"知常曰明； 不知常，妄作， 凶。 Zhi Chang Yue Ming, Bu Zhi Chang, Wang Zuo, Xiong. Understanding the nature of things leads to happiness; Not understanding them, acting blindly, invites stress, anxiety, or even disaster." -- Lao Zi
We all experience stress from time to time, and we all want to find tools to minimize or even transform it into a source of personal growth. Below is my story on this journey in 2018.
One day in September, I was feeling very stressed out by the slow process I was making on a major project, one that I had put much energy into.
I went to the park, did my Qigong and Taiji form, then sat by the lake and asked myself these questions: What is causing this stress? How can I get free of it? And what I can learn from it?
Although it points to other reasons as well, Chinese philosophy states that stress can be caused by selfish intentions or desires. I began to ask myself if this was at play. And I began to examine the role my work might play in contributing to the wellbeing of others.
I am a Taiji teacher. Sharing Taiji and Qigong with others is what I do. And I could see evidence that this work has improved the quality of life of many students.
As I considered this, I realized that with this project I had been focusing on personal success and even on potential fame. With this insight, I realized that it didn’t matter how fast this project might move forward, or even if it fails.
What was important instead is that I understand what I am doing, the significance of it, and that I carry it forward with the sincere intention of offering benefit to others. With this insight, my stress level went down immediately and the work became a source of daily joy.
The result of my self-examination culminated in a memorable moment during the November, 2018 workshop at Kripalu. The workshop focused on Stress and Chronic Pain Relief.
Although the response from participants was overwhelmingly positive--the most positive and enthusiastic I have yet received--the high point came at the end of the training.
A quiet and shy lady approached and told me that she have had several surgeries in the past, yet this had been the first time in more than 5 months that she could move her arms without pain. She had tears in her eyes, and I did too. She did not realize that what she had shared with me was the most important and memorable moment of my year.
Why was this experience so significant? Chinese philosophy states that humans (with the exception of a few outliers) are born with innate kindness. This is our unique and original nature. Because of this we are all connected to each other.
When we align our thoughts and actions with our deeper selves, we are happy. However this original nature is often distorted and obscured by selfish desires.
By turning away from our true inner reality, we bring about stress and emotional pain. Whenever we discover that our stress is caused by selfish desires, we need to remind ourselves of this deep human truth and consider how our own efforts contribute to the wellbeing of others.
Lao Zi, a Chinese philosopher, put it this way: Understanding the nature of things brings happiness. Acting blindly, invites disaster.
In other words, disregarding the fundamental truth of innate human kindness leads to stress, anxiety and pain. Instead, we need to keep this truth at the forefront of our consciousness.
In the New Year, if you find yourself stressed out, consider the significance of your actions on the wellbeing of others. Try not to allow selfish intentions to obscure your innately kind and compassionate nature. Remind yourself of this deep human truth and connect it to even the smallest actions and/or intentions and you may feel immediate relief.