Meditating with stress

Stress is an essential part of our lives as human beings, how do we use it in meditation?
Meditating with stress
The biological reaction that comes with psychological stress is often a useful tool to get something done or take ourselves and others out of danger in a particular situation. By flooding your body with a fight or flight chemical release, your brain makes sure that your focus and reflexes are razor sharp in a time of need. In this way you are able to concentrate your attention and skill enough to pass tomorrow's test or to jump away from a dangerously approaching car.

However, if stress disassociates itself from a particular situation and becomes a regular, or even chronic pattern of behaviour, it will tax both body and mind. Thus deppleating energy levels, weakening the immune system and creating a general sense of discomfort, dissatisfaction or even depression, as some of the released chemicals tax the heart and promote fear. Much like a fast moving car stuck in a lower gear, your motor needs to work harder and burn more fuel, which leads to a louder, shorter ride before you need to stop to tank up.

How to work with stress in meditation

In meditation, we do not try to fix or change uncomfortable emotions, but to learn how to live with them and understand how they are affecting our view of life and ourselves. . Whatever the perceived cause for your stress may be, it is not in the here and now, otherwise, you would not be meditating. This realisation is important, it gives you a little space, even if things are about to get wild in, lets say, half an hour. This also gives you just enough of a window to do a very useful asesment. Let's take it.

Whatever you are feeling at the moment, let's begin by stopping the war against it. 'I am stressed (or rather, I am feeling the symptoms of stress) right now, and that is ok'.

What are the physical symptoms of stress that you feel right now: increased heart rate, exhaustion, nervousity, fear, sadness, restlessness?

Where in the body do you feel these symptoms, how do they affect your posture, or your breath?

How do these symptoms change over time, in say 10 or 15 minutes time? Any changes as you observe the physical aspect of stress?

Can you observe your breath and maybe slow it down a bit? not much, just a touch slower will do. Also, could you relax your belly just a bit.

Can you feel sensations in other parts of your body, which are not directly affected by the feeling of stress? Hands or feet, maybe?

Focus on your breath. Focus on your posture.

Take a few minutes to do this exercise, not so long that the time set aside for meditation itself adds to your stress. Better repeat later for another session than to push it too far and give it up altogether. If stillness is unbearable, do it while walking, if possible in nature, or a park.

See, the key here is that by bringing our attention from our thoughts and into the body, connecting with our breath, our posture and our physical sensations, we tap into the reality of the experience rather than with an artificially constructed drama of the experience. By refraining from fuelling recurrent triggering thoughts and instead observe the effect that the previous ones have had on our bodies, we take the foot off the gas pedal and slowly the heart pace, and all other body rhythms, begin to normalise themselves. When this happens, when we let go of the cause of stress for a bit and instead focus on the actuality of it, the vast amounts of energy that are moved by the emotion are available for us to harness and be used fruitfully in the resolution of such cause. If on the other hand, the source of our stress reveals itself unreal and mostly mind made, you might be able to let it go now, connect instead with your body's need to rest and heal and give it the opportunity to do so.

Looking kindly at our stress we discover that we care, what a lovely thing. Looking carefully at our stress we realise that we often care too much for things that are not that important. Contextualating and reestablishing priorities, we hopefully find the middle way.


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