Penny-wise, pound-foolish – that’s definitely me. I’m the kind of person who buys the cheapest goods, and then forks out double the amount to replace them. Whether its shoes, gadgets, clothes or cars, most things I buy seem to break down, play up or fall apart, costing me a small fortune in the process! One acquisition, however, that has stood the test of time, is the wisdom of the Bhagavad-gita. In 20 years of study, it has never let me down once. Some may question the utility of such ancient wisdom: is the language still understandable? Do the concepts still hold relevance? Are the recommendations still practical? The gem-like Gita shines through resplendently every single time.
Last week, a friend requested some ancient insights on stress management. Gita to-the-rescue again. A quick flick through some Sanskrit verses immediately revealed three common reasons why our consciousness diverges into this uncomfortable emotional state:
Regulation – Gita insights (6.17) reveal that regulated habits of eating, sleeping, work and recreation counteract all physical and mental pain. An imbalanced lifestyle blinds us from knowing our limits, drawing us into dangerous territory that we can’t navigate. Pushing beyond one’s comfort zone and venturing into the unknown is admirable, but too much irregularity will begin by ‘bending’ and eventually end-up ‘breaking.’ Be dynamic and daring, but maintain your balance and strength through regulation.
Expectation – Gita insights (2.47) remind us to perform our duty, but simultaneously remain detached from the results. All said and done, we are not the controller. When we place ambitious expectations on what we’ll achieve and how we’ll be seen, we carry a burden of expectation that is unsustainable. It’s commendable to have plans and aspirations, and it’s healthy to strive hard for them, but once we’ve tried our best, we have to disconnect, step back and remain detached. When ‘plans’ turn into ‘expectations’ we set ourselves up for misery.
Competition – Gita insights (3.35) guide us to perform our own dharma (inner calling) instead of someone else’s. Being ourselves is more productive, joyful, and sustainable. Unfortunately, we tend to measure our worth by comparing with others. We forget that we’re on our own path, with our own obstacle course, and our own unique calling. Comparison clouds our original thinking and blocks our distinctive contribution. As Albert Einstein said: “Everybody is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
Overcoming stress, then, is quite simple: maintain your regulation, alter your expectation, and drop the competition. Sometimes it pays to look back, in order to look forward.