Dealing with stress is a little like housework. You can’t just clean things once and be done for good. Dirty dishes, clothes and floors appear almost as soon as you are finished cleaning the last batch. And as much as you’d like to, you would never expect to dust and then never have to dust again. Yet we do that with stress all the time. We help ourselves become centered and calm, and then overreact when some new stress comes along, because we expect life to be all rosy now.
Learning techniques to handle stress doesn’t mean it won’t happen anymore. And honestly, we would be pretty bored if it didn’t. All life has a rhythm. It has cycles, and like it or not, we sometimes need the dark to appreciate the light, just as we need a night of sleep to be fully awake in the morning. “There is a time for every purpose,” it says in Ecclesiastes, even if that time doesn’t happen when we want.
When we are under a lot of stress, or having an exceptionally bad day, it is easy to feel the world is against us. We may wonder why things happen…or more specifically why they are happening to us. Aren’t we doing the right things, thinking the right thoughts? Now that we’re trying to open ourselves to a greater spiritual awareness, doesn’t that mean things are supposed to get easier? Well, sometimes yes, and sometimes no.
Some days life is easy. The days when things work right, the weather’s good, and everything falls into place. Other days, we may have started out with a happy attitude, but everything we touch seems to break in our hands. And sometimes life can be awful, tragic, or feel like more than we can bear.
Even within our darkest days, however, life’s natural ebb and flow contains a blessing. We learn that all things do pass. We learn to gain strength, and we learn to endure. We learn that handling stress is not about being calm when life is peaceful. We learn we need to be peaceful for the times when life is not.
Accepting life’s ebb and flow, allows it to flow around you.
The more we practice tranquility during life’s little everyday upsets, the more tranquil we will be able to be all the time. When first learning to practice peace, it may help to remember that little annoyances happen to everyone. It is our reaction to these upsets that determine how much stress we feel.
It is also crucial to remember that we have our own ebbs and flows. Sometimes we aren’t paying attention; sometimes we may say the wrong thing. Sometimes we do something stupid, lose our car keys, forget an important appointment, or drop a birthday cake on the floor. Those less than perfect moments do not make us bad or careless people. We are simply ordinary people who make ordinary mistakes. When we can laugh at ourselves, or at least admit we were wrong without beating ourselves up about it, we become more patient with other people too.
Mother Angelica once said that none of us come by patience naturally…we need other people or situations to practice on. That includes ourselves.
I made a series of mistakes last week. One day alone…bang, bang, bang…three costly blunders in 10 minutes or less. A new personal record. I couldn’t believe that I could be so dumb. But I had to sit and wait, and accept that it was done and over. I had to sit and regain my composure, forgive myself, remember to be at peace. Only a few minutes later, someone else came along who could smile and remind me that sometimes things just happen. And I felt blessed that someone else could see the light dawning, so I could too.
We need rain to see rainbows.
When I used to live in Seattle, the people there accepted the drizzle, so they would never fail to appreciate how beautiful it was when the clouds cleared away. In office towers all over the city, someone might say, “the mountain’s out,” and desk workers would line up around the windows and gaze out happily at Mt. Rainier and the glories of Puget Sound. On America’s gulf coast, we had hurricanes. But my neighbors simply called them the “price of living in paradise.” For them, it was no great price to pay.
What’s your paradise? Chances are it involves some challenges, maybe to make it become a reality, or to test your abilities or learn something new. And don’t you feel more confident or exhilarated after conquering the stress to reach your goal, whether it is raising good children or learning to ski?
As soon as we understand that stress does pass, or that we have everything we need to rise above it, the more peace we will feel the next time stress rolls in.
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