The Big Lie Behind Stress
by Boyd Martin

bubble bursting It's time to deconstruct stress. Why is it everywhere we turn? Financial stress, health stress, family stress, car stress, pet stress... just about any object, place, person or thing can get "stress" tacked onto it.

One experience in particular tipped me off to the structure of stress--its scary exterior with its illusory core. Several years ago, I had a European band tour coming up in a week, and I began worrying about not having any travel money to take to a foreign country. It's very bad form to be borrowing from bandmates, not to mention the lack of self-sufficiency in an emergency. In any case, the closer the departure date came, the more and more apprehensive I became about this money problem. I didn't have a good or practical alternative available on this short notice, and clients with my day job had already paid me--that going to pay up bills in advance in preparation for the extended trip. I ended up the day before departure just dreading my situation--so much so, I almost bailed out.

I went to the mailbox, and sitting there neatly was an envelope from a day-job client containing $500. A huge wave of relief and release seemed to wash all the stress and worries away in one fell gush, as it dawned on me I had completely forgotten about this client. How could I have missed that?! I laughed. I had gone through all that gnashing of teeth, pacing and fretting--doing god knows what damage to my body--for nothing.

As I reflected on it, I concluded I must have needed the stress for some reason. Perhaps it was a reflection or embodiment of deeper ambivalence about international travel, I didn't know. As the years went by, I had other similar experiences where a stressor could have been eliminated easily by taking a few simple actions, but for some reason I would not choose to take those steps, or grant the stressor enough attention to think through to a resolution. And therein lay the first clue to unraveling this illusion called stress.

My brother reminded me recently of something one of our gurus once said: "It's as if regardless of how much we say we want solutions to our conceived resistances, we do most anything to maintain them." Call it attachment to the familiar, or fear of change--whatever it is, it leads to stress at one time or another.

stress Another hard example of holding on to a stressor was my 17-year marriage that fell apart 10 years earlier. After the divorce, I was able to be honest enough with myself to admit that I stayed in the marriage far beyond its "expiration date" because I was getting several emotional payoffs. Proving day in and day out how wrong she was made me feel right; blaming her for my depression somehow justified staying in it; using the burden of her personal problems to justify not taking responsibility for my own; and mostly, avoiding the inevitable emotional deluge of flak, tears, and screaming she would inflict on me should I leave her as an excuse to unload her own deep anger and abandonment issues. All of these were heavy stressors in my life during the last years of the marriage.

Once the deed was done, and we had separated and then divorced, there was huge relief and release, which led me to wonder if the reason I had allowed this stress to continue was precisely for the release--the greater the stress, the greater the endorphin release when it resolved.

The common demoninator here is failed expectations. We expect a certain outcome, and when this expectation is unfulfilled there is stress. I expected my wife to be someone other than who she was: stress. We take out that loan expecting to be able to afford its repayment, then our income reduces or fails: stress. We expect to be healthy, we get sick: stress. We expect our child to be a model citizen; he gets arrested for pot possession: stress. We wish things were different, and as they continue to be the same (because we aren't changing anything), we have the failure of unrealistic expectations. Here is the well known definition of insanity: "Doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result."

The question then becomes, how can you predict anything without having expectations. The secret answer: you don't. You don't predict, and you don't expect. The common human habit of thought is to base happiness on fulfilled expectations. By having this construct, then anything that happens against or outside of our expectations makes us unhappy. Unhappiness creates stress. We are always trying to predict what is going to happen next toward the fulfillment of our expectations. This is a folly, and not because you can't control everything and everyone. The folly is not being aware of what you are creating.

There is a trap here, because we are lured into the false conclusion that the consensus reality we are participating in has some predictable characteristics, such as gravity, the Laws of Thermodynamics, and all the other "Laws" we are all living under. This creates the atmosphere of security and ultimately, expectation. It is a lie. We expect when we let go of our pencil, it will fall to the floor. But for some, these Laws are not considered laws, rather, hypnotic commands given and carried out by our own consciousness.

acceptance In my shamanic studies, one shocking yet liberating awareness I gained was that everything I expected about the physical world, I had learned to expect. By unlearning these expectations the true dream state of physical reality is revealed. "The Matrix" movie series used this concept as its whole plot line. Carlos Castaneda reported on the outrageous abilities of shamans to violate physical laws such as gravity and inertia. Yogic holy men in India have been witnessed doing many of the same things. It all boils down to the ability to suspend expectations--to suspend the belief in the lie of mechanistic cause and effect.

If you were able to wake up every morning, not expecting anything, how could there be any disappointment? How could there be any stress? How could there be unfulfillment? The path to getting to that state is in seeing the perfection of every moment. Seeing the wonderfully complex and brilliantly executed play of forces flowing like currents in the ocean to reflect back to you yourself. Life becomes your companion in a dance, not a separate machine out there with gear ratios and predictable decay rates, angles of pitch, and acceleration ratios that run according to an exact schedule and behavior pattern. How that view so exposes how vulnerable and insecure we are that we require such a universe.

Life is a dance with yourself. Some parts of the dance seem to happen quickly, while others seem to happen slowly, and yet all of it--the entire ocean of experience--is flowing out from and throughout your awareness. By accepting this as your Truth, life becomes infinitely deep with possibility and freedom, and everything is fulfillment... of you!