Throughout this course, we have been looking at stress as a problem. But stress can also be an opportunity—an invitation for you to thrive.
Stress is certainly an indication that you are having some kind of a problem with this moment. You are stressed because there is disharmony between you and what is happening—things are just not how you want them to be.
On one hand, it's important to respect your own feelings and needs, even if this means saying "no" to what's happening around you. If you don't pay attention to yourself, you can take on too much work, too many commitments, too much responsibility, or you can fail to set appropriate boundaries—all of which will cause you stress. So you might need to step back and unwind. Or you might need to eliminate some of the external causes of that stress.
On the other hand, resisting what is happening right now—wishing it would all slow down, speed up or just go away—can be even more stressful than going with it. In other words, stress can sometimes be a signal that it's time for you to rise to the occasion. It can be a sign that you need to develop new capacities within yourself. In other words, instead of pulling away from this moment, maybe it is time to dive in. Maybe you are all wound up because it's time to spring into action.
Life rarely unfolds in the way you plan. You can be overwhelmed by a string of setbacks—you can also be overwhelmed by a string of opportunities. But life throws challenges at you precisely when it is time for you to make radical changes, and precisely because it is the right time for you to learn something. These moments are invitations to live life from a new level, to develop new capabilities or ways of thinking or feeling.
In that spirit, whenever you feel any disjunction with what is happening right now—any desire to retreat from this moment—take a moment to consider that this moment might be perfect, just as it is. You may not like it, of course. You may think it is perfectly awful. But just consider that it might be perfect.
When you find yourself saying, "I don't have enough time," or "I don’t have enough help," or "Why does this keep happening to me?" or "If only this happened last week" or anything that suggests you are not accepting of this moment, try saying to yourself, "It's perfect just as it is."
I am not asking you to believe this. I am not asking you to put a brave face on your problems, or to smile when your heart is breaking. I am simply inviting you to assume that this moment is perfect, with all of its problems. It's a good time to do a moment of meditation. But then I want you to ask yourself, "If this moment is indeed perfect, what do I have to find within myself—what needs to change in me—in order to experience it as perfect?" In other words, in addition to it being perfect, it is a perfect opportunity.
You may not find an answer immediately, but just ask the question—because when you ask this question, you are meeting the challenge of this moment. And in meeting the moment, rather than retreating from it, you might find a whole new set of skills, a wonderful new idea, a release of tension, a brand new point of view. You are moving from resistance into flow. You are beginning to thrive.
I have seen some remarkable conversions through this exercise. I have seen people move from anxiety to joy, from denial to curiosity, from tension to relaxation, from anger to forgiveness, from depression to optimism. I have seen people shift from constant complaining to constructive engagement. I have witnessed some people simply break down and cry, releasing years of bottled pain. I have seen people move into a much more expansive and loving way of being. I have even seen entire organizations move from crisis to creativity. And it only takes a moment.
Too often meditation is seen as a way to retreat from the world—a kind of escape into a place of almost passive stillness, a place where you don't get stressed because there are no stressful things.
This is why I decided to give my book on meditation the subtitle, Stillness for People on the Go—a phrase that can be a bit jarring for those people who meditate just to slow down. But the point of this practice is not for you to stop the world, or hide from the world, in order to be peaceful. The point is for you to be more at peace in the flow of life, and to trust its intelligence.
So when you do a short meditation, please remember it is not about running away from what is happening. Even though you may withdraw temporarily from what is happening, you should return refreshed. In other words, the biggest release of stress happens by releasing the part of you that wants to run away.
You then become more honest about what is really happening right now, and more able to deal with it with a fresh mind. You become more present and awake. Through meditation, you become more and more able to respond to the constant changes of life, in the moment. You become response-able.
This is why the word "moment"—in addition to giving us the word "momentous"—also gives us the word "momentum." When you are truly in the moment—being fully yourself and able to respond to the world—and there is no stopping you.
So the next time you feel overwhelmed by what's happening, just take a moment to consider it perfect. Then ask how to get into that state of mind in which you really, really know this to be true.
Martin Boroson is a playful, practical new voice in the next wave of meditation teachers. Author of One-Moment Meditation: Stillness for People on the Go, he lectures on the benefits of a meditative mind for decision-making and leadership. Marty studied philosophy at Yale, earned an MBA from the Yale School of Management and is a formal student of Zen. Visit his website for One-Moment Meditation® help and resources, tweet him at @takeamoment or find him on Facebook.
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Published on April 28, 2010