarks of a body in stress. Let these go unchecked, and the body may start trying to get your attention with all sorts of physical problems.
You are unlikely to see through to the truth of what stress actually is without attention to the physical sensations. You can shift your attention away from stressful thoughts, but until you acknowledge the physical sensations, you are primed for more stress. Because unseen physical sensations are the seed for a slew of troublesome habits.
I know these sensations can be very uncomfortable. But running from them leaves the pattern of stress locked into place. So they are asking you to turn your loving attention toward them. It’s very simple.
- Rest your attention in welcoming presence.
- Notice whatever is appearing in your body.
- Let the sensations be. They will do what they will do—change, intensify, decrease, disappear.
- Be very accepting of whatever happens without any preference.
That’s it. You are so beautifully embracing your experience. You aren’t attached to what happens. You are simply being with what is, effortlessly present.
And remember this: the goal is not to make the sensations go away. This is resistance, and it won’t work anyway. You are not making anything happen; you are simply ignoring the mental noise and being with what is.
You experience the sensations without acting on them.
Stressful thoughts and physical sensations come together to create the experience of stress. And both are a doorway to knowing your true nature as free of stress and fundamentally at peace.
Recognize the distorted stressful thoughts and live only in what is true. Welcome physical sensations with full awareness, and they are less likely to trigger stressful thinking. Be honest about what habits originate from stress. Intelligent exploration of thoughts and sensations creates the space for them to unwind.
Then question the one who experiences stress. Let the sense of you as separate from the world fall away, and see yourself as the all. The undivided universe is powered by love.
And stress is no match whatsoever for the power of love.
What About You?
Are you stuck in stress? Can you find your way back to peace? Sharing is most welcome…
Note for Santa Barbara locals: I’m hosting a meeting called Living in Truth. Please go to the Events page for information.