What is stress? We feel overwhelmed, as if there is not enough space in our head to deal with one more thing; things that would normally roll right off us feel like huge weights on our back. We can try to deal with it by going on holiday or having a long soak in the tub, but that doesn’t really get to the heart of the problem, because the problem is in our mind. Stress is a state of mind, a mental reaction, so the only way to combat stress is by changing the way we react. Anything else is only a temporary solution.
Why do we get stressed? It’s not really because of our boss/children/finances etc – these are only contributory conditions, not the actual cause. If we had more mental space and clarity then we would be able to deal with these situations without getting worked up about them. So, the first step we need to take to combat stress is to create some more inner space. Even a small amount of meditation every day can help us to clear away all the mental busyness, tidy up our internal environment so that we have the capacity to deal with problems again. But we do have to do it every day – it gets messy in there again very quickly!
So much of the stress and tension we normally experience comes from our mind, and many of the problems we experience, including ill health, are caused or aggravated by this stress. Just by doing breathing meditation for ten or fifteen minutes each day, we will be able to reduce this stress. We will experience a calm, spacious feeling in the mind, and many of our usual problems will fall away. Difficult situations will become easier to deal with, we will naturally feel warm and well disposed towards other people, and our relationships with others will gradually improve.
Having created a bit of space through meditation, we can then start to look at the way our mind works: seeing how we instinctively respond to things, and seeing if our instincts are flawed, creating stress rather than relieving it. Once we start to become aware of our unhelpful habits, standing back and observing ourselves in that space that we created, then we can use that new perspective to begin to change. Of course, we know we have bad habits: we might easily be able to say, ‘I worry about the future and that makes me stressed,’ for example; but we don’t have the space to be objective about it. That’s the real power of meditation: we get to know ourselves from the point of view of a peaceful mind, so we can accept ourselves without judgement or grasping, and really begin to grow.