Stress is one of the major present-day problems. We work and live in a stressful environment, and the pressure overload is disrupting the lives of young and old alike. Though stress is not inherently bad, an overload can damage the mind and the body. Problems at work, breakdown of interpersonal relationships with co-workers or family members, unbridled ambition and financial worries are some of the stressors that bombard the nervous system, affecting work, family life and wealth.
Stress is cumulative. Small problems may pile up until the nervous system can take no more. Behavioural changes follow and coping mechanisms fail. Some can bear stress better than others. But there are chronic worriers who anticipate problems even before they may arise. There are others who keep their emotions bottled up until there is a sudden explosion by way of a nervous breakdown.
Drugs may give temporary relief from anxiety. But after the effects wear off, the person is likely to feel more anxious than before. This may lead to drug dependence.
Though stress cannot be totally eliminated, it is possible to correct wrong assumptions and wrong responses to stress. Various exercises and relaxation techniques have been prescribed. But what is gaining ground for stress and stress-related problems is Meditation and Meditative prayer. Meditation helps one focus on something other than what is causing stress. It relaxes the mind and changes the way one reacts to difficult situations. Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years, primarily as a means to gain spiritual enlightenment. It regained popularity in the Sixties when the Beatles and other pop musicians took to eastern music and spirituality.
Various forms of Meditation have been tried out.
- Putting one’s self in a trance-like state by visualizing a pleasant and tranquil scene and experiencing even the sights, smells, sounds and colours of the scene.
- Chanting mantras – Repeating a word again and again until it takes on a momentum of its own and drives out all bothersome thoughts. This is a form of self-hypnosis and is achieved through self effort.
- The Silva Method was launched in 1966 by Jose Silva a Mexican American. It is a combination of positive thinking, visualization, meditation and self hypnosis. Silva claimed that this would help to consciously take control of the mind and even tap into one’s higher consciousness.
- Tai-Chai (wholeness) Technique. Here slow circular dance movements are performed in the open air. The graceful flowing movements are effective against anxiety and stress because the participants are encouraged to let go of stressful thoughts.
- Mantra Meditation propagated by Maharshi Mahayogi contemplates the involvement of “an unearthly power”. He called it a ‘supreme self-help method,’ to control one’s thoughts and calm the body by using a form of mantra, and achieving a quieter style of mental functioning.
In all these methods, the focus is on self effort.
- True meditation however, is a silent communication with God to the exclusion of everything else. As Morton Kelsey said, “The inner meditative journey is not a weekend excursion to a land of sun and happiness. It is a way of life for people who actually feel the need for it and who become conscious of their need.”
Morton Kelsey was an Episcopalian priest and counselor, who at one stage in his life suffered from anxiety and depression. His encounter with a Jungian Jew called Max Zeller convinced him that God is real and that meditation and prayer can bring relief from stress. Zeller had spent time in a Nazi concentration camp, and attributed his peace of mind and eventual release to God’s providence.
How to make Meditation effective:
1. Have a firm belief in God.
2. Be aware of your deep sense of need, and cultivate a keen desire to converse with God.
3. Find a quiet setting where there will be no disturbance. This quiet period is a time of laying bare your emotions of fear, insecurity, anxiety, jealousy, hate or resentment. Only then can you detach your mind from the burden of these stressors. As you sit comfortably and wait in silence, each part of the body is told to relax, so that the mind may focus on God.
4. Gradually, an inner stillness pervades the mind and body, and one becomes keenly aware of God’s transforming presence.
A stressed out young pastor went to the psychologist Carl Jung for a remedy.
“Simple,” said Jung, “Stick to a daily routine of eight hours of work, eight hours of sleep, and eight hours of quiet in your study.”
After a month, the pastor went back to Jung.
“I have followed your advice – eight hours of work, eight hours of sleep, and eight hours of quietness in my study when I listened to relaxing music by Chopin or Mozart, and read works of Herman Hess and Thomas Mann. But I find not improvement. I am still so stressed out.”
“No wonder,” said Jung, “You were asked to be with yourself.”
“Oh! I can’t think of any worse company,” cried the pastor.
“Yet this is the stuff you impose on others for fourteen hours every day,” Jung said, “This should have been a contemplative experience and a union with the Divine, in which no other outside elements were involved.”
Stressed out people don’t find even five minutes of time to sit silently and commune with God. Worry and anxiety are their constant companions and take up most of their time. Meditation becomes easier through daily practice. One finds strength to overcome stress and build a positive image of one’s self. The maelstrom of troublesome emotions is dispelled. The French writer Senancour said, “Let us keep our silent sanctuaries, for in them the eternal perspectives are revealed.”
5. Once a person has learnt to meditate, meditative prayer becomes easy. One can switch off from the world around, and pray while walking, driving or working, to get a dose of spiritual adrenaline and overcome moments of stress. Bernard of Clairvoux said, “Wherever thou shall be, pray secretly within thyself.”
Meditation and meditative prayer are potent stress busters. They contribute to a healthy and contented life.