Devising strategies for managing stress has a defeatist streak about it. It seems as if having lost the battle, we are trying to find ways and means of making stress less intolerable. We can certainly do better, and aim at eradicating stress rather than just managing it. An American psychologist, Richard Carlson, has hit the nail on the head when he says that all stress results from the gap between the way things are, and the way we would like them to be. If I have less money, and I want more money – it is the gap between what I want and what actually exists that creates stress. I want to be healthy, but I am sick – once again, a similar gap creates stress. I want my partner to behave in a certain way, and he or she persists in behaving in some other way – again it is the gap between the reality and my expectations that creates stress. Logically, the gap may be closed in two ways. Either the things should change so that they become as I want them to be, or I should change so that I am happy with things as they are. Of course, the two ways are not mutually exclusive – a bit of both put together can also close the gap. Let us see how far we can change things. If I want much more money than I have, I may not be able to earn it. If I want to be healthy, but my disease is incurable, I have to live with the disease. When it comes to the behaviour of people in my life, it is almost impossible to bring about any change. Let us suppose, however, that I do succeed in changing the situation. I may work hard and earn some money. But now my desires might multiply, and I may want still more money, with the result that the gap between what I want and what exists may continue to persist. I might get well, but there is no guarantee that I will not get another disease. I might change my partner, but discover that with the new partner I have a different set of problems. As a result, the partner has changed, the problems have changed, but stress continues. In short, imperfect control on life makes it impossible for me to have everything exactly as I want. This is something universal: nobody in the world has in life everything exactly as he wants. But that does not mean that everybody also has to be miserable. We can use the other option – of changing ourselves – to close the gap between what we want and what we have. Changing ourselves here means wanting less, or reduction in desires. It means seeing something good in things as they are, or positive thinking. Positive thinking is a very potent tool for getting rid of stress. For example, not standing first in the class will not be a source of stress if one remembers the time it spares for hobbies instead of cramming. Or, not having a very good cell phone will not be a source of stress if one remembers that that reduces the possibility of losing it. However, there are some situations in which logic fails to supply any reason for being positive. In these situations, the spiritual worldview comes to our rescue. All conditions and circumstances in life have at least one thing positive – they can serve as an opportunity for spiritual growth (OSG). Suppose, a young woman thinks that her life has been ruined by just one person – her mother-in-law (MIL). Now, all human beings are a manifestation of the Divine (MOD). But it is much easier to see the Divine in people we like than in those whom we do not. The young woman’s MIL is not a problem, but a challenge. She challenges her capacity to see every person as an MOD. If she can see her MIL as an MOD, she will be able to see anybody as an MOD. If she can see everybody as an MOD, she has reached a peak in her spiritual development. Thus, her MIL becomes for her an OSG. If she considers her MIL to be an OSG, not only the stress will be gone, the MIL is also more likely to eventually behave like an MOD. Thus the daughter-in-law not only undergoes spiritual growth, the experience also acts as a trigger for the spiritual growth of the MIL. The key to positive thinking based on the spiritual worldview is love. If a person is asked to carry a weight of 10 kg a distance of 100 metres, it gives him a lot of stress. But the same person may carry in his lap very happily his 10-kg child a distance of 500 metres. The difference lies in his thinking. The difference lies in the way he looks at the two 10-kg weights. The difference in the way he looks at them is because he loves one, but not the other. In the same way, if the young woman is able to love her MIL the way he loves her mother, it will be easy for her to look at her as an MOD.
The spiritual worldview is an in infallible tool for eradication of stress because it places the control for removing stress entirely in our own hands. Fulfillment of a desire is not always in our hands, but overcoming it is. Controlling somebody’s behaviour is not in our hands, but responding to it the way we like is. Getting love is not in our hands, but giving love always is. Overcoming an illness is not always in our hands, but not being miserable due to the illness is. Nobody can stop us from looking at things the way we like. That is one freedom nobody can take away from us.
(From a work in progress: Timeless Wisdom in Small Doses)