There is a common myth that You need to be doing some sort of practice outside of your busy life that will cause your busy life to be less stressful. Think about it like this; let’s say you were jumping out of an aeroplane without a parachute so before you go you sit down and get a massage in order to relax. That’s the common myth makes people even more vulnerable in their working day to stress and overwhelm.
Moreover, it is wise to think about how you handle events of the day so that they don’t cause you so much stress. That’s why is a process. Stress relief is necessary when we cause stress. We are in complete control of the cause of stress. Those are our decisions and we make them 1000 times a day. We choose whether to be upset by somebody. We choose whether to be rattled by something going wrong or to go with the flow. We choose whether to be deep in our communication or shallow. These are the multitudes of choices we make throughout the day that result in what we call quality of life.
But those choices affect more than the quality of our life. They impact the decisions we make in business, the intimacy we share in relationships, the stress we place on our biology and therefore our ageing, the impact we have on our goals and ambitions and the price we pay to achieve them.
It all begins with the awareness that stress is a choice. Events are events until we choose to make them otherwise. An example of this might be a car accident in which we are involved but not hurt. 10 seconds after it’s happened we are free. Firstly we are free because there is nothing we can do about it. Secondly we are free because we are not hurt and therefore there is something to be thankful for. Thirdly, we have control over our emotions we can choose to be distraught or we can choose to be philosophical. The value of being distraught is that we cope with the shock and sometimes this coping mechanism leads us to secondary stress points that add extra weight to the event. It’s that extra weight that we must be aware of and try we can prevent.
It all sounds very easy but when I went through a series of marriage breakups I struggled to apply my own philosophy because the emotion got the better of me before I had the chance to get the better of it. That was a long time ago and I’ve learnt a lot since then. I’ve learnt that the main cause of emotional struggle during a break up is not the loss of a partner or a loved one but the shattering of the dream and sometimes those dreams were built on a bicycle built for two not for one. You see, when we lack self awareness we become shallow and when we become shallow we look around for something to anchor us to make us feel secure and strong. That anchoring is usually an attachment to something that is, in our view, more stable and stronger than us. That’s an illusion. And it’s the shattering of this illusion that causes the struggle in a marriage breakup.
We also become attached to our jobs because they provide the revenue that is necessary to cause our dreams to come true. When that revenue is threatened our dreams are threatened and just like in a marriage breakup when our dreams become questionable or their manifestation becomes doubtful, we become shallow, vulnerable and emotional. So underneath all stress there is a dream, a question, a challenge and most importantly, a solution.
Going back to the car accident scenario, shock aside, a series of challenges will run through our mind as soon as the accident happens. Where were we going and how do we get there now? Am I in the wrong and what will be the personal challenge of sorting out victim and Victor in the resolution of the financials. Why did it happen to me? And did I do anything to cause this? These other for general questions we are asking ourselves day and night and these are the four questions that get negative answers when things go wrong.
Stress is the result of the challenge to one of or all of those for questions: where did I come from? Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going? We ask these questions in every activity we ever do in life from the smallest to the largest thing. When one of these answers becomes vague panic sets in. I recently hurt my back which is no big deal unless I did find myself as a world leading Himalayan guide executives trekking in the Himalayas. With a hurt back I lose three of the four questions: who am I? (Well you no longer at Himalayan mountain guide) why am I here? (Well, you’re no longer here to guide people up mountains) where am I going? (Well, very unlikely to the Himalayas) and I could also add a fourth, where did I come from? (Who cares).
When we communicate its these four questions that sit beneath the surface of every word we say and when we attach those questions to answer is that are outside of us, to things, to people, to beliefs, to incomes, to activities, to a sport, to a brand, whatever it is that’s outside of us reveals our vulnerability and the more we attach to things outside of us the more likely we are to become stressed over something quite small.
Instead of being attached to things outside of us in order to create stress resistance and therefore reduce our vulnerability in times of challenge it is wiser to bring that connection internal, within us.
However, this too is prone to confusion because internally we can have attachments to states of emotion such as: being good, kindness, generosity, friendliness, peacefulness, love etc. If we attached to states of emotion that vary or can change in circumstances then we are again in a shallow state and very prone to being blown off course during the working day.
So rather than argue which practice is best for us to reduce our stress or relieve our stress or make us more resilient to stress it is much wiser to ask what way of thinking eliminates the cause of stress and therefore gives us the freedom to respond in stressful situations in a way that could be called healthy.
It is also critical to recognise that there is no job, no relationship, no sport, no health program, no diet, no club, no activity, no holiday, no person, no business, no religion that exists without causing stress. Therefore, the ability to stand still without emotional reaction in the face of stress gives us the ability to be present, fully experiencing the gifts of those aspects of life without overreacting and causing secondary troubles for ourselves. This is called simplification of life.
