When despair grows in me
and I wake in the middle of the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
This article evolved from an exploration of “stress.”
Physics defines stress as the force acting on the unit area of a material. Any externally applied force creates pressure. This pressure, the impact of stress on a material, is defined as strain, and strain can deform the material under stress.
A physical “deformity” of the body prompted the guidance to look at stress. The body appears to be the “material,” which exhibits the emotional and psychological strain of whatever stressors it encounters. Those with chronic physical issues are often asked to look at the spiritual basis behind dis-ease, since dis-ease suggests an imbalance, a distortion of a natural way of being. Most conditioned humans live in the dis-ease of identification with ego-I, with what we’re not, rather than identification with the wholeness of what we authentically are. Could we say then that living in a conversation in conditioned mind, a conversation that denies our True Nature, that actively negates what we authentically are, is stressful, and that the impact of that stress, the strain, if you will, manifests as a diminished sense of well-being?
“Be as you are” is the clarion call of the mystics, an exhortation to realize and embrace our True Nature as Buddha Nature. There are many gorgeous poems and passages that describe Consciousness Being Bliss, but this phrase from Bhagvan Shree Rajneesh seems appropriate to an article on stress: “The essence is at ease.” Just reading that phrase can take a person to a state of relaxation, an absence of tension, a release of pressure. The peace, the equanimity, the joy often associated with Being Awareness can perhaps be described by the mundane phrase “stress-free.”
Peace is your natural state. It is the mind that obstructs the natural state. If one’s mind has peace, the whole world will be peaceful.
--Bhagvan Shree Ramana Maharshi
If we pay close attention, we see that the mind’s reaction to “how things are” is always a form of non-acceptance. The NO to “what is” can be imperceptible—a shiver of dissonance or a blatant, full-blown ego story. As we step back and become aware of conditioned mind, we realize its nature is contradictory, negative, oppositional, and dissatisfied. It is inherently always resisting what is. Resistance is pressure/stress, and we feel the strain of identifying with this force that is perpetually oriented against how things are and who we are. No wonder we crave peace! However, identified with ego-I’s opposition to what is, we believe we’re seeking freedom from the stressful circumstances (what is), when in reality what we’re seeking is freedom from the conditioning that is the source of stress.
It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.
Most of us are also deeply conditioned to being “acceptable humans.” We’re trained from a young age to somehow cope with what goes on inside us, while presenting a façade that meets the standards of the environment in which we exist. Implicitly we reject our experience as the way not to be. We learn to live from our conditioning, while suppressing, repressing, avoiding, ignoring, or ceasing to acknowledge the seething mass of unresolved contradictions that is our inner landscape. The pressure of denying reactions, responses, impulses, desires, and emotions, because none of it is acceptable, creates incredible stress fractures in our being.
Attempting to be how one should be versus how one is can cross over into our spiritual practice. To have an ego and to struggle with the demons below the surface of conscious awareness is the ultimate sin, the deep flaw that has to be hidden. And so colluding with ego to protect it becomes unconsciously inimical to one’s spiritual practice. Ego is maintained, as is the stress.
The first Noble Truth, suffering is, is a teaching of acceptance. To accept the facticity of suffering as part of the human condition is a relief. It eases the stress of being held responsible for the misery one experiences! When ego is identified as the cause of suffering, the temptation is to approach ego/conditioned mind as an adversary. That approach can also be stressful.
Practice guides us to cultivate awareness of conditioning, a curiosity towards the machinations of ego. The spirit of inquiry observes but does not judge. We’re invited to bring everything into the light of conscious compassionate awareness, to make real for ourselves that nothing is outside the circle of acceptance, including identification with ego. Being able to see conditioned mind, rather than see through it, is identifying with That Which Contains All without contradiction or opposition. It is to be without being stressed.
Unconditional Love and Acceptance removes the stress of having to suppress “mental anguish.” Peace arises from embracing the suffering of the human being in compassion. However, this process requires getting comfortable with the discomfort of ego’s stress as it is exposed in the crucible of Practice. But if we accept that the ego will protest, if we continue to practice the antidote to stress, Unconditional Acceptance, we will eventually rest in acceptance of what is rather than in resistance against it. We might arrive at the realization that Being Awareness is not the absence of stressors, necessarily, but the ability to be with whatever is without feeling the strain of it.
As Katagiri Roshi says:
The important point of spiritual practice is not to try to escape your life, but to face it, exactly and completely. So we have to find the realm of buddhas within the realm of demons. In other words, in the realm of pain and suffering, we have to find the realm of peace and harmony. This is religious practice.
When despair grows in me