Stress kills. It can kill us, literally, but before it gets that far it can kill our dreams by destroying our ambition. My longtime friend – and in many ways sort of a hero – Mack Paul shares something very important to all overstressed writers. (Uh, that would be all writers, by definition, I think.)
by Mack Paul
So I’m driving through my neighborhood, and this idiot in a big pickup is going 20 miles per hour where everybody knows that the rule is to go 30, no matter what the stupid sign says. I get frustrated. My mind contracts to a little laser beam of hurry. I want to tailgate and I want to honk. Then it occurs to me that if I do that, he might just get out of his big truck and teach me some manners. I decide I might be better off just feeling how I feel. I shift my attention from my hurrying mind to my body and the anxiety churning in my stomach. Feeling it, rather than trying to escape it, I relax a little bit. I notice the beautiful blue sky and the green trees, and then going 20 is fun, a lot more fun than going nuts and getting in a fight.
I find myself doing an unpleasant yard chore while simultaneously fretting about climate change. I despair about global warming and I hate the job. I start getting mad because our environmentally-friendly tools aren’t getting me through this misery quickly enough. Then I come up with a great plan, to go into the house and start yelling at my wife about our crummy tools. I realize that won’t work. She’ll get mad and tell me I’m an idiot and she’ll be right. Crap! I just feel how I feel and calm down. I finish the job and go inside for a pleasant conversation instead of a nasty one.
I want to go for a bike ride before the day gets too hot, but my wife wants me to water the garden. I want to say “Do it yourself!” but I know what that will get me, so I get out there and start rushing through it so I can do what I want. Then I begin to notice the beauty — the hum of the insects, the flowers, our cat companionably following me about the yard, the deep blue of the sky. Then I take my ride. It’s a bit warm but still wonderful.
I used to think that meditation was like an inoculation, but I also used to think that other people were stressing me out. I’ve been meditating for about 25 years. Years of learning and relearning that I, and only I, stress myself out. The examples I gave are the common self-created aggravations that just don’t feel very good. When I start piling them up, one on top of the other, pretty soon I am just mad and in a big fight. I am by no means inoculated from stress, but I have learned, most of the time, to just stop.
Every human brain makes the mistake of believing its thoughts are real. The most important thing to learn from meditation is that thoughts are mirages that look real from a distance but vanish under the light of awareness. Awareness is the medium from which thought arises and as such, is a meditative tool. Awareness is plain and so lacking in substance that we fail to notice it, even though it is who we are. The thoughts we think are manifestly not who we are, but thinking is seductive. We believe thinking will get us what we want, and we follow it down some pretty dark alleyways.