Stress: The Great Illusion

People from all over the world are concerned with stress and how it affects them. I am sure you have used it once or twice. When you have talked about stress, does it not automatically conjure up many images, most of which are typically unpleasant? Just the thought of the word stress is chilling. “I’m all stressed out!” “Look at all the stress I’m under.” “I can't take much more of this stress!” Because it is so prolific and easily spoken about, it is vital that you understand as much about stress as possible. In order to do that, three questions must be answered: (1) What is stress? (2) Is it useful? (3) Does it even exist?

I recently asked a number of people to define stress, including several psychotherapists, who are professionals dealing with issues of stress on a daily basis. Their responses were interesting. No one, without exception, could pinpoint its meaning. Some said it was similar to anxiety, but not quite. Yet, they could not say how it differed. Others said it was tension, but could not specify what that means. Still others were only able to say they know what it is, but just could not describe it. If you were to look up the word in the annals of psychology, you would find a vast array of definitions. The fact is that no one has the definitive definition.

The word stress is like so many other words. You think you know its meaning, but when it comes time to define it, you cannot really do it. The American Heritage Dictionary, computer version, defines stress as, “A mental or emotional disruptive or upsetting condition occurring in response to adverse external influences and capable of affecting physical health, usually characterized by increased heart rate, a rise in blood pressure, muscular tension, irritability, and depression. A state of extreme difficulty, pressure, or strain.” Wow, what a definition. Even the words in the definition need defining, and then those words would need defining and so on, such as tension, irritability and depression. It truly becomes a maze of intellectualizations.

You often think you know what these terms mean and how they are manifested, but do you? For example, when the definition refers to a racing heart, increased blood pressure and muscular tension, do you have a clear understanding of what these terms mean and when you would experience them? Think about a time when you were exercising. What happened to your heart rate, blood pressure and muscular tension? What about those times you made love, what happened to your physiology then? Were you experiencing stress? Have you experienced the stress of going on a vacation, does that lead to depression or physical harm? In addition, the definition only specifies outside sources of stress, which eliminates all possible internal sources. Finally, the dictionary definition places a very strong negative valence to the word. In essence, it is making stress out to be a real villain.

My definition of stress is significantly different from that of the dictionary, and perhaps from that of most people. For me, stress is anything that does not conform to what you think you should or should not be, will or will not be, want and do not have or have and do not want. These differences can be external or internal. Regardless of whether the stress is external or internal, the source of the stress is always the same. Your psychological process of thoughts and perceptions are quickly transferred into a physiological and emotional response. In other words, you see the world with your minds eye. You then interpret and compare that world with what the mind wants, needs, expects, hopes for and desires. This perception results in your experiencing both a physiological and emotional response, which you then define as tension or stress. Combine your perception of now with your memory of your past and projections of the future and you set yourself up for stress. Your perception, via your mind, is telling you that you want something other than what you have in this moment. In essence, stress is nothing more than a product of your mind. Even the stress of going on a vacation, something seen as pleasurable, is a product of the world not being exactly the way you want it. You want your vacation to begin now, not tomorrow. You want all the packing, driving and settling in done now, not tomorrow. You want to be there now, rather than enjoying the process of getting there. You want to be having a great time now rather than experiencing the great time you are already having. Your wanting means dissatisfaction, and wanting is always from the mind. This dissatisfaction is translated into your body and emotions. You now experience stress.

Stress can be either positive or negative. The direction is dependent on your mind’s perceptions. If your perceptions are positive, then the stress will be perceived as positive. When your perception is not very positive, then you will experience stress. Both positive and negative stress require one thing: an interpretation of the moment, and this requires your using your mind. You must be thinking and comparing in order to conclude that this experience is either positive or negative, or even that you are experiencing something. In fact, you may not even perceive what you are experiencing as stress. Your mind and your thinking process are in control of your physiology and emotionality. When your mind is no longer controlling you, stress has no valence. Stress is no longer an issue. In fact, stress ceases altogether. All that you have left is the experiencing.

