Stress can come in many forms. Here are a few ways we bring it on ourselves:
- thoughts of being inadequate,
- thoughts of being unworthy,
- thoughts of being ugly,
- thoughts of being stupid,
- thoughts of not being good enough,
- thoughts that the world will end if I dont get 95 per cent in this exam,
- thoughts that they hate me.
When you let go of that sort of thinking, you momentarily drop your resistance to life. Thats what happens when you go to sleep; you let go, you drop resistance. And that is why sleep feels so good, particularly when you are stressed.
So stressful feelings in the body are really alarm bells telling you that you have resistant thoughts to what is happening in your life. Stress can manifest itself in the body in many different ways, such as in headaches, stomach and digestive problems, back pain, frequent colds, tiredness, difficulty thinking and the inability to make decisions (the dont know mind).
When you think a thought, either good or bad, your body responds with a chemical to let your body feel the thought – it matches the thought to a bodily sensation. If the thought was This is a disaster! your chest might tighten or you might feel sick. If it is a happy thought, your body will feel light and loose. Think a panic thought and your body will create chemicals to make you feel panicky. This is known as the flight or fight response because your chemical system is making adrenaline to help you either stay and fight or take off. In the same way, calm and happy thoughts will make your body produce chemicals that enable you to feel calm and happy. Studies have shown that angry thoughts create a bodily feeling that creates even more anger.
Anger literally creates more anger. You see lots of live demonstrations of this on the roads. If anger is the appropriate emotion to help you express something or to make you act when something is just plain wrong, well, go for it. But move through it quickly before you end up staying in an angry space and doing angry things. But if anger is just the usual way you respond to stuff because you feel threatened when no threat really exists, then learning to take a deep breath and letting the anger go might turn your life around.
If you are often a mess with nerves or panic, or feel useless and full of doubts, your thinking has in one way or another taken you to that state. If, in the middle of those feelings, you try to say positive things to yourself that you dont really believe, well, you just wont believe yourself. What will help you though, is to become aware of your unhelpful thoughts through meditation. By doing so, you will soften these resistant thoughts and reduce their power, so that you can gain clarity.
In school and at university, information goes into your head all day long.You have to draw on so many thoughts as you learn in class, then you have to study and cram for exams. All the time you are learning, expanding, learning, expanding. It should be fun and interesting, but all too often it builds anxiety and pressure within you. So the last thing you need to do is to stress about how to think when you are stressed. A coolmind is the opposite: theres nothing to think about. You simply learn to slow down thought, relax, and lessen your resistance. Just let life flow. How cool is that!
But wont people walk all over me if I just let go?
Some people think that letting go, or dropping resistance, must mean losing control. They think that youll become a pushover, but thats not true. Letting go when you need to is the key. Knowing when and how to release resistance to a stress is what will give you control.
Letting go is about realising when to let go of the thinking and responses to life that are just causing you tension and worry, such as when youre faced with things you cant really change. If it is an exam that youre worried about, letting go of the stress and then returning to your studies with a clearer mind and a different outlook will empower you.
Trying to find a positive thought once worry has set in is often too hard and requires just more thinking. But taking a few seconds to cool yourself in the face of stress gives you a chance to stay calm and on top of whatever is happening. So meditation is not about dropping off effort or taking things less seriously, its about chilling out and then reinvesting your energy and efforts in a clearer, happier way.
Take the final year exams, for example. If your heart is set on a particular path and you need certain marks to get yourself into a university course, if the way you think about yourself or your approach to exams is nerve-racking and making you sick, then you are knocking yourself around unnecessarily and making it hard to perform well. You would benefit enormously by letting go of the thinking that trips you up.
You could. Let go of any bodily and mental tension to improve your concentration and circulation . Let go of the thoughts that tell you your result is going to define you as a success or a loser. Let go and trust that your uncluttered mind will provide the intelligence and creativity you want, when you want. Let go and know that whatever happens you are all powerful. Let go and allow your body to heal and be healthy and free of tension.
But how can I be calm when theres so much to worry about?
Worrying about something can give it a chance to get bigger. It keeps it alive and keeps the habit of worry alive.
