STQI Downtown Toronto School
Your Journey to a Strong Mind and Body
Stress is an uncomfortable emotion that can accumulate and significantly drain your energy. Stress comes from pressure to meet an expectation and has an impending time limit. Too much stress can make you feel worn out, develop anxiety, and lose sleep.
In this article, we attempt to apply the teachings of Chan-Dao to the idea of stress, in the hopes to help us clearly understand it and manage it better.
Your first step to solving stress is to become aware of the sources of expectations that cause stress.
Below are some common examples:
Notice that in all these examples, the theme is money.
Money is part of a system that enables an economy and the development of larger societies. It motivates people to earn money and contribute to society in exchange for survival and comfort. For example, we use money to purchase food and shelter. We also use money to pay taxes for a safer and healthier environment.
Money [and the difference between what one desire and what one has], is therefore a common source of stress for people.
Of course, there are many sources of stress that are not founded on money. If you need to prepare your home for a party with family or friends, you will feel more stressed as the gathering time approaches and there are things still to be done.
Preparing for the meditation workshop and gathering my thoughts about stress is also a source of stress. I set the expectation of being able to publicly deliver this topic in a way that can help people through the teachings of Chan and the Dao, and there is a hard deadline for it. The meditation workshops I have been doing for almost two decades have been free. Am I doing this for money or am I trying to genuinely help people? You can decide.
Although we generally view stress as a bad thing, let’s now consider what would happen if we didn’t have stress. We’ll use the previous examples of stress and look at it differently:
In these examples, complacency has taken over. There is no motivation to do something about it now.
Laziness breeds complacency, but stress overcomes complacency. Stress is meant to put you into action to strive and do something, thus stress also overcomes laziness.
The frequency and quality of meditation practice are the foundation for dealing with stress. As your ability to meditate improves, you’ll find it gets easier to quiet the mind and settle the heart (your emotions). This is now the best time for introspection, or what I call quiet contemplation.
Recognizing what the expectations are and where they are coming from is the first step to relieving stress. Some sources of stress are not so obvious. It requires time and introspection to uncover.
So think about all your sources of stress and write them out on your computer or on paper. What are all the expectations from your family, your friends, your society, your beliefs, and yourself? Which ones are important and why?
Almost certainly, you will want or have the expectation of not ever feeling uncomfortably stressed. This is your key to making meditation and quiet contemplation your most important activities of each day.
Perhaps some expectations can be discarded. For example, do you really need that nice car or an expensive house? Perhaps a fully functional car and a small cozy home with a lot less financial pressure would suffice? Are you trying to transfer your own expectations onto your family members? What if your family doesn’t want those expectations?
Once you’re satisfied with the expectations you want to keep, it’s time to review what you are currently doing about each one to see if they are still realistic.
Highlight all the ones that are not currently realistic and put them on top of your list. These are the ones causing you the most stress. You may not have all the answers now, but in this way, you’ll be able to spend your time in a more meaningful way to resolve them.
This is perhaps the most direct approach to managing stress. It takes a lot of effort the first time to go through this process, but you’ll find it gets easier and faster to do.
In order to be effective, you need to repeat this process daily. That’s because your expectations can change from day to day and moment to moment.
You may also want to consider developing your skills so you become more efficient. Since we cannot change the amount of time available, and since sleep is important, you need to do things faster without sacrificing the quality of output. Take the time to think about the work, family, and personal tasks of your day and figure out how you can accomplish them faster while ensuring you have enough rest.
Be careful not to multitask. Trying to do two things at the same will only mean doing them each more poorly.
The Shaolin Virtue of Strive directs us to have the will to improve ourselves in every way possible. So strive to manage your stress and remember this always - the source of all stress is ultimately from yourself. You decide the appropriate level of stress for yourself, and with that, you decide which expectations are worth keeping.
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