In the 21st century, stress has become a widespread ailment. While we boldly march forward harnessing nature with ever-new technologies, when it comes to the conquest of the mind, humankind seems to be standing still.
|Stress leads to a gamut of negative emotions.|
As the world speeds up with cell-phones, emails, faxes, and the Internet, an increasing number of people complain of stress. It is particularly common among high achieving company executives, and is sometimes called the executive’s disease. Stress leads to a gamut of negative emotions like tension, fear, distress, apprehension, and anxiety. On the physical level, it causes health problems such as headaches, acidity, ulcers, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
How do we define stress? For an engineer, stress is the force in a beam or a machine part that tends to distort, crush, bend, or break it. We humans too are subjected to forces at home, at work, and in the world at large. The tension and anxiety in our emotional being, as we adjust to our continually changing environment, is what we call “stress.” As babies, we experienced stress when we were hungry, and we cried out to our mother. As grown-ups, we experience it when our boss hints that our performance has not been satisfactory and we will soon lose our job. The situations for stress can be innumerable.
|Meditation for Stress Management|
Before we get into the techniques of stress management, we must bear in mind the distinction between the emotional stress within us and stressful situations outside. Stressful situations are not harmful in themselves; they are catalysts for progress. They inspire us to develop our abilities, as we attempt to face them. A world without stressful situations would be as insipid as a school class without exams. Good teachers never permit the latter, and God never permits the former. The Creator has designed the world in such a way that it continually throws up challenges and obstacles in our path. Ramakrishna Paramahansa said, “Life is the continuous unfoldment of a being under circumstances tending to press it downwards.” Hence, our goal is not to eliminate stressful situations. Instead, we wish to eliminate the emotional stress these situations generate within us.
How can we reduce or eliminate stress? Consultants on Stress Management offer a plethora of solutions such as time management, situation management, meditation, yoga, tai chi, etc. While these are wonderful activities in their own right, as solutions they all have one shortcoming. They deal with the symptoms of stress without tackling the cause. This is like suppressing fever, without curing the typhoid within. If we wish to get rid of stress, we must get rid of the cause. The first step in Stress Management is thus to try to understand the cause.
To explain it simply, stress develops when we are attached to a particular outcome, and things do not turn out the way we desire. If a businessperson decides to make profits, but the business runs at a loss, stress results. If a sales representative wishes to meet a particular sales target, but fails to do so, stress results. The reason for stress is thus our own attachment to a particular outcome, and our inability to adjust to any other outcome.
Once we understand the cause, the remedy is simple – learn to work without attachment to the results. The Bhagavad Geeta instructs: “You have the right to work, but not to the outcome.” Relish your work, but offer the fruit of your efforts to God. The outcome of our work is not in our hands in any case. It depends upon several factors such as circumstances, assistance from others, efforts of competitors, sheer luck, coincidence, will of God, and so on. Thus, wisdom demands that while working, we put in our best efforts, but when the results come, we be content.
But if we give up attachment to results, will it not decrease our performance at work? Definitely not. In fact, when we become free from negative emotions like tension, anxiety, apprehension, and nervousness – in most situations our effectiveness will increase. For example, competent surgeons conduct hundreds of operations on others, but they are unwilling to operate on their own children. They know that attachment makes them prone to error. All business people know that if they become anxious in conducting their business, they are liable to make mistakes. Thus if we can become detached from our work, we become even more effective. Accordingly, the Bhagavad Geeta does not describe a yogi as one who can perform a spinal twist, or one who can stop breathing for a few minutes, or one who can stand on one’s head in shirshasana. It says, “A yogi is one who can work in even the most agitating conditions, without any attachment to the results of his actions.”
Let’s take one step back. If attachment is the root cause of stress, how can we eliminate attachment? The Bhagavad Geeta gives a simple answer. It tells us, not to give up attachment, rather, to transfer that attachment to God. When we develop devotion or attachment to God, it will result in two benefits: Firstly, we will become free from the stress that results from attachment to the world. Secondly, our work will become an offering to God. This spirit of working in devotion is called Karma Yoga. Karma Yoga literally means union with God by offering the fruits of our works to Him.
|Meditation to realize the Glory of God.|
Then, we must practice the same at intervals of half-an-hour. In this way, we have to keep reducing the time interval until we reach the state where we constantly perceive the presence of God with us. With the mind fixed on God while working, we will feel the constant flow of spiritual energy. Our work and spiritual practice will go on simultaneously. The day we can live constantly in the presence of God, we will have accomplished success in Karma Yoga, and become totally free from stress.