There are two types of stress. One is brought on by a set of conditions and the other is brought on by a set of thoughts. One is obligatory, one is voluntary. The first is quite natural but the second is a construct. In fact the second version didn’t even exist until language had progressed far enough to develop abstract terms like and time and achieve and complete. As much as it might seem like it, those are not things they are ideas. And when the Buddha refers to the illusion it’s those ideas he was referring to.
Thanks to some lottery-win kind of incredible luck (coupled with a lot of really hard work) my entire life will drastically change this week. For a large chunk of time I have been under a great deal of time stress. The demands of my life mean I simply haven’t been able to afford more than four hours sleep each day, virtually every meal has been rushed, and if those two things were happening you can easily guess that I also haven’t been getting regenerative time with friends or family either. Laughing and relaxing are worth a lot. These things all constitute what we’ll call external physical stresses and they can carry quite an accumulative impact.
What I wasn’t doing was adding psychological stress on to my physical stress. That is to say, I accepted my workload and schedule as a fait accompli. It was simply going to happen. so I didn’t carry out my long day having any kind of argument with myself about the fairness, reasonableness or danger of it. I could have, but I just took the step in front of me. Sometimes that step was to plan for 50 steps ahead, but after the plan was created I was back to the step I was on.
Of course I would stray off that path relatively regularly, especially when I was particularly tired or hungry. But my emotions—the bad ones, the ones I don’t like—would occur and I would immediately check in as to their source. Of course the chemistry I feel is the chemistry I’ve asked for with my thinking. If I’m sitting thinking worried or anxious or angry or sad thoughts about my situation then I am dumping the chemistry out for different flavours of stress. So if I’ve asked for them I shouldn’t be surprised that I got them.
The sensation—the emotions I didn’t like—was what signalled me to go quiet and accept my physical stress. Psychological Stress is always self-created and voluntary. That’s not to say it isn’t useful to experience at times, but overall it’s quiet debilitating to people and it’s generally best to avoid it.
Believe in yourself. Don’t argue with your hills. Look forward to how your greatness will conquer them. Sense your own victory as though it has already happened and then just carry out the motions. Any suffering is only thinking.
Now go have yourself a wonderful day.
Following a childhood accident should have left him dead, Scott McPherson spent his life meditating on thought, consciousness, reality and the self. Seeing the emotional damage done by ego-based overthinking he began dedicating a part of his life to guiding students toward more peaceful and rewarding lives. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, Canada.