Fact: Life is stressful. There is not one single person in history who has escaped the inevitable stressors of life. When we experience stress, especially when it feels unmanageable, it is a warning sign that something deeper is ailing us. Sometimes stress is inescapable; there is nothing we can do about it — such as the stress of aging, sickness, hunger, and physical fatigue of the body. Other times, the stress we experience is of our own making as we chase after pleasure, flee from pain, thereby ignoring ninety percent of what is happening in the now. We devise strategies and build walls all around our hearts, entrapping us in a prison of our likes and dislikes. Thus, we feel stressed and suffer the consequences of pervasive discontent.
When we feel sick, we go to doctors and describe what ails us. We say, “Doc, I’m sick!” and then list our symptoms and point to all the places it hurts. The doctors then run a series of tests to determine the cause of our pain and discomfort. Once the cause is known, the doctors inform us of the diagnosis and prescribe medicine. At a subconscious level, the demands of modern society are contagious with symptoms of stress, which manifest in a variety of ways. Severe chronic stress can present physically as ulcers, strokes, heart attacks, or other serious diseases. It can also show up mentally as insomnia, clinical depression, or anxiety disorders. Too much stress causes our bodies and minds to malfunction and shut down, thus impairing our ability to function in day-to-day life.
Stress commonly signals that something is out of balance. This stress is most often rooted in our mind — in our thoughts, perceptions, beliefs, and conditioning. Furthermore, people who are chronically stressed are regularly unaware of what is playing out in their minds. So to cure stress, a sharp awareness of what is happening in our present moment experience is needed, especially in the body and the mind. The medicine that helps cultivate and strengthen this needed awareness is a daily dose of meditation.
In meditation, we cultivate and strengthen the skill of letting go. We develop a mind that inclines towards abandoning by learning to let go of the complex world outside to reach the world inside where we discover peace, ease, and serenity. The mind relaxes by releasing the mental baggage we carry regarding the past and future. There is no more need to ruminate about work, family, commitments, responsibilities, our history, or all the good and bad times we had as a child. Nor do we need to worry, anticipate, plan, prepare, fantasize, or fear for what lies ahead. We learn to simply be with present moment experience, with whatever is arising, without grasping the pleasant or pushing away the unpleasant. The mind is content and at peace, free from the stressors of life. In meditation, we give ourselves permission to take a break, to take a mini-vacation, to tell ourselves, “It’s okay. I’m okay.” As the mind learns to let go, we begin to feel much lighter, unburdened, healthy, and free.
If you follow the prescribed treatment plan of your doctor when you are sick, you will eventually know if the treatment works or not. The same goes for meditation. You have to see for yourself if it helps you manage and cope with the stress of life. But like any lifestyle change, you have to give the process time. One cannot simply meditate for just a day or a week and conclude that it doesn’t work. Meditation requires time and effort. It is a commitment. Just as it takes years for a tree to grow strong and produce fruit, the transformative power of meditation also takes years. With patience, dedication, and care, a daily dose of meditation is without rival in providing relief from unhealthy stress. Feelings of agitation and uneasiness become transformed into peace, serenity, contentment, and wellbeing. Yet, there is only one way you will ever know if the medicine of meditation works: do it and see for yourself.
By Chaplain. Kyle Sorys, MDiv.