Working through stressful situations. How recalibrating awareness may help.
There are two sides to life, one is the broad existential aspect, and the other is the narrower individual side. We build upon the existential foundation to express our individuality. Existence as a whole is contiguous with the life process that functions in all beings, what we perceive as individual islands life, as in our physical body, are temporary manifestations. The human frame is similar in overall appearance, but the mind is very different from person to person. For example, land may be contiguous, individual houses built on that piece of land may be the same, but the inhabitants of those houses will be different. Existence may be compared to land, physical bodies to individual dwellings and the mind to the inhabitants of those dwellings. Relaxation or stress is experienced not by the land or houses built on it, but by those living within them. The source of stress is in the mind. To get to the cause of stress, we need to work with and not against the mind.
A fresh mind is like wet clay that yields and can take any shape we desire. The freshness of mind is not a once in a lifetime opportunity, and we get a chance to experience it every morning upon waking up. For those who cannot wait until the next day, the very next moment can bring freshness and vitality back to the mind.
What is stopping us?
The momentum gained by accumulated habits, desires, likes and dislikes we hold within the mind makes its soft and malleable nature hard and brittle. When an object made of porcelain is subject to physical stress, it may crack. The same pressure when applied to wet clay creates a new form which may be changed over and over again. Mental stress is a force that can break a hard and brittle mind. But it has little or no impact on a mind that is relatively free of conditioning.
With every new life experience, the mind gets bigger and taller. Unlike a tall building which is designed to withstand forces that may impact its structural integrity, we rarely take into consideration that as we ‘grow’ the mind, we also need to develop suitable safeguards to withstand stresses that life may bring. A significant source of stress is the struggle to fulfill desires. Children have minimal, if any, desires. Consequently, they are stress-free. If one thing does not work out, they move to the next without accumulating worries and obsessions.
It takes a great deal of planning to execute and fulfill our desires. Even small and seemingly insignificant ones take a bite out of the mind's energy. For every desire we bring to fruition, there may be several which cannot find suitable expression. These may be forgotten on the surface, but subconsciously there is a struggle to find an appropriate outlet. These locked up energies come up to the surface as mental stress.
An individual’s desire has no relationship with the rest of existence. The body has to be in tune with existence; otherwise, life will cease to function through the body. Every cell in the body is in tune with the life process. This is not so for our thoughts which are vehicles for our individuality and within which lie all our mental baggage. We want to hold onto both. As we get pulled apart, there is tremendous friction. Existence is flexible, it allows us to forget it, but the mind will not let our awareness to go elsewhere. When we reach a breaking point, we experience mental fatigue which results in sleep, during which the mind relaxes.
Even though sleep may reset the mind, it cannot do anything about the contents stored within our thoughts which have a quality of hardness. We cannot easily remove and destroy them. They remain as is even after sleep or recovery from deep anesthesia. The hardness of the contents of our thoughts stem from our likes and dislike. We like something to offset an aversion about something else and vice versa. These likes and dislikes are interwoven like a dense lattice and time cements it in place.
We apply our likes and dislikes to sensory information that continually streams into the mind. When something that we like repeats in experience after experience, we consider that as enjoyment. If what we dislike recurs frequently, we may find that to be a source of mental stress.
Enjoyment of life through the mind and the senses and suffering the burden of stress within the mind are diametrically opposite. Both cannot coexist. Like a flood, either one can fully take over the mind. Just as day and night follow one another, sensory enjoyment and stress follow one another. The more we enjoy an experience, the more we want to repeat such an experience. When the sense organs are no more engaged in an enjoyable experience, that experience is given a placeholder in the mind as a desire. Unfulfilled desires are the source of many if not most of the stresses we experience in life.
If we look at the mind from a longer-term perspective and not from a momentary one, we likely won’t be so focused on maximizing enjoyment and minimizing stress. When the two are mapped over time, let’s say a month or longer, we may even find that situations that lead to enjoyment or stress may balance each other out. Just like the daily fluctuations in the stock market evens out when plotted out over a few months, from which we can get a better idea of the long term trend, we may be able to get a similar pattern concerning the mind. In Nature, everything evens out over the long haul. For example, during wintertime, days may be shorter and nights may be longer. During summertime, it is the other way around. But overall, the average duration of day and night are balanced over a year.
The trouble arises when we focus on stress as negative and enjoyment through the senses as positive. By this, we persist with enhancing the positive and minimizing the negative. The sensory pleasures we consider as positive, and stress which we find as unfavorable, stem from the same mental energy.
Just like ice cubes take the shape of the contained water is poured into before freezing, a portion of the mind’s power is poured into a container we identify as enjoyment, and another part is poured into a container we identify as stress. In nature, things that are negatively charged attract things that are positively charged. Similarly, sensory enjoyment, seen as positive, attracts the negative energy of stress, they go hand in hand.
When pleasure ceases, tension builds, and when stress is lowered, enjoyment resumes.
Enjoyment through the senses is taken for granted and accepted as a right, while mental stress is rejected and looked upon as suffering. The more we amplify and draw enjoyment through the senses, the higher is the chance of stress. Everything finds its balance including what happens in the mind.
Enjoyment tests the ability to say no to the mind and the senses. Stressful situations test the ability to say yes to the mind.
When we cross a specific limit of sensory enjoyment, the ability to say "no more" makes our will much stronger. When we are in the midst of a stressful situation, acknowledging that “yes the mind is stronger at the moment” will act as a safety valve that will help dissipate that excess energy from the mind. By doing so, we slow down the momentum of the wave of stress by not fighting that energy. By challenging the power associated with mental stress, we contribute to its growth. Both situations, where we say 'no' to the mind during sensory enjoyment and 'yes' to the mind when it tries to overpower us with stress, work to strengthen our will and resolve.
Enjoyment is an end product of our desires. When mental energy is shaped into the form of a passion, for that energy to be released, it needs to be expressed in a predefined manner. When that energy builds, it creates uneasiness in the mind which cannot hold this energy beyond a specific limit. It then spills into the body and pushes the biological chemistry from that of relaxation towards stress. When stress is heightened in the body and mind, it's source, which is our desires is forgotten.
We can overcome desires and the stresses that go along with them by shifting our awareness from our individual aspect to the existential one.
There are many ways of achieving this, and there is no right or wrong method. This exercise may help illustrate this better. Standing in front of a tree, we can watch our breathing as well as the leaves of the tree gently swaying in the breeze. What is happening here? Science teaches us that the carbon we breathe out tree breathes in and the oxygen released by the tree is what we breathe in. We can have a quiet conversation with any tree with an awareness of our breath, and this may serve to take our focus away from the individual aspect within which is contained all desires, thoughts, worries, fears, and stresses to the existential.
The moment we go from awareness of ourselves as an individual to a broader appreciation of being part of universal existence, desires, and consequently mental stress will have no power over us. Slowly over time, as flowing water erodes rocks, a flowing presence will erode the contents of our mind and awareness begins to move freely, eventually making us one (through awareness) with everything even though we continue as individual expressions of life through the physical body.