It is a universal belief that stress comes from external sources. We witness it all the time: the demanding boss, the nagging wife, the hysterical kids on an airplane, the grumpy old man holding up the line at Starbucks. Stress levels spike and we blame others. Yes, people can drive us insane, but there are situational stress factors too: a horrible job, paying the bills, a brutally cold winter, traffic, road rage, long lines at the bank or post office, the bully at the gym…need I continue?
Everyone thus lives with the belief that factors outside themselves produce stress – so their entire focus is on correcting the external world. We think “if I could just fix this, change him or control that, I will finally have peace.” Yet despite our best efforts to manage these external factors, the challenges keep surfacing and our minds continue to be consumed by stress.
The duality of peace vs stress is not found in external objects or beings but rather in the relationship you have with those things and how you process these life events internally. How can two young siblings watch their parents argue, with one child traumatized and the other not affected? They both witnessed the same scenario unfold in front of them, but their internal processing may be vastly different. One may be deeply sensitive to conflict, the other oblivious to tension. Similarly, two coworkers may both get yelled at in an office meeting by their boss, leaving one visibly shaken while the other rolls it off like water off a duck’s back. How can this be if they both just walked out of the same room and had the identical experience of getting screamed at by the same boss?
Your relationship with the world is entirely dependent on the nature of your inner personality, and from this emanates your ability to experience pleasure or pain, joy or sorrow, peace or stress. Perception is reality and how we process our environment dictates our response. I have done joint presentations to a huge audience where I was stressed to the max – sweaty palms, dry throat – and my colleague was calm and cool as a cucumber. How could this be? Internally, I had a massive fear of public speaking whereas my coworker never felt any pressure. Hence, his relationship to public speaking was in sharp contrast to mine and therefore internally processed the meeting in a non-stressful manner.
But stress ultimately challenges us all, in big and small ways. Ideally, when something goes wrong in the external world and it CAN be corrected by taking action, then do so and resolve the situation. If, however, it is not possible to correct it, then learn to live with it. Acceptance and surrender are powerful choices and if you cannot find this within yourself on things out of your control, you will be disappointed…and ultimately stressed. Try to look at persons, environments and situations as what they are and not simply how you would like them to be. By doing so, you are the architect of your fortune; by resisting, you are the architect of your misfortune. This slight but important shift in your mindset can subtly change your reality in a positive manner.
Example: A man was riding the subway on a quiet Sunday morning. Suddenly, at the next stop, a Father and his children entered and instantly the noise level erupted. The children were literally in meltdown mode, screaming hysterically and running wild up and down the cabin. The Father seemed oblivious to it all, with his head down and eyes closed. The man became increasingly agitated and tense and finally could not take it anymore. Stress level was running high. He angrily turned to the Father and asked him to control his kids. The Father looked up, seemingly unaware of the commotion and replied, “Oh, you are right, I am so sorry. I am sort of at a loss right now as we just came from the hospital. Their Mother died an hour ago and I guess they don’t know how to deal with it either.” The man instantly changed his demeanor from anger to compassion, now completely accepting and surrendering to the chaos. What changed? Nothing externally, as the kids were still throwing tantrums, but inwardly the man’s response did a complete reversal.
The modern world will always produce stress factors, but we can alter our relationship to them and how we digest and process what comes at us daily. It comes from within…an inside job.