This blog post originally appeared in September of 2014. We present it again because we’re all under a lot of stress these days.
We’ve been on a long series about lessons I learned from our Alaska Trip. Today I want to continue with staying healthy but move the discussion from the arena of what we do outside the body to looking at how effective our inner world is at either protecting us from sickness or at literally making us sick and even kill us. This is not an arena that we in the West are very good at. In fact we are so bad at dealing with stress that it is has become an epidemic that is the beginning point of many of our diseases.
Starting with the Age of Reason so much of our emphasis has been on science that if we can’t see, touch, taste and smell something, we don’t believe it. So when science say that stress is killing you and that learning methods to deal with it are critical to our health, most of us just shrug that off. Instead of learning ways to cope with stress we:
- Lose ourselves in front of the TV.
- Go to a Doctor and get a prescription for an anti-depressant.
- Go shopping and buy another pair of shoes or a new tool.
- Drink another beer.
- Eat another bag of chips.
- Smoke another joint.
- Get in a fight with a co-worker or scream at people on the drive to work
- Work 12 hours a day, six days a week at work.
We are a nation of self-medicators. We refuse to look at the real inner problems. Instead we look for a solution on the outside and don’t realize it’s just making us sicker and even more miserable.
I’m nobody to tell you how to live your life, but what I am is a guy who was miserable all his life and found a way to change and overcome stress. So in that spirit I want to tell you the inner changes I had to make to change my life from almost pure misery to almost a life of bliss.
Before I tell you, let me make it very clear that this is not the only way to change your inner nature. But it worked for me and I think it can work for you because all of its principles are very simple and fundamental to nearly all religions and self-help movements. It’s my hope that you can find something in them that will be helpful to you. Keep anything that resonates with you, and throw everything else away.
1) Faith versus Fear
Stress has so much power over us because we are afraid. Every day we are constantly surrounded by little things that threaten us and they create a biological stress response in our body that makes us sick. The result is we are exceptionally fearful people constantly on the alert to a danger that really isn’t there. The more afraid you are, the more you try to take control of your life and try to protect yourself from all those terrible things that are out there trying to hurt you. If we want to break the destructive power of stress on our lives we need to break the hold of fear over our heart.
The only solution for fear is faith; placing your trust in something outside of yourself to guide and protect you. The amazing thing is it doesn’t matter what that thing is. As long as you trust it, and are certain that it has the power to change you and love’s you enough to do it, the faith will work. It’s the faith that changes you! You might want to put your faith in faith as a higher power.
There is even a scientific element to that because we all know that placebos can be just as powerful a medicine as real medicine. The power isn’t just in the medicine, it’s equally in our faith in it.
So, I would encourage each of you to find a Higher Power of some kind to trust in. I studied the world’s religions and finally came up with a mish-mash of ideas that I call my Higher Power. It is a very nebulous idea virtually without form or detail but it has worked incredibly well for me and literally has performed miracles in my life. Let me say that again, it has performed miracles of change in my life, totally changing me from night to day.
My guiding philosophy draws heavily from the fundamental truths of Native American Spirituality, Zen and Taoism. Together they give me a framework on which to build my life. But what’s important is not in what you believe in, but your belief in it, concentrate on that.
2) Give up control
Faith by itself has no power, it’s just a theory and theories only work on the mind, they can’t change you. The theory must become actions you take every day for the rest of your life. Actions will change you! But what should your actions be? Faith requires giving up trying to control everything. It’s a surrender to something greater that you trust. To do that you need a framework to build your life on. Each of us must find that for ourselves but I’ve built my life on these following principles. As I lay them out, I want you to know that I’m not an evangelist telling you to adopt these religions; because I think religions are powerless to truly change a person–I don’t follow any of them as a religion. I’m offering them as a philosophical foundation to build your life on. Turn control of your life over to these principles and allow them to guide your thoughts and actions:
- Zen: The fundamental idea of Zen is to live in the current moment. The past is history and the future is a mystery so make this present moment the most important thing in your life. Fear is almost always the result of abandoning the moment to bring the harms of the past and the imagined harm of the future into the present. That way you are never actually alive, your whole life is spent in the past and the future—neither of which actually exist. This moment is exactly what it should be and anything you do to reject it or change it will only do you harm. This present moment is the only real thing, surrender to it and fear will leave you.
- Taoism: This is a very simple and basic religion that believes there is an underlying order and design to the entire physical universe called the Tao (which is commonly translated as “the Way.”) All that is required to have a good life is to surrender to the natural flow of “the Way.” Just as the design of the universe is written into it, the design for your life is written inside you. All you need to do is stop fighting it and stop trying to go your own way. In Taoism this is called “Wu Wei” non-action. It has nothing to do with standing still, it is a surrender to your own true inner nature and no longer fighting with it. That surrender results in peace and harmony which bring good health and a happy life. It has worked exactly that way for me! If all the component parts of the universe will follow their “blueprint”–their inherit “DNA”–we will all be happy. Now, that means that sometimes we will eat the leopard, and sometimes the leopard will eat us. Both of those things are equally good because that’s the way the present moment is meant to be. Who knows what the next life will be. All we need to know is that all is exactly the way it should be and will work wonderfully well in the big-picture. The idea is very similar to “Let go and let god.” But in Taoism there is no definition of what the Tao is and in fact there is no hint it’s even a deity or has person-hood. It can be whatever you want it to be. To me it is simply love. I believe the underlying nature and blue-print of the universe is the desire for good for all its component parts. My job is only to let it bring me the life it wants for me.
- Native American Spirituality: Mainly I put emphasis on Lakota ideas. There is no simple way to define their beliefs, but two phrases help. The first is the concept of “Wakan” which simply means mystery. There is no defined creator beyond the “Great Mystery.” There is no defined theology or rule book, there is just an intuitive knowing that the “Great Mystery” is the source of all life and all life returns to it. If we live in harmony with it, all will be as it should be and good. The other phrase is “All my Relatives” and it flows from the concept that everything has a spirit to it and we are all connected to each other. In some way the sky, the birds and animals, the rivers and the mountains are all related to me. They are part of me and I am a part of them. If you say that isn’t logical and how can that be, they simply fall back to Wakan and say that it is a mystery.
3) “I” versus “We”
The transition from “I” dominating your inner life to “WE” dominating your inner life is all the change any person needs to make. It’s also the most difficult thing most of us will ever do. If you can make that one change, every other necessary change will fall into place. All of these other philosophical ideas contribute to making that happen.
By far the most powerful concept is “All my Relatives.” Every time I say or think it, it is a prayer of oneness and harmony with all forms of life: other people, animals, birds, insects, trees and plants, and even rocks, rivers, mountains and valleys. My goal is that here is no room left in my life for I, but only for We.
Over the years I have endeavored to incorporate these principles deeply into the fabric of my life. I don’t want them to be ideas that I believe but deep intuitive truths that govern my every thought and action. If you have been reading this blog for long, you can see them in all my writings and in everything I do.
The result has been that stress has left my life and I have been happier and healthier than I have ever been. I hope that some of these concepts will speak to you and you will also endeavor to incorporate them into the fabric of your life.