Sometimes creating a drama keeps your plight alive and critical, but it does not offer any relief to the situation. If your worry habit is alive and well, youll also find there will always be a new worry to replace any you solve! Believe it or not, once you begin to practise the techniques in this book, youll find it is harder and takes more energy to stay stressed about something than it does to just let go of the thinking.
Why should I get calm when there is so much to do, so much I have to conquer?
Calm is the birthplace of happiness, the fountain of creativity, the key to your mental library, the cutting edge of invention, the access point to your intuition, the source of joy and good health, and the launching pad of inspired action. You can be at peace any time you want and when you are, youll know what makes you tick, where you want to go and what you want to do. You will act and it will feel just right. Once you can find your coolmind, you will have the tools to keep going beyond your previous limits.
You are who you are, and the sooner you are at peace and excited by it, the sooner life will open up. It often seems that its the cool kids who take all the risks and have all the adventure. We watch the cool kids out there on the edge while our doubts and fears hold us back. The same thing can happen with learning and exams.
When you walk into an exam, you take all the information that is rattling around inside your head and try to bring it up as you answer the questions. But if you are anxious or panicky, those thoughts hijack your ability to locate the right information.
How often are you then in the shower or jogging and, bang, youre hit with the answer? You dropped your resistance without realising it and the answer presented itself. How much more fun and challenging would exams be if you could approach them with more calm and positive expectations?
Once you begin to feel at home with the techniques in this book, you will begin to have more choices and clarity in how you react to whats going on around you. From clarity and calm spring intuition, creativity, confidence and happiness. From negative emotions spring anxiety, fear, anger, jealousy and other feelings of doom. By practising the techniques youll be able to cut down on those negative emotions, think about situations that used to be stressful in a more peaceful way, and nurture yourself. Youll be able to look at issues from a higher perspective – a more powerful place.
When your thinking keeps causing you hassles over things that havent even happened yet, you are futuring yourself negatively. Futuring yourself negatively scares you right out of the present moment. Come back here! Its time to learn to de-future yourself. Having a cooler mind will help de-future you, or at least give you the chance to future yourself more positively. The more we know ourselves and our motivations, the more power and resolve we have to rise through the doubts and achieve whatever it is we want to.
Regardless of what is going on outside you, if youre happy on the inside youre well ahead of the pack. Many people who dont have internal happiness need to go and get it from somewhere else, usually in a manner that isnt good. You see it in bullies or vandals or in kids who get hammered on booze – they are trying to find happiness outside themselves, while the reality is that there is endless happiness on offer on the inside.
Happiness increases your energy. Happy people radiate energy. You can see it in the eyes and posture of happy people. Negative states of mind, on the other hand, contract your body and pinch off your energy.
Being happy isnt complicated. If youve ever been seriously happy or content you know that feeling when you smile like an idiot for no reason.
The cool thing to know is that happiness is never far away or something thats always over there. It is right here, right now – and you can find it. Real happiness, as the Dalai Lama says, is built on the foundation of a calm, stable mind. Meditation puts you on that path.
So what is meditation exactly?
There are countless descriptions of meditation but the easiest way to describe it would be focusing the mind. Other ways to describe it would be contemplation, healing, and quieting the mind. Athletes and musicians enter a state of meditation when performing, while a relaxed gardener tending to a rose bush could be said to be in meditation. So if you have a relaxed mind and are singularly focused, youre meditating.
Science has shown that during meditation the analytical bit of your brain slows down while the creative bit actually speeds up. So if your head is always full of worries or needless thinking, some of these techniques could help you find some deep peace underneath all the mental chatter.
What will I feel during meditation?
It will be totally different for everyone and the same person will have different experiences on any given day, but here are a few examples:
- tingling skin,
- a deep feeling of peace,
- a softening of the muscles,
- an awareness of slow deep breathing,
- moving or swaying.
You may be more or less aware of any physical symptoms you have.
You could begin to feel incredibly powerful, or vulnerable, or even slightly out of control.
There might be a calm stillness in your mind that escapes as soon as you notice it.
These are all normal feelings.
David Keefe operates his own health consultancy business, works part time as a high school teacher and has qualifications in fitness, massage therapy, kinesiology, reiki, qi gong and journalism. He also follows a Zen practice in his own life and is currently completing his Diploma in Counselling.