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Lions Roar : September 2012
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2012 48 Fundamentally, until we penetrate these deeper supports for the stresses we experience on the surface of life, we will continue to be tossed about by hope and fear and cycle through the six realms. Our stress level may fluctuate, and we may have good times and bad times, but there will continue to be an undercur- rent of stress in whatever we do. STRESS AND GROWTH Relating to stress is not as simple as just trying to reduce our stress or to relax. A certain amount of stress is necessary for growth, and at times we need to purposefully put ourselves in stressful situations. It is easy to confuse the virtue of content- ment or peacefulness with the pseudo-peacefulness born of inertia and the fear of change. It is an oversimplification of the Buddhist ideal of ease to think that it means the avoidance of stress. Great teachers like Nagarjuna and Sakya Pandita have pointed out that to learn we need to exert ourselves, and that to progress along the path we have to give up our attachment to ease. According to Nagarjuna: “If you desire ease, forsake learning. If you desire learning, forsake ease.” And Sakya Pandita wrote: “The wise, when studying, suffer pains; Without exertion, it is impossible to become wise.” In fact, there is no such thing as a stress-free life. Life is movement, and movement is stress- ful. Without stress there would be no path, no wisdom, and no attainment. Ironically, without stress we could not be at ease. Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche encouraged students to “lean into the sharp points” of experience. What all this points to is that although stress can be an obstacle, it can also be a catalyst for growth. Trungpa Rinpoche routinely placed students in posi- tions beyond their comfort zone and encouraged them to do the same to themselves. He was particularly pointed in his critique of the approach of always looking for comfort, whether it was loose, comfortable clothing, air-conditioned housing, or com- fortably unchallenging belief systems. He taught that a bit of dis- comfort was not just an annoyance but a reminder of the need for ongoing discipline. Not only do we have to lean into our own stress at times, but we also have to be willing to allow others to learn in that same way. It is hard to watch someone struggle without feeling anxious and wanting to help out—and often that is what you should do. But it is not always so simple. For instance, I was told that if you see a butterfly struggling to break out of its cocoon, and you try to ease its struggle by prying open the cocoon for it, that butterfly will emerge in a weakened state and may even die. The butterfly RELATIONSHIPS The Traffic Light Method Try this mindful communication technique, says Susan Gillis Chapman, when you’re experiencing stress in your relationships. INTIMACY IS a precious but fragile gift that’s easily damaged dur- ing difficult times. In times of stress or crisis, our survival instincts send us mixed messages. At some level we know that our partner- ship is a lifeline we need to protect. Nevertheless, it’s easy to start blaming each other, to pull up the drawbridge and hunker down in the fortress of “me.” Depending on which survival tactic we follow, stress can either make or break our most important relationships. Switch- ing tactics can happen in a heartbeat, but the positive or destructive consequences of that choice can last a lifetime. Meghan, a mindfulness student, tells a story about a turning point early in her marriage. “Josh and I were arguing. We stopped the car and walked out onto a beach, too angry to talk. I picked up a rock and held it clenched in my fist. When I opened my hand, I saw it was shaped like a heart. I glanced over at Josh, and without saying a word, I recon- nected to him. The little kid part of me wanted to holdontomyanger,butIknewIhadtoletitgo.” In the middle of a painful argument with our partner, creating some space—creating a heart–rock moment— interrupts the momentum and allows us to listen to the wiser part of ourselves. To create space, here are three mindfulness techniques, using traffic signals as reminders. RED: STOP Stressful situations have built-in stoplights we can learn to recognize. Start by reconnecting with the physical environment, which Meghan and Josh did by stopping their car and walking onto the beach. Feel the bottoms of your feet, the weight of gravity holding you. Perhaps focus on a single sense perception, as Meghan did with the rock in her hand. Listening to our body can interrupt the domino effect of our reactions and bring us back to the here and now. YELLOW: TAKE CARE Ask yourself, “How am I feeling?” Take a deep breath and make room for any vulnerable emotions that surface. Unclenching the fist of blame enables us to ➢ page 89 PHOTO:KROPIC/DREAMSTIME.COM