Through the years, I’ve had a lot opportunity to work with people under stress and I’ve seen how important meditation is for staying balanced. If you have stress in your life, meditation can be an immense help to you.
Stress training is common today; everyone from fortune 500 companies to the military recognizes how important it is to give people tools to deal with this potential killer. But, most stress training simply helps people relax. As important as this is, it is not enough because it works only with the conscious or subconscious mind. Meditation, however, enlists the superconsciousness, the infinite awareness at the core of our being. It is from this deep level that lasting changes come.
Unhealthy levels of stress usually come from trying to control the uncontrollable. The “fight or flight” response biologically programs us to respond to challenge with some level of stress. But, not all stress is unhealthy, and in fact, some degree of pressure is vital to our well-being. Without it we become bored and look for stimulation. We watch TV and movies, or play games, sports and engage in activities that have no purpose other to excite the mind.
In real life, however, we don’t have the same level of detachment as we do while being entertained. At work, or with our health, or finances, excessive change is threatening, and we experience stress. Chronic stress can cause serious health problems such as high blood pressure, elevated heart rate, and a weakening of the immune system. It even causes physical problems such as back pain.
Since the effects of stress begin in the mind, the same event will affect different people in completely unique ways, depending on how they REACT. But, you have a choice in how you respond to situations and herein lies your power. It has been well said that, “pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.” Most stress and pain comes from wishing that things were other than they are. Learn to flow with life and much of your stress will disappear.
Here is a challenge for you. Tonight, before you go to sleep, mentally review your day and try to see how often you wanted things to be different. Did you wish that you could have slept longer? That you didn’t have to do certain chores, that other drivers didn’t behave the way they did, that people at work were nicer? It goes on and on. The more you try to control the unchangeable, the more stress you create for yourself. What is the way out?
We must learn to be more accepting of life. Life is a school and we draw to ourselves the events, circumstances, and relationships we need to help us grow. Every problem offers us two choices — to expand or contract our consciousness. Do we become defensive and self-protective? Or do we see challenges as opportunities to become stronger, to learn and expand? Eventually, through meditation, we can discover an underlying joy that doesn’t change under any circumstance. And expansion of consciousness is the essence of spiritual growth.
I was once on a drive in the mountains with my teacher, Swami Kriyananda. During a blizzard our car went out of control and smashed into the side of a bus. Kriyananda calmly got out, walked around to the front of the bus and realized that it was headed to our destination. After arranging for our car to be towed, we climbed on to the bus. The passengers were sympathizing with us over our loss. Kriyananda said, “You know, in a week I would have gotten over any sense of loss and be perfectly happy. Why wait a week? I’m happy now!”
Acceptance might seem like a somewhat passive state. A little like, “Well, even if this is awful, there’s nothing I can do about it I might as well accept it.” But, we can develop a higher more active state of acceptance. The great yogi Paramhansa Yogananda said we should train our minds to be “even-minded and cheerful in all situations.” This is not merely a nice maxim, but a powerful, life-changing technique. How do we achieve this state of mind? Commit yourself to being happy under all circumstances. Then watch your reactions to events. As soon as you catch yourself being pulled down, reaffirm your decision to be happy. You may not be able to change the event, but you can change your state of mind. Decide also to let go of old baggage. How long do you have to condemn yourself to carrying around old regrets and grudges? Realize, finally, that your highest duty is to love (to love others, to love life, and to love the God that dwells within you).
You can also make some practical changes to allow you to better deal with stress. On the physical level, make sure your diet is filled with fresh and vital foods. Poor diet, leads to poor health. Get regular exercise, but try to do it more for enjoyment. Find activities that expand your horizons — get out in nature or go to events that uplift your mind. Get sufficient sleep and rest, and try deep breathing during times of pressure.
Environment is also vitally important. Look at your home environment to see if it helps you have a positive state of mind. Move your TV out of the center of your life to a place where it doesn’t intrude. Be careful of the music that you listen to. Music has an incredibly powerful effect on our consciousness. Think about where you are happy and relaxed. Are there plants, the sound of moving water, or beautiful colors? Try to make your home environment to reflect that kind of energy. And try to spend more time with those friends who are positive and self-contained, those who can help magnetize you into a state of being even-minded and calm.
Most important of all is that you get more in touch with your spiritual nature. Tune into your deeper essence, the joy and peace that lie within you. As you claim your own higher reality, as a child of God, you will begin to see Him reflected back from everyone around you. Daily meditation is the way to find these deeper states. Especially important is a practice of meditating every morning and evening. In the morning it prepares you to face the day from a state of inner calmness and joy. At night is helps you to release everything and offer all your attachments back into the divine light.