Friday, September 17, 2010


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)

Saturday, September 11, 2010


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)