Deal With Stress

The Secret Diary of an Aspiring Meditation Master – August 2014 – Week Two, “Identifying Personal Patterns.”

stress headacheWelcome back as we follow Kevin Schoeninger’s weekly messages on Spiritual Growth Monthly. This week Kevin continues to explore the book Total Recovery, by Dr. Gary Kaplan, as a way for us to discover the deep causes of whatever pain or discomfort we experience in our lives.

The idea of “personal patterns” is an intriguing one. How often do we say we do things because “that’s just the way we are.” Maybe it’s the other way around. Maybe we are the way we are, and feel the way we do, because of the patterns we have created throughout our lives.

Some of these patterns, of course, are habits. The more habitual our behaviors, the less we realize that they are there, and the more we attribute them to some internal part of our personality.

What Dr. Kaplan suggests is that back somewhere in each of our lives, we may have initiated those habits as a reaction to a particular stress. We may not even remember our original cause, but we carry the memory of it in our bodies; in the headaches, back pain, or overall feelings of exhaustion that we may live with every day.

As Kevin explains, each time we experience stress, it causes inflammation in our central nervous system. That was sort of a wake-up idea. We’ve probably all heard about how inflammation in our bodies is a root cause of several diseases, and even causes wrinkles in our skin. We know what inflammation looks like when we see it; a sore throat, a rash, or the swelling around an insect bite or a wound.

Of course we can’t see inflammation in places like our hearts or other internal organs. But if we have a fever, we can take some sort of anti-inflammatory drug like an aspirin, to cool our fever down. The idea of inflammation of our nervous system doesn’t sound like anything an aspirin would be much use for. But like any other inflammation, if it isn’t dealt with, it will continue to linger, and keep us in a state of being not quite right.

A pattern of early wounds

Last week we discussed how stress accumulates in our bodies, and how writing down major events in our lives, from an objective point of view, could help us see where some of that accumulated stress is coming from.

We might see that the stresses themselves form a pattern. If we experienced a negative situation once, and it never happened again, we were probably able to let it go easily. But chances are, the stress may have kept recurring. Someone else’s habitual criticism continually hitting our already bruised psyche would leave a mark where that wound has never healed.

I have found, too, that these kinds of wounds don’t seem to attack some action we did. Yes, mom, I’m sorry I left the back door open…again. Instead, we may be told, “you are so clumsy, you are so stupid, you are so fat.” We absorb these wounds because they are not like behavior we can simply change. They mean there is something wrong with who we are.

Then 20 years later, when we make a mistake at our jobs, we don’t think, “My mistake. I’ll fix it.” We think “you are so clumsy, you are so stupid,” and maybe even “you are so fat,” if we think our body image means we don’t belong wherever we are anyway.

Kevin mentions that both big single events, like some moment when we were laughed at by our entire school, or “persistent messages that we are not good enough,” all leave us overloaded with long carried stress. This may not manifest as some grand emotional breakdown. It may simply keep us always on the edge, just waiting for some crisis to overflow our ability to cope.

He uses one phrase that really struck me, the idea of being “highly susceptible to feeling overwhelmed.” I know that feeling well. Sure, I am coping. Sure, I’ll get all this done, somehow. But that lingering concern is always there. At any moment, it could turn out to be too much. At any moment I could fail and simply fall off the earth.

Oddly enough, the fact that this massive collapse has never happened does not keep me from feeling that it might. As if the Universe was just waiting to drop a second shoe. But in the meantime, I learned long ago that if I allow myself to become too stressed, or don’t rest, my body will simply put me to bed on its own. Migraines as therapy. Not a recommended treatment.

It is critical then, Kevin tells us, to “actively release tensions, before they get the best of you.” Actively, is the key word here, I think. Ignoring tension or old causes of stress does no good at all.

Examining the timeline of our lives

To help us find these old tensions, Kevin describes the steps to create a timeline of events in our lives, and once again observe what we discover in an objective, scientific way. We may discover patterns in the stresses themselves, or different patterns in how we habitually respond.

Kevin reminded us last week that our stories matter. By following steps from Dr. Kaplan’s book, which Kevin outlines in the rest of his message, we have more tools to release accumulated stress, and actually find “total recovery.”

For Kevin’s entire article, visit


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One reply on “The Secret Diary of an Aspiring Meditation Master – August 2014 – Week Two, “Identifying Personal Patterns.””

Hi Janet – thanks again for sharing your private diary. That’s a great point about “actively releasing tensions” before they get too much. I would even say it’s necessary for the really engrained stuff.

When we examine our behavior, we see that we tend to repeat the same patterns over and over — whether it’s a feeling of I’m not enough, or fear, sadness, insecurity, or whatever it is. It’s definitely helpful to set aside a little time each day to work on things like this with clearing techniques and tools like meditation. Another important point is that we tend to perpetuate our patterns because we believe it’s who we are. Seeing through that false identification also helps to stop the reinforcing it.

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