I have studied at University for eight years of my life, so I truly understand the benefits of complexity in exploring the unknown. However, the geniuses amongst us are able to distil that complexity into incredibly simple awareness. It is my aim for the remainder of this book to distil the complex awareness of relationships, business, communication, shock, emotion and health. For the past 35 years I have studied in the worlds of yoga, business, Zen, human development, metaphysics, biophilia, sport, leadership, healing, shiatsu, reiki, qigong, tai chi, ayurvedic herbs, tibetan medicine, shamanic practices, personal mastery and more. And I can say this: there is no panacea, teachers in each category disagree, category two category they disagree, solutions proposed in each category sometimes work and sometimes don’t, gurus really practice what they preach, and research done to the most exacting standards in each category can prove and disapprove the same conclusion within three months. In other words, it is dangerous to understand things in their fragments.
If you take the Earth is a great example of what I am talking about here and travel across to the Amazon you will see deforestation taking place at an unprecedented pace. Standing in the Amazon is shocking, and this is what we call a fragmented observation.
Those who have this fragmented observation are in the problem and therefore see the problem from that perspective of a participant. From this viewpoint there is only possibly a shallow solution possible. But if you were to take a helicopter and rise above the Amazon, rise above the atmosphere, and sit upon the moon and observe the Amazon from this perspective you would see the deforestation of the Amazon and the reforestation of some other part of the planet in perfect balance. This is what we would call a helicopter view, or a non-fragmented viewpoint.
Let’s go back to the back pain I mentioned earlier. If my back is hurt then emotionally I am in the pain and I can only see it from that perspective of a participant, it is my back, is my pain, it is my life, it is my problem, it is my stress and therefore my solutions and reactions are 100% based on a participant perspective. In other words I am solving the problem from the level at which the problem was created. I can in no way be unemotional. I can in no way stay in my heart. I can in no way provide an objective solution to the struggle. I can only react. My reaction will inevitably cause a secondary problem and it’s the secondary problem that will cause me the most stress. My back pain is one thing, the loss of opportunity is another thing, but my spontaneous reaction to all that and the emotions I experience will generate more problems by affecting the people around me, my work my relationships and potentially my health.
So the question we all have is how do we get out of our own way and step out of stuff when it happens. Like the car accident or my back problem or even a divorce. But it can be just simple day-to-day discomforts with other people. It can be as simple as somebody pushing in on a bus queue. It can be as simple as spilling coffee on your clothes on the way to a meeting. It can be as simple as having too much to do and too little time to do it in and feeling completely overloaded and overwhelmed. It’s in the smaller situations that we get to rehearse, to practice, to be totally real, to engage our inner centring and so-called spiritual practice in the moment rather than delaying it to have stress recuperation and rebalancing at a later time in the day or week or month or year.
The opportunities to be spiritual in your day are infinite because every time you make a choice, every time you make a decision, every time you react or feel like reacting to a situation you are given a range of choices and one of those choices, only one, will be a spiritually developed position. The key to this spiritually developed position will not be a prescribed metaphor of a motion for example: it will not be gratitude or love or kindness. Rather those emotions might be the result of your spiritually developed position. Let me explain:
A spiritually developed position on any situation, any activity or event, any opportunity for reaction or stress, must be based not on an outcome but on a process of thinking. Too much of prescriptive behaviour bypasses the real opportunity and just lands in a prescribed and very vulnerable stand. For example if you are on a bus and somebody pushes you and you feel the need to respond with anger but know that this is incorrect and instead respond with kindness you have achieved quite a large step but the anger will still exist inside of you and you could develop illness, built-up tension, stress, frustration and even resentment to the situation even though you behave in a very acceptable and admirable manner. So, it’s how do you dissolve the situation into a spiritual awareness without using prescriptive outcomes that bypass the real process of living and thinking in harmony with the universe and nature? This is what I would love to spend the next chapter of this book explaining because it is possible to dissolve stress at the source which is your thought process. If you can achieve this you will free up your mind to be much more adaptable and friendly, less rigid, less argumentative and more enjoyment will come because you will see through situations that are stressful rather than be caught up in them and therefore creating secondary problems out of primary ones.
In this process we are not trying to diminish emotions, nor are we suggesting that some situations are incomprehensibly challenging to see through. But by practising these skills you will eventually learn to trust the universal laws, nature, and therefore know that reactions are premature and that some deeper exploration will reveal something that may not be obvious at first. This is the key. We do not want to live on faith alone that there is an order in all the chaos that causes stress. We want to live the majority of time by experiencing the order in the chaos so that we have first hand experience and therefore trust that when there is a conflict between our emotional reaction and our heart we can delay gratification long enough to explore and find the truth.