Although modern life is full of stressful situations, we do not have to get sucked into the whirlwind.
Instead of feeling frustration when we face difficulties, we can learn to cultivate a strong and stable mind that can respond to everything with equanimity: then we find ourselves in the eye of the storm. The chaos may continue to swirl around us, but our peace of mind is unaffected.
The key to finding this balance is first to realise that no situation is stressful from its own side. For example, we may think that our boss is a cause of stress because as soon as we catch sight of him or her our anxiety levels ratchet up a notch. But, if were an actual source of stress, then everyone would immediately feel stressed when they saw him. And maybe everyone who works alongside us does feel this too – but presumably, his mum finds sitting down with him for Sunday dinner quite relaxing. He is not the cause of our stress: our own mind is.
It’s actually a huge step towards attaining inner peace when we can acknowledge that our stress is coming from our own mental responses, not the external situation. Then we can start moving in the right direction. For as long as we think the only way to relieve our stress is to remove ourselves from difficult situations, it never gets better; even if we go on holiday we still feel stressed because we know we’ll soon have to go back and face the challenges we’re trying to escape from. When we start trying to change our mind, rather than the outside world, then we’re moving towards a stress-free life.
I’ve referred to that as ‘the eye of the storm’ because a stress-free life isn’t one characterised by lying on beaches sipping cocktails; we will continue to be surrounded by difficult people and unwished-for occurrences. Our external situation may not change at all, but that’s the point: it doesn’t need to. We’re in a calm and peaceful space in the midst of all that stormy weather, and that’s a real achievement to aim for.
There are lots of methods within Buddha’s teachings to combat our stress – I just want to give you one little practice that can make a big difference. It can be summed up in a verse by Shantideva:
If something can be remedied
Why be unhappy about it?
And if there is no remedy for it,
There is still no point in being unhappy.
If there is a way to remedy an unpleasant, difficult situation, what point is there in being unhappy? On the other hand, if it is completely impossible to remedy the situation or to fulfil our wishes, there is also no reason to get upset, for how will our becoming unhappy help? This line of reasoning is very useful, for we can apply it to any situation.
How To Solve Our Human Problems
For example, if you’re stuck in traffic and are about to be late for an important meeting, is there anything you can do to change that? No. So you have two options: you can be late and stressed, or you can be late and happy. You are going to be late either way: being stressed as well is a complete waste of energy, so don’t bother. At least you can waltz into your meeting (eventually) ready to impress everyone with your poise and resilience.