STRESS IS NOT A CIRCUMSTANCE
~ Cindy Teevens
"Just as there is a stress response, there is a relaxations response. " ~ Cindy Teevens
Study finds strong link between strokes, stress
In “Study finds strong link between strokes, stress” in the Ottawa Citizen today, Dr. Michael Hill, co-chair of the Canadian Stroke Congress and Director of the acute stroke unit at Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary, says “Not everyone who has stress has stroke. But is it a contributor? Absolutely.”
This begs the obvious and so perhaps overlooked question:
“What is stress?”
While Hill says “There is no doubt that the things that happen in people’s environment — their life, their ability to manage and interact with their life — results in changes in their biology which puts them potentially at risk.” Here we see that Hill believes, like most people in our society, that your inability to “manage” your life, to manage outside circumstances, is what causes stress. The corollary to that implies that your ability to manage your life relieves stress. So in other words, your ability to change the outside. This trap has led our society into a vicious cycle of suffering, because it encourages attachment to things, people, and events outside of you, which are constantly changing and not in your control. This managing, controlling effort is futile for that reason and also because stress is not a thing, a person, or an event. No circumstance on the outside can cause your inside heart rate to soar or your blood pressure to build.
The body’s stress response is a safety feature
It is your inner response to outer circumstances that causes the changes in your biology. What causes your inner response? Such strong belief in a thought that all your attention and a tremendous amount of your powerful energy tells your body that the thought is true, and that it must prepare to respond accordingly. What else but the mind does the body have to rely on? The body takes its orders from the mind, and does not know the difference between a mere thought and real circumstances.Thoughts can be anything, even things that are not happening.
The body’s response is a natural protective functioning, it is the flight or fight response, a biological reflex that is hard-wired into the body. The purpose is to make extra energy available quickly when needed and to make you alert, in order to get you out of potentially life-threatening trouble. But it drains the body and is not intended to be operating every day, multiple times a day. In this country we do not live with daily life-threatening outer circumstances, but you can live with that kind of inner one, regardless.
In this country we do not live with daily life-threatening outer circumstances, but you can live with that kind of inner one, regardless.
Stress is not the immediate result of some outside event, unless you are being shot, chased by a predator, at or have been physically hurt. Stress can results from a thought about an outside event, believed in. Some years ago, driving on a two-lane road in freezing rain, a car flew in from my right and began spinning in from of me. My last thought was “We both can’t lose control, stay in control.” Then eyeballing the nose of the car and its distance from my car with each swing, absolute, complete peace, stillness, and control took over. There was no more mind, no more thoughts, and no anxiety. I began to gently brake and to gear down. The car spun eight times, seemingly an inch away each time, then flung off into the right lane, only to return to spin some more. Finally, miraculously, it regained control and continued down the road, still traveling a little too fast for my taste in freezing rain. There was a stunned moment…then mind came back with a vengeance, “I could have been KILLED!!!”
My heart rate shot-up and my body began shaking so hard I could no longer drive, and I had to pull over and stop. Thoughts flew, “How could he keep driving?! – How could he just leave?! I could be dying here?!! Is he drunk?! He could kill someone!!” But in between these, was the shocking realization of how deep the peace was in the middle of life-threatening danger, and how anxious I was now, when there is no danger…With nothing outside me “causing” it. The thought was noticed that I didn’t have to pull over, I was okay, but it was dropped in favour of something like, “Anyone would be scared, this is normal, I have to tell someone…” as I reached for the phone. Tell them what? I’m okay? That nothing happened?
The absurdity of this did not hit me until later. (I did call a friend and got them all anxious with thought.)
“Common” has been mistaken for “normal,” and even “healthy” in our society. Just because (practically) the whole of society thinks we must suffer does not make it true. It means suffering is common.
The body does not know past or future. It is very direct, very now. All it responded to was the present threat – the threat from my mind. Before mind arose, there was no anxiety or stress. There was no time for that response. Had I valued thinking more than action in that moment, I might not be here to write this today. Being, which is always there before and after thought, predominated. I think the complete cessation of mind, that absolute peace, is what people who engage in extreme sports like rock climbing are seeking: stillness of mind. (There are easier, safer ways to get it : – ).
Stress, suffering is optional
The danger the average person’s body responds to is usually not real, not an actual life-or-death threat. It goes something like “My boss wants to see me. Must be that mistake I made. I am going to be fired. I’ll lose my job, my wife’s going to freak-out. God, we could lose the house and be on the streets!” While none of this (except the first line) has actually happened, the body hears, experiences, and responds to the rest of it all now. With each escalating bad thought-feeling, the body feels worse, which you may take as proof of danger, which increases your belief, and worse thoughts become available, and you can see how it cycles and escalates. How strong the biological response will be depends on how much belief, time, and energy you give bad thought-feeling. So what we are stressed about is generally not circumstances, it is thoughts about circumstances. Your poor body, held trapped in the belief that you are your thoughts, can suffer needlessly.
(This is how “pain is mandatory, suffering is optional,” is true. However if you have had multiple extreme anxiety episodes, or a long time period of stress, anxiety can become generalized in your physiology and become a stronger biological issue. Since the body-mind is one and the body does respond to mind and vice-versa, this can be reversed. Just as there is a stress response, there is a relaxation response and you can learn to trigger it. In addition to practicing Alchemy, I highly recommend Dr. Edward Leyton’s audio hypnotherapy CDs as a fine complement for this purpose.)
While the body’s protective response has a purpose in real danger, suffering is not beneficial. The protective response arises and then subsides when the danger is passed, but mental emotional suffering can go on indefinitely, keeping the body in an unnatural and damaging state of stress. In the Citizen article, Dr. Hill said, “Psychological distress manifests in things such as a suppressed immune system, hypertension and other biological changes that either expose an underlying illness or disease, or speeds up its progression.”
“Psychological distress manifests in things such as a suppressed immune system, hypertension and other biological changes that either expose an underlying illness or disease, or speeds up its progression.”
The purpose of stress
Yet my position is that stress and suffering do have a purpose – to wake you up out of painful thinking; to point you toward a better feeling, to something more beneficial where there is access to wisdom, not fear; to point you toward joy. You can learn to use feeling and the body to shift your state; you can learn to feel good no matter what.
What that means is giving up the belief that due to circumstances you must feel bad, that you must suffer, and giving up worshiping mere thought as truth, as reality. But you don’t have to do this cold turkey, you can do it feeling good. In fact, feeling good can help free you from it! It altered my life, but don’t take my word for it; try it on for yourself, and use the seven powerful questions of Alchemy.
You have nothing to lose, but the pain and illness.
Cindy is the author of The Alchemy of Love and Joy™. The practice came through her own suffering and later discovery of joy, and it emerged and took form in words, to help someone else. Her life has become happy and often ecstatic with the most simple things. She is excited to continue this adventure and wonders just how good it can become as she practices allowing more and more joy. She encourages the world to—Seek Joy!