But you got stress hey I got stress we all got stress. It’s not the stress that’s the problem so much as our response. Is being upset about the weather going to change the weather? Would a sun-dance in the back yard or sacrificing a goat mollify the kid whose outing has been ruined? Would it even appease the weather-gods? Does rage at being stuck in traffic make the traffic go away? There must be more interesting things to get stressed about than what we can’t control.
For the ones we can control we have huge untapped resources – sometimes even for what we think we can’t do anything about. Carlos was a chef with back pain so severe he couldn’t stand it, let alone stand up. Not good for cheffing. Prescription drugs worked less and less until he eventually had to stop work. Faced with life on disability benefit he turned to the Tao, to a regime of ‘spinal cord breathing’ and qigong ‘turtle’ structure. Initial pain relief led to restored strength and flexibility that within three months saw him back to being fit for purpose. He kept up the practice, realising the solutions of maintenance and prevention avoid the need for healing: you don’t have to be ill to feel better.
Problems create stress, and don’t we all have our problems? Do we turn our back and hope they go away, or turn them into solutions to make them go away…if they’re the going-away type?
Is the problem ongoing? Like every time I look in the mirror I see my shortcomings? Or is it right now, can’t get it up, get it in, get it out, pay the gas bill, find a parking space, stuck in traffic late for a date, flight, meeting, house repossessed, dog run away, partner’s nose buried in computer…or in someone else’s partner on a weekend in Paris? Just been fired? Had sex with a stranger and picked up an itchy feeling down there? Or not a stranger? Friend unfriended and announced it in their status update, granny left money to siblings, cousin tweeted nasty things that happen to be true and now all the other twits know your guilt-edged secret? Your shares in Stoogapplezon crashed because profits fell when they decided to play the social conscience card: pay more tax to a profligate government who put the money to better use (foreign wars, bonuses for bailed-out bankers) than employing thousands of people producing stuff we all want? Been arrested for phone-hacking?
Your turn. Think of a problem stressing you out or is it already right there in your face? Something you can’t do anything about? OK, carry on stressing: intense stress and excitement both cause the same neurological response so if that’s how you like to get your kicks, enjoy! Nervous system loves it: exercise for the stressors and receptors. On the other hand toxic emotions pollute the bloodstream and any physician will say you can worry yourself sick. Say you can laugh yourself better and they laugh you to scorn.
So what’s the worst that can happen? No, not that worst, the very worst. No, worse than that. Yeah, that one, that’s it, look at it, listen to it, feel it, taste it, smell it, get up close and make friends with it, see the vivid colours on the picture in your mind, turn up the volume to batter your ear-drums, reach out and grab it, shake, rattle and roll it over the hills and far away as the colours fade and sounds reduce, the tastes diminish and odors decrease.
Just think, imagine how things could be if it wasn’t there any more. Sure, you have to visualise it there if you want to see it gone.
There now, is that more manageable or is it time to turn for help? Phone a friend? Who? You don’t want anyone to know of the fix you’re in, do you? Course not, they don’t want that kind of hassle. Well, it only takes an o – a no – to turn hassle into asshole. WTF are friends for?
Jack called, said he had to come by because he couldn’t always get it up for Jill, and Jill had mentioned she couldn’t always get it in for Jack. Yet both – I saw them separately – affirmed they could manage pretty well on their own, he by hand but didn’t tell her, not wanting to ram home the thought she already had that he didn’t fancy her any more, and she with her buzzer that she hid from him not wanting to embed the idea he already had of his own inadequacy. When I told them, still separately, that it wasn’t physiological for either of them but situational for both, they agreed to seeing me together.
I took them through the Healing Love exercises they could do, separately and or together. This broke the ice and got them used to the idea of doing things together other than just bonking.
Then I put it to them they might care to share with each other what they had previously told me, separately. After nervous stuttering and blurting it came out, turning into gales of laughter when they realised they were also hiding from each other that they were watching erotic movies online, he in private browsing, she deleting history. So they found their own solution, got their love-life back on track watching together, amused, excited and aroused that they liked similar things.
OK, but no not me my friend, I’ll do it my way, maybe try a little quiet desperation, or is that how I already lead my life? I don’t think so cos that ain’t leading. Going with the flow takes me just one way, the way the flow goes, and you know what way’s that? If you don’t then take a look where it goes in the shower, or when you pull the plug out the bath, or when you’re standing by a waterfall, or watching one on Youtube, or flushing the toilet. The flow’s a follower and it’s time to turn into a leader, wake up, take command and a bite of life, take out the o and smell the flowers they’re right behind you but are they right?
When Bernie Confelt pocketed his ego and phoned his friends he made a fortune – she favors the brave. If you rehearse it comes easier, making the phone shape with your hand – hey, make sure nobody’s watching, you don’t want to look a fool do you, even in the eye. Uncomfortable? Well, that’s a start. Like Al Einstein said, we can’t solve our problems with the same thinking that created them. Was it the comfort zone that got me into this fix?
