500 million years ago our great ancestors crawled out of the primordial soup and staggered their way onto land. Quite a feat of achievement considering they didn’t have legs. Regardless of their waddling methods, microbes, plants, animals and humans have evolved into something quite remarkable over the millennia. Evolution in all its forms is truly incredible. From our archaic grunts and campfires, we now have a vast and sometimes baffling array of technology. We’ve flown to the moon, created 6,500 different languages and turned a barren desert into the strangeness that is Dubai. Evolution is amazing. So why as an evolved human being am I totally stressed out??
Evolution is the survival of the fittest, and that’s exactly how I feel, that I’m here surviving. The very evolution that has enabled endless emails, alerts, beeps, bings and boings has played havoc with my stress response system. Yes, I am evolved, but I am not evolved enough to deal with having to break out the fight or flight response 25 times a day. Whenever I fight my way into work on the tube, when I have days of relentless multi-tasking, meeting a deadline, running late, having an argument, missing a bus, the cumulative effects can be overwhelming. And on days when everyone wants a piece of you and gets to take chunks out of you? Forget about it. Sanity has taken the last train out of Smilesville and left a slightly jaded scowl.
As evolved humans, we’re only supposed to run or fight if we’re under threat, it’s our in-built survival mechanism. It’s why our species still exist. But in modern day life, our amygdala (tiny but crazy strong part of the brain) activates the stress response every time we encounter stress whatever form it takes. In the modern world, being under threat is just living day to day.
Ok, so I’m a drama queen. Doesn’t make it any less true. You can’t deny that we are all just surviving, trying to get on in the rat race. You spend more time at work than you do with your loved ones. Sometimes it feels like you spend half your life just travelling to and from work. Some people are defined by their jobs, their identity and status in life intrinsically linked to what they do. No wonder it stresses the hell out of us when we place so much importance on, and therefore so much effort into our jobs.
I recently hit a wall. Well, I had nothing left in the gas tank and I crashed into it. My built up levels of stress at work had ground down my tolerance, my anger was the sort of anger that makes you feel as though your eyeballs are boiling inside your head and I was on the verge of committing a brilliant stroke of career suicide. I knew then that I needed to evolve in a different way or that elastic band was going to snap and smack me right in the face.
People take care of themselves through exercise and nutrition. But what about the mind? Stress is very much a mental thing after all. Dealing positively with stress needs a healthy well rested mind as well as physical health.
I stumbled onto Vedic meditation through a friend. It had the feel of kismet about it, if you believe in that sort of thing. I attended an intro session to Vedic Meditation in London through a friend’s recommendation. In that session, Will (the teacher) hit on truths that resonated, enough to give me hope. This guy knew what he was talking about and more than that, he believed in it 100%. I booked myself in for the weekend course to try it and see.
That was 3 weeks ago. I have been doing this mantra based meditation technique for 20 minutes twice a day, every day, since that weekend course. You can look it up and read about the scientific facts as to how our brain reacts to stress and how meditation helps and why. I am just writing this based on how I feel and the differences I have noticed in myself and my behaviour.
I am more positive, happy and relaxed. My productivity at work has increased, I turn out reports in 2 days when it used to take me 5. I feel generally more helpful and friendly to colleagues who used to just make me want to lock them in the cupboard, eat the key and carry on with my contorted facial expressions. Now, tube delays and stampeding hordes of humanity knocking each other over at rush hour doesn’t touch me. In fact, I let people on in front of me for no apparent reason other than to be nice.
I’m not saying this is a miracle cure. I’m definitely not saying that I will eventually turn into a being made of light. It could just be the fact that I am taking time out in the day just for me to relax my mind. But I’m not even going to analyse it. Because it has worked for me in such a profound way that it feels wrong to even question it. It is enough that it works. It is enough that it has given me the ability to let things go that don’t matter so that I can focus with laser sharp clarity on the things that do.
I work for a big internet corporate and I know that some workplaces have started evolving into environments that foster healthy and happy employees. This is mainly seen in the younger, online digital and tech companies whose cultures encourage a different way of thinking. Like Steve Jobs at Apple. I’ve read that CEOs in some of the biggest companies meditate to give them that competitive edge. If three weeks has done this for me, imagine what it could do for an entire company.
Author Bio: Vivian Choi is currently a student of Vedic Meditation at Will Williams Meditation.