Here’s a quick reminder before we get started on today’s topic: this is not a personal crisis self-help blog, there are already many other places to check out for advice. However, if my words help you in some small way, I’m glad.
Every generation has at least one major stressor. In the previous century it could have been the Great Depression, one of the World Wars, the Korean conflict, Vietnam, the Cold War. This century has already witnessed various conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere, radical political strife, and macro-economic shifts. You can probably come up with more examples.
Add to these, the stuff we go through on personal and familial levels–the events that don’t warrant banner headlines, but are still tough. To be a living organism is to be subject to at least some amount of stress. It’s been said that if one doesn’t experience some level of stress, one isn’t alive.
We are told by psychologists, religious leaders, and popular writers that stress doesn’t happen because of what is going on in our lives, it happens because of our thoughts about what’s going on in our lives. That’s a very broad statement to make. This opinion triggers my skepticism.
We can examine an Eastern view of suffering or dissatisfaction by way of the Four Noble Truths: 1. There is suffering. 2. There is the cause of suffering. 3. There is the cessation of suffering. 4. There is the path to the cessation of suffering.
These truths basically boil down to our belief in permanence. We tend to view ourselves as permanent entities. Because of this, we can easily become unhappy with the ways of the world. The ways of the world are constantly changing, interrelated, interdependent, and usually unpredictable. We cling to the myths of tradition or permanence. It is the desire for the ways of the world to stop shifting that causes so much unhappiness and strife within ourselves and with other people. In a nutshell, a person can learn to accept life as it appears and as it happens then living becomes more joyful.
While the constant business of acceptance goes on in our heads, life events continue to happen. We have all been born from our mothers. We have all been infants and children. The life-cycle hopefully includes growing into adulthood and maturity. Then it all comes to a screeching halt. At every step along the path of life we will continue to encounter stress regardless of what we believe about life and the Universe. Our predominant opinion can make these changes more bearable or less bearable. Regardless of this, we will still encounter more stress.
Even the most “holy” or “spiritually advanced” people experience a range of reactions to stressful, trying events and circumstances. There may be a general feeling of unsettledness underlying the mindset of the happiest of people. Sometimes we become impatient or irritated about something or someone. Frustration and disappointment pop up from time to time. At another level, tension and anxiety appear. We hope for less vexation and desperation in our lives. Most of us wish to experience as little sadness and anguish as possible.
The main fact of life is that each person will feel some types of pain or stress at various times in our lives. It could be as mundane as a stubbed toe or indigestion. All of us hope to avoid serious and traumatic injuries. There are the mental pains we’re bound to discover within our minds like resentment, hatred, prejudice, jealousy, aggression, and grief. We can put on a happy face for awhile, but eventually we will choose to deal with these factors or default to suffering.
This topic came up because I’m experiencing some fresh stresses related to aging right now. These are mundane, run-of-the-mill changes that I don’t like. I’m used to having superb, vibrant health. That seemingly permanent physical state is devolving a little bit, as is normal. Writing about stress and dissatisfaction is one way of meeting these changes head on. Perhaps something similar is happening to you?