‘Hey, Al, I got a problem.’ He tells me to run it by him. Just the telling of it seems to lessen. Good learning, he says, talking about it even to yourself gets some movement into what seemed stuck. That’s what problems do, make us stuck: stick ’em up! Wood, trees etc. Running water doesn’t stagnate. But water don’t run uphill and sometimes up’s the way out man.
Just thinking the stress away may not resolve the practical issues of the problem but it will put us in the right frame of mind to address them. Getting yourself into problem-solving mindset needs practice just like you needed practice to learn to play ball – foot, net, basket, volley, to write or tie your shoe-laces, or dance.
Gina and Tina, professional dancers, retired in their mid-thirties having invested their savings in buy-to-rent. Real estate is a hassle business, everyone knows, the sums are so big, the emotional investment so great – my home, it’s my home, why can’t I keep a dog, you can’t turn me out etc etc. After coping with things pretty well for the first few weeks these two girls started to find themselves affected by their own feelings far beyond reasonable expectation, so much they seemed to spend part of each day in tears, even when things were going well. What was happening?
It was what wasn’t happening that was the problem. For the whole of their professional lives, since fifteen or sixteen, they had worked out, practised or rehearsed four to six hours a day. Then stopped. So relieved at being free from the tyranny of daily exercise they had done nothing to move the energy that used to flow with smooth efficiency throughout their energy channels. With nowhere to go, it would explode in extreme emotional response to the mildest situation. When they understood what was ‘not’ going on, they realised they didn’t have to go back to the barre but could go back to enough gentle movement, not necessarily every day but two or three times a week, to encourage their energy to flow again. The way out was the way back. Sure enough, calm followed the storm as they practised the Qigong and Tai Chi movements that facilitate harmonious flow throughout the whole being, aided by magic moments of meditating on the Microcosmic Orbit – or Small Heavenly Cycle, and using the Six Healing Sounds for emergency action when stress came up.
Problem-solving is the performance, the moment you step on stage or on court, after all the training and rehearsal that led you to this moment, that put you in the winnng frame of mind. The way you walk that stops you being mugged, the way you talk that gets you the part, the job, the date.
Tell me you’ve never looked in the mirror and practised what you’re going to say or how you’re going to look. That’s the performance. But what is your habit of thinking? Is it not how you think that brings success or failure? Henry Ford said whether you think you can or you think you can’t, either way you’re right. You have a way of thinking, doing, being, that’s native to you, partly determined by habit, partly by your ecology – home, family, work, the expectation of others and of yourself. Henry also said if it works don’t fix it. So if it ain’t working? Can you change your environment, or emigrate? Emigrate to a better job, better home, better family? But you can’t divorce yourself so let’s make a start of fixing first, the self.
Val wanted a better job, she said. Turns out she loved the work, hated the boss. Not much chance of changing the boss but with so little effort changed her internal response to boss’s behaviour. How did Val do it? The secret of the Inner Smile is it practises love, love for the self, love for all. And when you love, you understand and forgive, isn’t that so? Val started to see her boss as an angry child, screaming to get its own way, while seeing herself as the mother, full of understanding and compassion. How could she hate such a lost little child?
Effects of stress can spread like toxic ripples through the bloodstream and out to the world beyond, to areas where they are most unwelcome.
John and Mary had high levels of stress from time-and-money problems. When they had time they had no money, when they were making money they had no time. Or so they thought. They would ‘set aside time’ for ‘special events’ such as seeing clients, and things important to their work like Taoist practice. At the Power of Fusion weekend they asked how they could reap the benefits in their day-to-day life when they hardly had time for each other. I suggested they have an affaire. Shock, horror, as if the thought had never crossed their minds, forgetting how their relationship started. They had made time then. An affaire with each other, I added. Relief! A special event sharing the transcendental delights of combining Healing Love with Fusion of the Five Elements.
They made a date: Friday night at home, in the bedroom, phones to voicemail, TV off, kids to grandparents. No talk of work, business, gossip or scandal. They could speak only of love and desire, of finding new ways to enjoy each other, breathing, touching in the Fountain of Fusion, sharing the flows of ecstasy. It was just a matter of time, taking time to give time to what they realised was most important. And then they found that with things going well at home, things got better generally.
Let’s look at practical ways of first de-stressing what’s already there, and then organising how to go about things so the stress stays away. We could start by recognising that it keeps us on our toes, keeps us sharp, keeps complacency at bay.
Look at what’s stressing you. Can you do anything about it? What can you do? OK, do it. And if you can’t do anything about it, well, why not just acknowledge it, and instead of worrying start using the boundless resources you can draw on through Taoist wisdom: ancient secrets for modern people…and whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right!
To be continued…
Preview Extract from Kris’s forthcoming book ‘From Stress to Vitality with a Smile’ © Kris Deva North 2013
Kris and his partner Anamarta are running a Foundations of Taoist Practice Step 1 Training over the weekend 22nd and 23rd June at ‘Lift’ 45 White Lion Street London N1 7PW (near Angel Tube.) For full information and or to reserve your place click here