The prevention of stress can only happen in real time, in present-moment time. It can only happen during the fact – not before or after it. As soon as a random or triggered thought brings your mind to the past, you become prone to the stress of guilt, regret or remorse over what you would, could or should have said or done. When your mind skips to the future, you experience anxiety that some future event or plan might go wrong. You’re going to a business meeting, for example, and worry whether you or your ideas will be liked. Both past and future thoughts and feelings occurred in the present moment, so the present is where you need to spend your energy and focus – and spend it in a particular way.
You focus on the present because it’s the only time when stress cannot possibly happen. When present you are relaxed. When the observer part of you leaves present-moment awareness for any reason whatsoever, you leave relaxation – along with all the joy, clarity and power that comes with it.
Stress is experienced only when thought is uncontrolled, and it’s uncontrolled when you leave the simultaneous, present-moment awareness of it. The goal is to keep the past and future in the present – where reality is. Relaxation lives in controlled reality while stress lives in uncontrolled mentality.
The problem is this. You cannot stop random thoughts of the past or future by willpower – or any other power. As life happens, so thought happens. All you can do is neutralize their stressful effect on you. The key discipline necessary to neutralize stress is to stay in the present during all mental activity regardless of subject or content, regardless whether past or future. Don’t get carried away or lost in any thought. The how is to experience thought while observing it at the same time. Observe life while experiencing it. The mental part of you can travel wherever it wants to, but the conscious part of you must stay on top of it to control it, that is, to keep you in stress-free reality.
You have to follow mental activity as you do a dog on a leash or as a mother follows her toddler child. The child is under control by virtue of mother’s presence. Likewise with thought; your presence renders thought controlled so it’s incapable of stressing you. Thought becomes just thought. Nothing personal. Nothing emotional. Neither negative nor positive. Thought is checked before emotion can enter and fester. Your observing and experiencing simultaneously effectively detaches you from stressful entanglement in thought and feeling. Conscious detachment from thought and feeling is detachment from stress. This is the definition of meditation.