By Pulkit Sharma
Only by going into the depth of spirituality will we transcend the stress generated by our minds, says Pulkit Sharma, using the teachings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother as a case in point
Stress is perhaps the most common problem of our times, which is not surprising given the complexity of our lives. It is also the root cause of several physical, psychological and relational disorders. When a person experiences stress, their mind and body get into the typical ‘fight-or-flight’ mode where hormones are released leading to a rush of energy and an appropriate action to either fight the stressor or run away from it. The reason why stress is such a killer in our times is that the old fight-flight response is no longer appropriate for urban conditions. How do you run away from your boss or fight him? How do you run away from the unrelenting pressure of inflation? How do you fight a chronic ailment or soaring pollution?
Clearly, we need to think of more creative alternatives to flight and fight especially because intense and prolonged chronic stress has the potential to damage our mind and body. Our immune system becomes overactive and continuously releases inflammatory cytokines, which attack our own body.
In my work as a psychologist, I have often experienced that most of the existing models of stress management are ineffective because they are based on a superficial understanding of the human mind. In fact, to beat stress we often need to look beyond mind and bring down a higher influence that can transcend the limitations and contradictions inherent in mind.
The Integral Yoga developed by Sri Aurobindo and The Mother is one such approach that encourages us to bring down a higher light to illuminate and transcend the lower obscurities of the mind. Integral Yoga teaches us to not to take the mind for granted but question its logic thoroughly while working on the following aspects to live a stress-free life.
Set deeper and more inclusive goals
Most of us are embedded in a cycle of endless craving. Our mind wishes to achieve something, we chase it, work hard with great force and reach there. However, once we reach there we become dissatisfied soon and crave for something else. This cycle repeats itself over and over again making us forever depressed, discontented and stressed out. The sole aim of the mind is to gratify its narcissism, greed and separate existence and therefore we don’t reach anywhere.
All of us are born with a true self that can be realized only if we listen to our inner voice. Sadly, our inner voice often gets repressed due to the social conditioning of our mind. Our mind is quick to register what is socially valued and tries to weave its identity, goals and ideals on social desirability. This explains the contradiction that humanity is facing today that although all of us are different from inside, we behave like a herd. In order to be stress-free we need to pay attention to this inner voice. We need to introspect who we really are by undoing the false conditioning. Sri Aurobindo explains that we are basically a spirit that is using mind, life and body for an individual and communal experience and self-manifestation in the universe.
Once we realize this, we can become our true self and our goals will transcend the narrow ego boundary to include fellow human beings, other forms of life, nature and the entire cosmos. As a result, the cycle of endless craving would cease and we will symphonically work in the service of truth that exists within us and is also manifested in the universe.
Develop the power of concentration
Concentration is the basic and yet the most significant mental capacity to achieve anything. To solve any problem big or small our attention needs to be concentrated on it. Concentration helps us in registering the problem, understanding it, making a plan and working through it. In present times, due to the information overload and our mind’s greed to do as much as possible, we often engage in multi-tasking. Although the mind hopes that it will do a lot through multi-tasking, the reality is just the opposite. We acknowledge a problem, start working on it but soon get distracted into something else and our concentration goes haywire.
Over time our mind gets fatigued and stressed out as everything piles up and our attention jumps from one task to another without doing justice to anything. The Mother found this manner of mental functioning extremely dysfunctional. She felt that rather than multi-tasking and doing things incompletely or badly we must intensify our concentration so that we think of only what we are doing and of nothing else. That way we can find a lot more time and efficiency to do things. The Mother stated that there is nothing in the human or even in the superhuman field, to which the power of concentration is not the key. She felt that all of us have this potential to develop robust concentration but we do not cultivate it. In order to effectively combat stress, we need to free our attention from unnecessary engagements and develop the ability to concentrate. Once the attention is sufficiently concentrated on the problem, so much so that it thinks exclusively about the problem, it will ensure that a solution happens.
Cultivate boundless positivity
In my experience of working with people who have stunted self-growth, a common observation is that they get stressed out and give up because they are the masters of negative thinking. No challenge can be daunting if we feel that we will be able to handle things and that the Divine will make sure that we evolve. But often we keep on indulging in negative thinking and self-talk, reminding ourselves ‘I’m no good, I will not be able to do it. I will fail miserably. Life is so difficult, the world is a horrible place and nothing will work.’ This message is self-defeating; it crushes our belief in ourselves and the Divine and builds negative energy in our system. As a result, we develop a flawed conviction that we are too small, all alone and have no assistance at our disposal to make any difference. We either shy away from making an attempt to change or when we do make an attempt it is so half-hearted that even minor setbacks blow us apart.
Sri Aurobindo warned us that thought is not just an illusory fantasy but an instrument which gives form to life and to creation. We become what we think, we shape inner and external reality based on our thoughts and therefore we must control and form our thoughts carefully. But most of us do the opposite. We allow negativity to rule our minds and when everything around us becomes negative as a result we feel shocked and dismayed. At that moment we don’t realise that we had a major role in creating this catastrophe. The Mother highlighted the importance of making positive mental formations and believing in oneself and the Divine at all times and under all circumstances. She was very clear that one must not admit bad thoughts into oneself under the excuse that they are merely thoughts. As we cultivate more and more positivity in our mind, it will translate into our emotions, behaviour, relationships and external reality. Consequently, it will take away all our stress.
Build absolute faith
Since time immemorial, humanity has wished for a pain-free existence. But experience has shown that this wish cannot be fulfilled. Suffering is a part of life and everyone including healers, sages, prophets and reincarnations of God experience their share of pain. The most damaging thing that suffering does to us is that it shakes and destroys our faith in the Divine. As a result we become stressed out and angry. In our rage, we reason that if the Divine has not protected us then either the Divine is callous or that His existence is a myth. As a result we stop believing.
What we don’t realize is that how one perceives suffering and the extent to which we dwell on it determines its intensity and duration. If we allow ourselves to be defined by pain we automatically tend to lose the battle because our self takes pain to be its central experience. We need to remind ourselves that suffering is only a small part of our experience and does not constitute our core self. Even when we suffer we must continue to build a stronger faith in the Divine because faith is the strongest weapon against suffering.
When we build a robust faith, our consciousness evolves and divinity ascends within us. The Mother observed that it is crucial to develop a childlike trust so that one believes that when one calls the Divine, the Divine will surely manifest and bring along all that is needed for one’s growth and betterment. When one asks the Divine for help with an immovable faith that it will come, then it surely does. The Mother also cautioned against reasoning too much when it came to matters of faith. She observed that doubt, argument and scepticism contradict the mind and weaken the faith pushing the person deep into darkness. Therefore, when it comes to faith one must fight these negative forces because faith is the most direct expression of divine power available to ordinary human beings. Where faith manifests, all suffering and stress seems trivial and vanishes quickly.
For effective stress management, we need to deepen our understanding about ourselves and the whole cosmos. We must access and live the truth. We need to transcend our narrow ego boundary and expand ourselves to include the Divine within us and the Divine that is manifested outside us. When we function in harmony with the Divine within and outside, there can be no stress.
About the author : Pulkit Sharma is a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist at Imago-Centre for Self, Delhi
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