Have you ever taken a step away from your mind long enough to notice the relationship between stress and the thoughts you carry in your head? Can you imagine the release if you only could stop all thoughts for a few minutes? Of course we do this every night for a few hours. We realize that if we were to stop sleeping these same thoughts that maneuver us through the day would force us into mental bankruptcy and we would lose our minds. So we try to get our sleep.
Most westerners live in an internal world fueled by an inner urgency to get things done, to do it right, to perform well for others, and to frequently self-reflect on their own inadequacies. They sometimes become exhausted and ill under the weight of their own demands and self-judgment. Between living up to the pressures of both work and home expectations they collapse at night in front of a TV or computer that throws forth more stress in the form of world news, violent visions and commercials that emphasize things they are supposed to want and need, and then fall into bed wondering why they cannot easily go to sleep. In the back of many minds are the thoughts if they could only do life better, make more money, say the right thing or feel more energized then life would be easier and stress would go away.
The mind with its great gift of assessment and division greatly interferes with the true potential of the human spirit to be at peace. How do we break the grasp it has on our freedom to simply be ourselves and enjoy life as it is? How can we step away from self-imposed stress? Here are a few possibilities.
Recognize that thoughts are simply neurons firing, and the messages are generally based on negative past conditions. Brain researchers have found that our brain holds the impact of dangerous or bad encounters much longer than positive ones. (Possibly forever!) This is a human reflex based on the need to protect ourselves from danger, but translated psychologically it becomes a tendency to worry about everything from how we handled a phone call to whether we will get to work on time. To become more free we can develop a thought-witness, a part of us who does not take so seriously every thought crossing the mind (millions in a day). Very few thoughts are true -- and most of these are the practical ones such as "The car needs gas in the next 10 miles" or "The baby is crying now." Mind tends to take simple thoughts and move into a worry about all the possible scenarios before determining a specific action, when often just responding to what is in front of you is all that is needed. The mind's tendency is to wander and associate every bad thing you have ever heard with every circumstance. It is often irrelevant. Make your thoughts irrelevant unless there is an obvious immediate response. Leave room in your head for inspiration.
Recognize worry and catastrophic thinking for what it is -- an energy drain like taking the wrong trail on a long hike and ending at a dead end.
If the tendency to worry is a cause of stress for you then schedule your worrying time. Pick a time of day to worry about a specific problem, and every time the thought arises tell it you will think about it then. When the time comes you have the choice to use it in a constructive way or let it pass until the next day.
If you are overloaded with responsibility let go of it. You can be very busy without feeling so responsible and it is much easier. This is called living in the moment. Finding enjoyment while doing the dishes. Having the kids tell you a joke as they get ready for bed. Clearing out the to-do list on the desk. Being fully present with a client or friend. Postpone worrying about the kids at work and worrying about work when with the kids. One reason we become exhausted is that we are often not where we are, but doing two things at once, one with our bodies, and the other with our minds. Soothing music may be helpful while driving; listening to world news may not be.
If there is one thing that awakening spiritually has to teach us all it is to be present now, where the spirit and consciousness actually sit. It is to be the presence that is so much bigger than thought, so much more willing to be in the moment, and so at peace when in the midst of life. This is the way to find happiness in the small moments of life, which give us energy to face the greater needs. Simple presence is the way to find clarity of mind and invite inspiration and intuition into our lives. As long as our head is crowded with worry and stress where is the space for something fresh and new to arise? We need moments of pleasure and emptiness to allow creativity and vitality to arise.
Taking moments for yourself -- just sitting and feeling into your body, your connectedness to your chair, the floor, the colors and textures of your room, the sensate feeling of being you, the beauty of something natural outside your window -- the sound of a bird or the shape of a flower, the smile of a baby -- these are ways we refresh the spirit and slowly awaken ourselves into life. Put something you love to look at in every room of your home, and in your office space -- something that soothes the spirit. Eat something that feels nurturing and calming rather than loading up on sugar and caffeine. Remove yourself from toxic people and energies in your environment.
While it may help to release stress if you restructure your life, cut out the most toxic circumstances, accept the challenges you cannot change, and change the things you can, it is most important to expand inner space. Stress is in the head and then gravitates into the body with headaches, stomach problems, back aches -- all the common maladies of the day. The body tells us what it needs -- freedom from worry and negative thinking, relaxation, beauty, quietness, and presence or simply being with what is. What (other than television or computer games) can you give your full attention to for 20 minutes without distracting yourself with thoughts? Music? Dance? Cooking? Gardening? walking in nature? Try it and see how it feels. It is like training a new muscle, learning to allow the presence you are to be present where you are without interference from the past and future, only here now.
For a further exploration of spiritual awakening see my book "The Awakening Guide" , available at Amazon.com and Kin