Stress is today an over-stressed word. We have been brainwashed into believing that we are all under stress, which is a terrible monster. Therefore, we live constantly under the threat that unless we undergo the stress of doing something drastic to overcome stress, we are doomed to die early of at least one of the ever-growing family of stress-related disorders. Making so serious a business of bringing some cheer into our lives is hardly designed to make us cheerful. Physiologically, stress is inevitable so long as we are alive. Every time a hungry lion faces a deer, both the animals show the stress response. The body responds to stress through changes which help in facing the stressful situation. In the animal world, facing the stressful situation needs physical exertion. Both the lion and the deer have to run; one to get a meal, and the other to escape. The stress response makes sure that the heart and lungs work hard to deliver the extra oxygen, and that the liver releases the extra glucose, which the exercising muscles need. After a bout of running under stress, either the lion gets the meal, or the deer escapes and the lion gives up. In either case, the stress is over for both of them. Human beings also respond to stress in a similar manner. But human stress differs from animal stress in two important ways. First, human stress generally does not require physical exertion. Secondly, human stress does not come in short bouts – it has a tendency to last long. The stressful situations may keep changing, but stress is constant and continuous. What fluctuates is only the intensity of stress. The result of these two differences is that the faster heart beat or the higher blood glucose levels do not serve any useful purpose, and secondly, these changes become persistent. The result is high blood pressure, heart disease or diabetes.
It may be natural to ask whether human beings are doomed to suffer because of the mismatch between their stress and the stress response. Fortunately, the suffering is not inevitable, because human beings have also been given the mental ability to think and go to the root cause of the stress. Human beings suffer because their egos make them self-opinionated and selfish. Human beings suffer because their desires are endless. Human beings suffer because they are worried and insecure about the future. Animals have none of these problems. Human beings do not have to descend to the level of animals to overcome stress. Instead, human beings should use their capacity to rise to a higher level, at which also all the so-called human problems disappear. Viewed from that higher plane, the ego barriers dissolve, desires boil down to basic needs, and faith transfers the burden of the future to the Divine. Rising to a higher level of consciousness needs realizing our inherent divinity, and manifesting more of it than we generally do. The tragedy of man is that he is half animal and half divine – neither here nor there. That is what makes man the most miserable creature on earth. The glory of man is that he does not have to stay where he is. He has the capacity to use life to rise in consciousness, and rise in consciousness to enjoy life. Thus, physiologically, stress is inevitable; but spiritually, stress is unnecessary. The sooner the deeper truths of existence are understood, the greater is the ascent in a lifetime, and longer is the life spent in peace and joy. Life has been compared to a cup of tea in which the sugar has not been stirred. It is sometimes only towards the bottom of the cup that one discovers the sugar, and regrets not having taken the trouble to stir up the tea. In the same way, instead of going on living a life full of stress under the illusion that stress is unavoidable, it is better to stir up life and discover its sweetness. Life is difficult, life may even seem unfair, but life can be beautiful.
(From a work in progress: Timeless Wisdom in Small Doses)