Down Stress, Up Purpose

At the 2010 Peace Conference in Canada, the Dalai Llama said, "The world will be saved by western women." On the one hand, I LOVE this calling. On the other hand, we are in an rather emotionally beleaguered position to meet the need. BUT THERE IS HOPE.

According to the Huffington Post, the Dalai Llama's "underlying premise was that women inherently bring a focus of nurturing and connection, or love, which is the cure for the wounds of our time." The Dalai Llama's words have been written about extensively and taken in all sorts of directions. For my purposes here, I am not going down the road of arguing the veracity and feminist calling. I do resonate, based on my college major and research, with the nurturing quality of the feminine, a trait that men can have too. We are aware of the economic power of American women, the buyers, the family choice makers. We are all capable of bringing qualities of caring into our work and our pro-social/helping activity.

I am, however, going to take these thoughts in a TOTALLY DIFFERNT DIRECTION from other commentaries on the DL's words, a breatheIN2IT healing and wholeness direction. When I first heard the quote I felt called by it and wanted to understand the premise further. I was aware that a powerful union of those with varied resources and caring purpose could go a LONG WAY in helping to heal the hurts of communities, countries even.

But here is the rub. Right now, RIGHT NOW, many of us in our country and around the world are so plagued by chronic stress that we are frozen and cannot engage in what many feel is our most important purpose as human beings - to seek happiness, the main ingredient of which is to help others and show compassion. We are often unable to answer the Dalai Llama's calling, to even help ourselves or our families, let alone broader society. The World Health Organization had determined stress is the health epidemic of the 21st century.

Why is it so hard to act for the betterment of our planet and other humans when we are stressed? Or even closer, to reach out to neighbors and friends, act to better something or help someone? Science shows us why, AND IT IS FASCINATING. In our classes, Aimee teaches about the biological stress response that we have had since the very beginning of the human story. This response "lights up" what we call the "primitive" lower area of the brain, sending signals to the body to shut down all that we don't need and empower all of our defensive structures to "fight or flee" the threat. This is, indeed, great stuff and we partially owe our species survival to the amazing ability.

However, many scientists now agree, including Harvard's Medical School's Dr. Herbert Benson, that this amazing ability to react with the highest survival capacity when faced with an immediate life threatening situation, is actually what may be now killing us, or at least shortening our life spans. The stress response was not meant to trigger every day, multiple times a day - every time our child is struggling, we receive a challenging call or email, money is tight, relationships are rocky, discussion are hard, we have a large to do list, or even a pandemic goes on for months. And yet, this is happening to many, many of us as a result of our culture and inability to change a nervous system that still responds to the tiger.

The zebra faces the tiger, runs, and then, if free, returns to neurological and hormonal baseline after running off the flush of adrenaline. We don't run off the adrenaline and we stress response again and again, day after day, to non-life threatening or ongoing situations. We can lift a car off another human through the force of this stress response, but that is ACUTE stress, incident based and life threatening. The call from a mother-in-law is not life threatening and yet we often respond in a way that, with inappropriate repetition, wears down systems and causes dis-ease.

What does the modern errant stress response have to do with the Dalai Llama's calling and our own path to happiness and fulfillment? WE ARE GREATLY HINDERED IN HELPING WHEN WE ARE IN THE CHRONIC STRESS RESPONSE. Those areas of the brain that light up, the primitive areas, are also called the "we not me" areas, and for good reason. We were built to survive an often hostile environment. Our higher brain areas, however, that include altruism and expanding our circle of care to include others, are not nearly as available when we are in chronic stress mode.

So, if we are called to help heal this world in a small or larger way, for our own well-being and ultimate happiness too, we need to address our "we not me" situation first. AND HERE IS THE MIRACLE that you have been waiting this whole blog for. Dr. Benson discovered the neurological opposite of the stress response. He discovered that we have within us the ability to call in a state of relaxation that enables our higher thinking and social connecting brain to light up and get to work. Whether you access this un-stressed state through prayer, gratitude, exercise, secular meditation, HeartMath techniques, nature connection, yoga or best yet a daily combination of techniques, you are putting yourself in a better place to find purpose and peace. You can see why at breatheIN2Iit we feel greatly empowered and fired up every day to spread this education. The trickle down benefits to humanity that a generally less stressed, more in tune, grounded, even keeled, positive society presents are BIG.

When I live in a deep well of stress and anxiety I struggle to go beyond myself. On the other hand, when I am centered and calm, often using the techniques that we teach in our classes throughout the day, I reach out, I start calling, texting, planning my next good deed. I feel expansive and in touch with the real purpose of my life. I reach for the proverbial apple instead of the proverbial bag of chips. I take better care of myself and others. We can do the opposite of curling up into a stress ball on the couch, which we have all done. We unfold, stretch our muscles, call in our problem solving higher mind and connect with purpose.

In the end, we cannot help others fully and on any ongoing basis if we are self-focused due to chronic stress, a response that is physiological fact, not philosophical. The relaxation response is an antidote that can help many of us. We can work on bringing in a peaceful state that empowers our ability to "heal the world," (albeit overstated and simplistic). The work takes practice, and our core course is justifiably 9 weeks in duration as we help our our students to shift focus and lifestyle a bit to allow a a different way of inner-being in the world, one that has greater access to ease, joy, connection and well-being. And the work and practice is ongoing.

Lastly, we can thus create a cycle of well-being. At ease we reach out and help more often, helping others brings more joy and purpose, which then allows for more healing work and connection. And so on.

Perhaps then, once we gain distance and perspective on chronic stress, we more fully answer the call for world healing en masse. Can you imagine? And, oh yes, the natural world needs us too. So, let's get to work and bring our stress down. BUT... DO NOT STRESS ABOUT IT! Just breatheIN2IT;).

"Life's most persistent and urgent question is, what are we doing to help others?" - Martin Luther King

"Within you there is a which you can retreat at any time..." - Hermann Hesse

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