Discovering the Joy of Stress
Author: Vraja Bihari dasa holds a master’s degree in International Finance and Management (MBA). He serves as a full-time resident devotee at ISKCON Chowpatty and teaches Krishna consciousness to students at universities. He also conducts devotional seminars and training programmes for the temple’s congregation members.
Is stress good and can it cause joy? Sounds contradictory? We answer the question by asking is salt bad or good? Depends! You can’t have a good meal without it, and with a little too much, your feast could turn into a bad experience. Stress too is indispensable for leading a worthwhile life. Stress is an effective motivator to push us to achieve bigger and better things. However problems happen when stress begins to interfere with performance, leads to mental and physical health disorders, or melancholy and depression. The challenge lies in discovering exactly how much stress- the salt of life- we could take into our individual lives; how can we help channelize potentially stressful situations into happy and refreshing experiences.
Richard Lazarus, one of the most influential American psychologists defined stress as, “Stress is a condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilize” When we feel a certain situation is manageable, we feel little or no stress. However when we are unable to handle the demands put on us, stress turns into a negative experience.
Spiritual leadership offers a sagacious insight; in life we can’t avoid situations where we are constrained by lack of adequate personal and social resources. Life often throws up unpleasant experiences, and we feel helpless in mobilizing external help to cope with the internal barrage of negativities. Spiritual leadership thus calls upon deeper and foundational tools to cope with stress. A spiritually astute leader has a two pronged strategy to cope with the harmful stressors of life.
Discovering the ‘Purpose’ of life
The first step lies in figuring out ‘why am I doing what I am doing’. Most often we are busy in life without knowing if what we are doing corresponds with our innermost values and purposes. Imagine flying on a plane where the pilot announces, “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome on board. We are flying at 700 miles per hour but we don’t know our destination.” Well, our lives aren’t much different. We are busy and to drown our sorrows, we get busier. However the solution to recurring and compounding stress levels is to ask the apparently uncomfortable but critical question, “what really is the purpose of my life and how do my present activities and thoughts align to this purpose?” The answer to this question empowers us to not only achieve effective results, but also keeps us happy. As Gandhi said there is more to life than simply increasing its speed. However a note of caution: if our goals are corporal and purely selfish, we aren’t really leading a fulfilling life. To discover meaningful goals we could ask a simple question to ourselves: “if I were to die now what would I like my friends and relatives to speak during the memorial service”? Most seek to be remembered as a caring, helpful, empathic friend. However on closely inspecting our present pursuits, a painful realization dawns that I am not really giving time to do those things that I would like to achieve by the end of my life. Immediately charting the plane of our lives back on track empowers and infuses us with enthusiasm and joy.
Radhanath Swami offers a penetrating insight into the need for discovering a meaningful purpose of life, “Despite the most sophisticated processes of learning, leadership today focuses on transient goals; all of our affection is reposed on fleeting things and meaningless pursuits. We can begin to make a positive change by a simple evaluation; whatever I do, is it on the basis of my feeling good or is it good for service to God and others.” Radhanath Swami also appeals to his audiences that as humans we have been endowed with special facilities that animals lack; we can enquire into the deeper mysteries of life, and know our true purpose and thereby rise beyond the basic bodily struggles of eating, sleeping, mating and defending. As we add deeper purpose to our lives first, we can also add meaning and substance to the lives of people around us.
Tapping the prayer/meditation tool
Daily prayerful/meditation sessions renews us and keeps us connected to our purposes and values in life. Besides helping us recharge our batteries, prayers also help one find inner peace. In the passion of achieving things, we often neglect this sacred act that reconnects us to our innate goodness. Since there are no shortcuts, one needs to invest time at prayers, but fortunately prayers offer rich dividends. Especially as our lives get more stressful, we could find a rich source of power in a meaningful prayer session. Martin Luther said, “I have so much to do today, I’ll need to spend another hour on my knees.” Giving quality time to connect to the divinity within releases immense positive energy and multiplies our capacities.
A life centred on prayer and service also helps a leader settle problems and issues that internally conflict. Once that is done, you feel a sense of inner balance and clarity. Then it becomes easier to address issues outside of us; a sustained mood of serenity and peace amidst external pressures flows naturally. As the famous Mormon leader David o McKay said, “The greatest battles of life are fought out daily in the silent chambers of the soul.” It’s these deep burning issues that we have to first address, or at least simultaneously deal with as we are handling work and family related stress. My personal favourite is the American Theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr’s prayer, ““God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Radhanath Swami assures us that daily prayer sessions empower us to be proficient swimmers in the ocean of this world. We could then also help others from drowning. But real help begins with self help. A balanced and mature leader, at peace within, alone can be truly effective in leading his team.
“In happiness or distress, honour or dishonour, pleasure or pain, success or failure, victory and defeat, heat or cold, health or disease, we can pray from our hearts. We can chant the names of the Lord from our hearts, sometimes crying out for help when we are in distress and sometimes in deep gratitude when things are very nice but we should know all situations in life are temporary and wouldn’t last for long. So we should be ready to connect to the eternal.” – Radhanath Swami
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