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Lions Roar : September 2012
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2012 51 FOR MANY YEARS, my life has been impossibly over-sched- uled. I finally resorted to computerized, categorized, color-coded to-do lists. I so single-mindedly finished and deleted tasks from the list that the consonants wore off the delete key on my laptop, leaving only e e e, and then the whole delete button fell off the keyboard and bounced under the radiator. My colleagues can gauge my stress levels by the pitch of my voice; I live at a screech- ing e, an octave above middle c. So I assumed I understood stress. But just to be sure, I looked it up. Stress is a noun meaning “adversity, pressure,” from estrece, “narrowness,” from the Latin strictus, “compressed,” from stringere, “draw tight.” But stress is also a verb—“to place greater impor- tance on.” The etymology surprised me and made me wonder. Does stress come from compressing too much into too narrow a life and then placing outsize importance on all those assign- ments? Or put it this way: Is stress what happens when a person fills her life too full of her self-important self? Well, yes and no. The millions of people who are grieving, who are thirsty, who are unable to feed their children—they have not chosen their challenges. My situation is different. What I experi- ence is the ironic stress of the privileged, which is stress nonethe- less. And here’s the thing: Once I figured out what stress might be for me, I realized what I could do to reduce it. I should have known all along. When I fretted as a child, gnaw- ing my fingernails, my parents always sent me outside, giving me a gentle nudge out the door as if I were a bad and beloved dog. I resented it, of course. But what happened beyond the walls? Under the branches of a willow tree, I lay on the grass and breathed the willows’ smell, like dusty lemons. Dusky air, chir- ring with cicadas and sweet with a breeze across peonies, warmed me like a blanket. Maybe time itself paused to rest un- get my attention later, but for right now let me just ‘stack them’ off to the side.” STEP 2: IDENTIFY THE ACTUAL BUSINESS ISSUE Once we have temporarily sidelined our emotions, we can reflect on what precisely is going on. In our situation with Raoul, we might realize that he’s angry because he was blindsided by budget cuts. So the immediate issue at hand is not Raoul’s anger, though such anger sure appears to be urgent. The business issue is actually the budget. Despite all the confusing feelings, this is the issue at hand. By recog- nizing and sidelining the confusing feelings, we create psychological space for us to attend to the business that needs our focus. STEP 3: LISTEN TO THE PAIN FROM A POSITION OF HEALTH By separating the toxic emotions—ours and others—from the ac- tual business issue, we become available to listen carefully to Raoul and get the full flavor of what he is feeling and saying. From this compassionate perspective, we can see the business issue clearly and at some point we can offer Raoul our well-being, which could be as simple as a smile or a nod or as powerful as an apology. In the end, stress is not what makes work grim, dismal, or op- pressive; rather it’s the healthy or toxic emotions we choose to bring to the task that makes all the difference. It’s really up to us. MICHAEL CARROLL is the author of the forthcoming book Fearless at Work. NATURE Going Outside When life gets too busy, Kathleen Dean Moore remembers the childhood joy of nature. der the willow, or maybe I mistook its motion for the sway of leafy branches, but I remember being surprised when the wild, orange, Midwestern sunset descended. Fireflies floated over the lawn. A star sank through the last purple stripes of the day, and a dog barked far, far away in a night so dense with the scent of the peonies that I might have been underwater. Sometime after, the porch light flashed on—my mother, come to fetch me. “Can PHOTO:©2012BOBSACHA