There is stress and there is STRESS. There are moments of stress, and then there are long-term panic sessions that lodge in the gut, causing sleeplessness and an underlying sense of dread. Managing this latter type of stress is perhaps my biggest struggle, and I would go so far as to guess that many small business owners and other driven people share my predicament.
As a young man I shrugged off stress with ease. My whole motto was “Relax, we’re all going to die in the end so we might as well enjoy life now.” I don’t think I was too far off the mark, but as the years have progressed and I’ve taken on more responsibilities, especially taking on the responsibilities of raising livestock, I’ve forgotten this principle and morphed into that bulgey-eyed Mr. Stressball-type whom I used to pity.
I’m kidding. I’m not always Mr. Stressball, and I’m not always Mr. Laidback. Behind the masks we wear through our daily lives we are just who we are, doing what we need to do. We each have a different path, but we meet eachother thousands of times in between life and death.
Having perspective is when you understand that even though everything in your life seems just slightly beyond your control, everything is still probably okay. It is all out of our control to a large degree. By grasping onto some idea and identifying deeply with the idea, we essentially create our own stress. Why the hell would we do such a thing to ourselves?
Because we don’t want to let go of the idea of who we are, or how we live, or what we do. These ideas make up the narrative of our lives. Losing control of any of those ideas is somewhat akin to losing any sense of our own existence. Stress is really our minds and bodies reacting to fear and we think “It’s all up to me to make things right, to figure things out, to protect my world.”
If we’ve lost something like our friends, family, home, we feel sadness and fear of losing again and again until there is nothing left to hold on to. The weird thing is this very fear is what will definitely happen. My breaths are limited and one day I will no longer be here. No matter what happens in my life, I am blessed to live in a wealthy country. I don’t have to worry about war destroying my life, or lack of potable water and food. I can make actual choices about what I am going to do every day and what I am going to eat and drink. I can sleep in a safe warm bed. I can see my family and friends when I want to. When I have fears about the future, when I have doubts about my path, when I regret the past, I know that these are all privileges.
And I know we are all in this together. We are all passing through the cycles of birth, life, death, and rebirth in some form. Fear is like a cloud that blocks the sun. Behind that veil is the bright beating heart that fuels all life, and we all yearn to be warmed by it.
So, daily, I remind myself that this life is it for me. It isn’t a competition – history shows us that all winners eventually lose. The real work lies in compassion and cooperation.