The subject is stress.
What could be more thought-generated than anxiety? After all you can’t see it, hear it or touch it. There’s no denying it’s a response to external stimuli, but so what? There is nothing mandatory about it. In other words no one has to feel it. There’s no law says you must be stressed when faced with something that our society has decided is stressful. In a so-called stressful situation the enlightened human being – and I make no special claims for myself at this point – would not feel stress because he or she would not think stressful thoughts.
Many people find it hard to accept when I tell them that there is no such thing as stress, and I can understand why. It seems completely counter-intuitive, especially these days when life can appear random and hostile at times. What’s more, sharing and comparing our stress levels with friends and neighbours is pretty much a national pastime. “You think you’ve had it bad? Wait ‘til you hear what happened to me!” This sharing has a short-term therapeutic effect. We are relieved to ‘get it off our chest’ and feel a little better for it. But in fact all we are doing is creating more thinking – and therefore more stress – for ourselves. The act of sharing makes it real, when in fact it is all just neutral thought that has been ‘stoked’ into life. The fire was happily going out until we put another log on it.
What are the four classically stress-filled life events? You probably have your own list but in most surveys people name moving house, a death in the family, job loss and divorce. You tell me you had all four in one weekend? Ouch! That would surely be a ‘special case’ where stress is absolutely unavoidable? It certainly looks that way. But let’s look a little deeper. Right away from a personal point of view I can discount the last two. I’ve ‘suffered’ job loss and divorce and in each case the end result was very welcome. I’m not saying I enjoyed either but in fact what came from them was ultimately a more fulfilling job and a more fulfilling relationship. Good things.
And the first two? Well it’s true that we have a complicated conveyancing process in this country, with many people caught up in ‘chains’ and suffering frustration as a result. Armed with that knowledge the wisest thing to do is to see the whole process as a game, with the final outcome as unpredictable as the throw of a dice. People suffer needlessly because they look around their prospective new home and seduce themselves with the thought, purely imagined, that they already own it. Crushing disappointment follows when what was never theirs in the first place gets taken from them. Do you see how it works?
We all do it. But we do it innocently. We do it because we have been programmed to think that way.
Then there’s death. To say goodbye to a loved one can be painful and upsetting. There’s really nothing good to be said about death, especially sudden death. But we should all remember that it’s a natural and inevitable consequence of being alive and fearing it achieves nothing. The wise man points to road-kill and reminds us: that is our fate. But we can banish morbid thoughts. If you’ve ever cried at a funeral you know that there is love in those tears, there is hope and faith. In saying goodbye we affirm our deepest conviction that life is beautiful and precious.
Some go as far as to say that we need a certain amount of stress, that it’s good for us. It motivates and strengthens us. ‘Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ as they say. Is there any validity in this argument? Let’s see…
Lentils are good for you. Porridge oats are good for you. Bran Flakes are good for you. Those things exist in the world. But stress can only be said to exist in our minds, if it exists at all. Can something made of nothing but thought be good for us? No. Stress is not a thing. Therefore… stress cannot be ‘good for you’.
I’ve spoken about an incident where my daughter Claudia seemed to suffer some kind of a fit during lunch when we were on holiday. It was brought on by heat and she recovered fully. The point of the story was that I was calm at the time and only felt stressed later, recalling the incident. This is borne out by many, many people caught up in traumatic, life-threatening events, people held up at gunpoint, survivors of plane crashes, automobile pile-ups, fires and so on. Under extreme circumstances the body and mind seem to enter a trance-like state that evolution or our God-given spiritual intelligence dictates offers the best chance of our getting out alive. There is no thinking going on. We act in our very best interest. (I prefer to say that Mind has our back). Then what happens? We come away from the terrible event and we think about it. We wonder what might have happened …
And only then do we fall apart.
The injunction: ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ is in itself stress-inducing. It tells us we have every right to be fearful. Try explaining it to an enthusiastic seven year-old, full of life, bursting with possibility and potential, loving life.
It is only a thought. Do we need it?