The Artful Science of En-Lighten-ing Up

If I were to survey a hundred people on the street as to what's the problem in their lives, chances are the immediate response would be, "Stress!" I receive many calls each week from persons seeking counsel or therapeutic bodywork and massage. When I ask what's making them tense or anxious, the vast majority immediately reply, "Stress! I've got too much stress!" When I ask for clarification, I get particulars about money pressures, relationship woes, health matters. The finger is pointed at these: this is the 'stress,' and it's to blame for the troubles. The solution seems to be to find better ways to dodge it or soothe one's wounds.

It's significant that no one can actually point to 'stress' as a thing, entity, demon in and of itself. S/he can only name the context in which 'stress' is being experienced, the matter out there that's triggering a sense of pressure, alarm, anxiety. This is highly significant, because the feeling or state we label 'stress' is a byproduct of certain ways of representing people, places and things or circumstances to ourselves, the way we "frame" something. Stress results from specific beliefs, perspectives, even expectations we hold that are not yet fully conscious for us, about potential harm or disaster. "Stress" - or "distress" - is a relative state of anxiety produced by our interpretations of what is happening, what the future seems to hold, and our perceived ability to achieve a desired outcome. The more 'trapped' we feel, the more stress we have. Stress goes along with a perception that the good things of life are out of reach, available only with enormous struggle and sacrifice or loss of other necessities e.g. love, nurture, companionship, play and self respect.

For those of us who like to blame stress for all our troubles, the bad news is: if stress is something we ourselves create, unconsciously, by our attitudes and relationships with ourselves and the world around us, then we can't balme stress or difficult people, jobs, traffic, etc. any longer. This doesn't excuse the fact that people act badly towards one another, or that miserable conditions exist. But by becoming responsible -"response-able", rather than reaction-ary to what life dishes up, we get the experience of power and choice back for our lives. Instead of feeling 'stressed' and at the mercy of circumstances, we can alter our perceptions of what's going on and therein open up/discover options we didn't even know we had. We can breathe easier, -literally, as well as figuratively. We can muster confidence and motivation to design a nicer life for ourselves, be "at cause" rather than "at effect" even under very trying circumstances. As self respect, creative solutions and relief come back, our stress levels diminish, or dissolve altogether.

Our ways of dealing with life's pains and trials tend to reflect those of our earliest role models. Observing our parents, teachers, and other significant others, often less than consciously, we either learned to see the life's difficulties primarily as problems to struggle with and feel victimized by, or as challenges for mastery, opportunities for learning how better to gain joy, wisdom, comforts -the good life. Again, to say that stress is ultimately produced by our perception of whether Life is safe and welcoming or basically hostile, is not to imply that other people don't do things to that are dishonoring, endangering, abusive to us, or that we can have a host of other real life crises. Our world, our culture, our families and institutions are often way off the functional and supportive mark. But even so, "stress" results from the degree to which we cannot perceive a way out, or trust ourselves to succeed. You or I may have been -or might even now be immersed in unhealthy relationships -the source of most of our stress, and be at a loss as to how to get out without endangering ourselves even more. Children are especially at risk: but as we approach and enter adulthood, we must learn to see the Bigger Picture, the one that contains options that support our integrity and the Dreams we have of loving, being loved, developing and sharing our unique Gifts. If we don't, stress is our continual companion.

Most of us are ill prepared to bust stress, to lighten up, lighten our loads, find a better way. Why? Because enmeshed in the 'soap operas' of our lives, we may not even aware that it's possible for us; we have so little experience and skill in doing so. Because there is so much heartache, heaviness and even illness associated with the demon stress, lightness of attitude, heart and body is essential to break free of it. What we cannot laugh at at all nor find any humor in, we are sure to be stuck in and with. Where there can be heartfelt comedy through tragedy, there can be Grace. We need new eyes, new ears, new skin -and lots more oxygen to vitalize our stressed out bodies. We must breathe new life into our situations by perceiving them in a way that empowers us, rather than that keeps us feeling helpless, used and abused.

Any successful stressbusting regimen must proceed from the inside out. First, reclaim your right to life, to a fulfilling life, to self worth, care and appreciation. Second, call forth your creativity to find effective solutions. Third, draw on your innate ability to Intend wellness, and Fourth, attract into your life the means to manifest it. As we intend, expect, sow, shall we reap the experience of.

Stressbusting is the art and science of enlightenment, or, as I often call it, en-lighten-ing up-ment. May you believe in, find and use your Wings.