Most of those who are open to the so-called alternative or complementary therapies are familiar with the many studies showing how stress is related to disease and dysfunction. Stress could be defined as a force that strains or deforms, in our case it hampers our ablility to stay balanced and healthy. The causes of stress are often cited as pressure in the workplace, trouble in relationships and even rush hour traffic; all quite vague and widely ranging and, perhaps most importantly, never questioned sources of this drain on our health. Since stress is such a central theme in all illness, it is in our best interest to be exact and thorough in our investigation. While many therapies are aimed at reducing or relieving stress already accumulated, the purpose of this article is to stop stress at the source, before we are affected by it.
During my recent month long visit in India, I was witness to lifestyles that are beyond western imagination. External events that are blamed for stress were rampant: constant loud noises, overcrowding, unbelievable traffic, vehicle exhaust, human waste in the streets, poverty, trash, pollution – the list is endless, yet the people there were not noticeably stressed out, in fact, the ones I met seemed quite relaxed. On returning to the states it was like a blissful paradise, no honking horns, clean toilets and lots of room, and I wondered how anyone could be stressed in this environment. Still, in a couple of weeks I found myself getting stressed in traffic and was prompted to investigate this phenomenon.
Since the external environment had not changed since I had returned, it seemed logical to look inside for what had changed in me. The inner spaciousness and appreciation for the beauty of my surroundings had been replaced by worry, self-importance, impatience, fidgeting and non-stop chatter. I had discovered the source of my stress, the unconscious workings of my human machinery, a self-imposed nightmare that would be my undoing. I could no longer be ignorant and point my finger saying "I could relax if they would change" because it was clearly an inside job. However there is no need to believe me; a few short days of observation and you will have your own proof.
Fortunately for us, there are practical steps we can take to remedy this situation and they have already been thought out and organized for us. Esoteric schools throughout the ages have catalogued these "leaks" and developed effective measures to take against them. What follows is a list of six common leaks, how to recognize them and how to stop them. Once we quit losing all this force our biggest problem will be what to do with all our extra energy.
1. Uncontrolled Imagination: the process of endless more or less morbid associations flowing unchecked through our head. Examples are worry or daydreaming. In some people this creates great anxiety, a form of stress, in others the stress is an indirect result. Either way it is a drain on resources. To counteract, notice the flow of associations or direction of thought. Find a substitute, think of some definite thing, a poem, song, sunset, etc. that is different than the flow you have observed. Then notice how things are different, that is, did worrying really help the situation or just drain your energy?
2. Internal Considering: the process of taking external events personally, like when someone cuts you off in traffic, or of thinking the world owes you, like you somehow deserve to be treated better. This is the result of self-love or self-importance and pride. One possible solution is to see yourself in the scale of all creation, to see your relative size and importance compared to the cosmos. Another is external considering, or putting yourself in another person’s place, which gives insight into their behavior and shows that nothing personal was meant. Internal considering often coincides with uncontrolled imagination.
3. Unconscious Muscle Movement: the tensing of muscles without purpose. This can range from the nervous tapping of a foot to full-blown muscular armoring of the whole body. Observe movements and tensions in daily activities. One method I find efficient is to exaggerate the tension/movement and then relax. This helps me to see how much force is being drained and at the same time how ridiculous I must appear to my peers. Ongoing observation will uncover specific tensions for specific situations.
4. Automatic Talking: the mindless filling up of space with idle talk. If you don’t immediately think of someone who does this, you may be an automatic talker yourself. This leak distracts us from our task, whether it be your job or just being present to your feelings, and makes it impossible to center ourselves to gather our energy. When you find yourself doing this (and we all do it), stop in mid-sentence if you have to and see what it is like to be silent. Often we stop listening to people because we are planning our reply/reaction. Try counting internally to three before answering a person; take time for a breath. You may be surprised how much can be said in a few well-chosen words.
5. Lying: if you are one of the people who claim they never lie you have never seriously observed yourself. Ask a close friend for help if needed. Any basic automatic reply, like "I’m fine," will be a lie and, worst of all, we believe it ourselves. Myriad energies are leaked in covering and inventing lies, not to mention the energy lost when we act based on our belief in our own lies. It’s not that we should always tell the truth but that we should know every time we do lie. There’s an old joke – How can you tell when someone’s lying? Their lips are moving.
6. Expression of Negative Emotions: I saved the biggest leak for last. I could easily write a whole series of articles on the destructive force of this leak. Its worst characteristic is that it seems to feel good when it is being done and many people who unconsciously want to stay sick unknowingly thwart their own healing process. Try it for yourself: don’t say anything negative about that special person, place or thing that most annoys you. See how long you can go. You will quickly see how much energy you lose because you will not be able to stop for long without a lot of practice. And when you’ve mastered not saying things out loud you can try not thinking them.
There are many practical exercises for plugging up leaks. For those with chronic diseases this may be the only answer, because no external cure has a chance against these leaks. Even if you have a lesser problem like allergies or headaches, practical exercises are very effective. We already knew that stress causes disease, and now we know how to eradicate stress.
If this list of leaks is too long to remember, there is a short form. We leak energy away whenever we lose our sense of self and/or lose our identity – that is, whenever we identify with something. All forms of leaks fit under the general heading of identification. In order to stop the stress from external events we need simply to separate from them by not identifying. This will keep all our healing energies within us, where they belong and will even give us an added sense of presence in the bodymind which makes everyday events flow smoothly.