Think about something enjoyable that you are looking forward to doing. You are anticipating your participation in this activity. Do you feel the beginnings of stress? Is your heart rate beginning to climb? Do you experience a bit of muscle tension? Are you experiencing just a little bit of irritability that you have to wait for your adventure to begin? Remember, according to the dictionary definition, these are signs of stress. However, do you view this stress as negative? No, you are creating positive stress. Now, think about something that you do not want to happen, or about something that has happened that you did not like. What type of stress are you creating now? Is it positive? No, you are creating negative stress. In both cases, the body is building tension. This tension is a result of your mind's interpretation of your desires. As this happens, your body begins to experience a heightened level of energy. Soon, you begin to experience stress of the psyche, of the body and of the emotions.

Now remember a time in which you lost track of time. You even stopped thinking about you or anything else. Maybe you were taking a walk. Perhaps you were feeding your baby. You could have been playing a sport, a musical instrument or singing. In any case, you simply vanished as you were doing the activity. There was no mind interfering with the experience. When that happened, you did not experience stress. You did not have a positive or negative attitude. In fact, there was no attitude at all. There was simply the action of what you were doing. Only after the experience, were you able to categorize it as positive or negative, good or bad.

The key to understanding stress is to understand the mind. The mind creates an image, which either coincides with what you want, or do not want. This image then generates an emotional response, which in turn generates a physiological response. Of course, the order may be reversed. You may first experience a physiological response and then an emotional one. Sometimes, you may experience a physiological response, then make an interpretation of that feeling, and then create an emotional response. Regardless of the order, this combination of mind, body and emotions is what defines stress.

Is stress necessary or even useful? Most professionals will tell you that a little stress is necessary. They say that without it, you will not be motivated. You will not be able to accomplish your goals. You will not be able to start projects. You will become apathetic. My answer to you is a reverberating no! Stress is not useful. It has no value other than what you place on it. It is neither positive nor negative. It is neither utilitarian nor wasteful. It doesn’t even exist, except in your mind's eye. Of course, if your mind sees stress, accepts stress, believes in stress, then guess what, you have stress. When this happens, it fits directly into my law called the Law of Limitations. Very quickly stated, “What you believe is what you get.”

Remember, your mind creates stress. This stress is based on your wants, needs, expectations, desires, wishes, hopes, beliefs, aspirations and so on, and how your mind perceives the universe fulfilling these wants, needs, expectations, desires, wishes, hopes, beliefs, aspirations. Do you see the trap that your mind creates for you? All these words are nothing more than projections of your past into the future, a past that no longer exists and a future that has not yet happened. Stress is a result of an illusion of the mind. In this moment, in this exact moment, none of this is important. You need nothing, want nothing, expect nothing, desire nothing, wish for nothing, have aspirations for nothing, hope for nothing, and so on. Yet, you are not apathetic. On the contrary, you have never been more energized and more alive. Whatever you are doing in the NOW, you are doing it better than you have ever done it before. You are flowing with the perfection of this moment.

I think I just answered the last two questions: Is stress useful? No, not at all! Does it truly exist? No, not at all! When you live in a world of illusion, created by your mind, then stress does exist. Then it may or may not be necessary. However, in the world of reality, of this moment, of NOW, it has absolutely no value. In fact, when you are living in the NOW, it doesn’t even exist. All that exists in this moment is totality, and in totality, there can be no hoping, needing and desiring. This moment is always perfect, always friendly, always motherly. Only when you disagree with what is in this moment, does this perfection disintegrate.

Being able to experience the state of NOW requires you to watch your mind, your body and your feelings. You must recognize when your mind is creating illusions and when your body and emotions are reacting to those illusions. Second, you must meditate. When you meditate you can experience the perfection of this moment, you will be able to understand, accept and revere in this moment. NOW is all that you truly have. Allow yourself to experience it and find out how wonderful existence is. Go deeply into this moment, be total, be alive now and forget about tomorrow. Tomorrow will happen and when it does, it will be the NOW. What happens tomorrow will be a result of your totality NOW. Forget about stress, and get in touch with your being, your spirit, your true self and enjoy this moment from your very center.

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