Of all the things that people have in common around the world, stress and suffering rank at the top of the list. Regardless of how much you make, your age, looks, culture, or job, you likely do not escape frustration and aggravation with ease – it’s a part of being on planet earth. Fortunately, we also share the ability to rise above these things, and in many cases we can even learn to heal the stress and suffering in our lives. Spiritual traditions have long been the refuge from stress with simple techniques and philosophies that can transform daily life.
It is easy to feel that stress and suffering are unavoidable or that somehow you are doomed to face them again and again. This helpless feeling stems from the mistaken assumption that our emotions need to drive our decisions and our lives. The strong emotions that create suffering are rooted in either hurts of the past or unfulfilled expectations of the present.
A spouse, friend, or boss that talks to you the way a parent did while in a cruel or impatient mood will trigger the same old feelings, as if you were a child encountering the hurt again. If you have an expectation that people should always be polite or that airplanes should always be on time or that traffic should not be heavy when you are late, then you will consistently encounter the stress of that disappointment.
A spiritual perspective says that emotions like anger, anxiety, and sadness are normal and need to be felt, but when it comes to making decisions and taking action, we need to look deeper. It is possible to be less driven by old hurts and release the tight grip on unrealistic expectations. Learning about the power of perception and the mind-body connection can turn everything around. Here are six timeless techniques for managing or ending stress and suffering.
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FOUR: Learn from Everything
Another common spiritual perspective that transforms hard times is to look for the lesson in each situation life presents. Even the most unpleasant and unexpected situations can offer you a great chance to learn what to do better next time or what to avoid or heal in your life. This is about the power of optimism and the ability to take a disappointment and turn it into something that makes you a better person.
Failed relationships can teach you things like the importance of having clear boundaries, the importance of good communication, the importance of trust, or how to let go of self-doubt. A loss of work can open a door to find new opportunities, refine your focus on what gives you joy, or show you where you have things to improve.
People who learn from each situation are always bettering themselves and bettering their chances at not running into a wall again. They understand that you will always be happier and less stressed if you learn to define your situations, instead of letting your situations define you.
FIVE: Set Inner Intentions
One of the biggest hooks that catches most people in life is attachment to outer goals and desires. Spiritual traditions have long been warning people about how dangerous it is to place all your hopes and intentions on wealth, sex, beauty, a dream house, and clothing. These things come and go and are based on things we cannot always control. Even the most wealthy find that possessions can be taken away at a moment’s notice, and the desires of life often go unfulfilled.
An inner intention is a goal that is based on the type of person you want to be. It is about growing your character. It is about being more balanced and mature. The desires to be peaceful, loving, kind, or patient are all examples of inner intentions. If my goal is to love myself or be kind, then, no matter what happens, I can practice working toward that goal. In contrast, if my goal is never to be alone, I might fall apart every time a relationship ends. Inner intentions are goals we can take responsibility for and influence through choice. Outer intentions are like traps waiting to go off in our lives. Learn to let go of expectations about things that are beyond your control! Commit to one inner intention for the week. Try being grateful, non-judgmental, or kind.
SIX: Commit to a Spiritual Practice
A spiritual practice is a regular time out from life to do something that helps you to feel at peace, learn about yourself, and connect to a sense of what is important. It is a time apart from stress and helps put pain and loss in perspective. It could be taking a daily walk in nature (without cell phone), meditation before work, prayer before bed, yoga, Tai Chi, bible study, volunteering at the hospital, or working in a garden. The key is to make it regular, intentional, and a non-competitive, non-work related activity. It should last long enough that you get a real break from the rush and demands of life.
About the Author: Jonathan Ellerby, Ph.D., Spiritual Program Director for the highly acclaimed Canyon Ranch Health Resorts, has a doctoral degree in Comparative Religions and has traveled throughout the world, studying with spiritual teachers from more than 40 cultural traditions. He is the author of a new book published by Hay House, Return to the Sacred: Ancient Pathways to Spiritual Awakening. Jonathan Ellerby is also an interfaith minister and leads workshops, retreats, guided travel journeys, and trainings.