The engineering view of stress is that a force meeting a resistance creates stress. It is not unlike this in the case of human stress. The force of difficult events or people meets a resistance within our minds and this produces feelings of stress.
Stress, and suffering more generally, are where the objects of mind, people and events, meet with a resistance within the mind and that resistance is not resolved. Stress will not be experienced when objects are dealt with easily and skillfully within your mind.
Subjects and Objects…
Any experience can be divided up into the object experienced and the experiencing subject. The subjective side involves our perceptions, discernment, feelings, emotions and intuitions. Included are our dreams, hopes and aspirations to name but a few. It is here within this subjective side that we create the uniquely personal aspect of our experiences. Over time it becomes our experience of life.
Broadly, the subjective side of experience is our attitude of mind. The objects we encounter are other people and events. Most of our attention goes into the objects but it is crucial that we also give attention to the subjective side, to remain aware of our mental state and all that is happening in there.
It is our state of mind which really determines what we create of life. It creates our feelings of happiness or suffering, it generates either positive or negative emotions and impels good or bad actions. Though tension is felt in our body, the stress that creates tension is generated in our mind.
How does Our State of Mind Change Things?
Any interaction with another person connects them to how we are feeling and our attitude of mind. If our internal state of mind is good our connections will create a good, or happy, experience.
If we connect with someone else on the basis of a bad feeling and negative mental attitude we will create a bad, or suffering, experience. So if we allow others to provoke our anger, greed, excessive desire, jealousy, fear, confusion, arrogance, defensiveness or paranoia we will feel badly about the interaction and act out our negative emotional content.
On the other hand if we engage the same unpleasant person or situation with patience, tolerance, compassion, ethics and wisdom, we will not be disturbed by them and act out our positive emotional content. This will always produce a definite benefit and greater happiness for both ourself and those we interact with.
Thus, the same person or situation can be engaged in ways which are detrimental to our inner state. This manner of engagement is toxic and disturbs our inner health. However when we engage people and situations in positive ways we enhance our inner state and nourish our inner health while providing a benefit to those around us.
Where Does Meditation Fit into All of This?
Meditation practice and its attendant mindfulness are for the purpose of moving our inner state from the negative into the positive or beneficial. We want to clean up the negative and nourish and develop the positive. By doing so we reduce suffering and increase experiences of happiness, joy and peace.
How Exactly is This Done?
Meditation is known for its ability to relax. It does this by bringing awareness to a very pleasant state of stillness. That stability of mind brings great clarity and focus.
Why this is important is because every negative state of mind is a state of agitation. The mind is disturbed and not at all at peace. You can see this intense agitation clearly with, say, anger, but it is equally true of fear and all other suffering states. So the act of meditation pacifies this agitation and subdues any mental disturbance at all.
Your experience of suffering and the supports of suffering – the anger, fear, anxiety and all other negative states – simply dissolve into the mental peace of deep relaxation.
We now have the space for all the positive states which underly true happiness to emerge. Thus love flows naturally and easily and all positive emotions are nourished.
It becomes increasingly easy to engage others with patience rather than anger, with wisdom rather than fear, with appreciation rather than greed, with humility rather than arrogance and openness rather than defensiveness.
Just this ability to relax the mind, its emotions, its attitudes and viewpoints, is a wonderful way to begin the process of a mental and emotional cleansing. Removing negative emotions also frees us from the baggage of the past, the scarring of previous bad experiences and all the bad memories associated with that.
Is Meditation just Relaxing and Focussing?
The full range of meditation practices offers much more than just one-pointedness. Not only is releasing the stress and tension associated with negative states a part of the calming methods of meditation, but active meditations involving analysis and visualization can directly counteract destructive habitual patterns of reaction. These forms of meditation can also be employed to actively strengthen the states of mind that are helpful to us.
Increasing Happiness from Within
Using these meditation methods we can strengthen our compassion, our patience, our courage, our inspiration and energy, our love and wisdom. In fact all the states of mind which are a source of happiness and benefit are the bases of specific meditations designed to bring more of these qualities into our inner world.
Overcoming Problems and Issues
There is no limit really to the scope of inner transformation that is available to us with well guided meditation. If we are worried about being a little too greedy or possessive, or perhaps somewhat addictive or obsessive, we can melt these issues away. If we would like to feel more love in our life we can meditate in a way that will cultivate this.
If we are easily upset, meditation will even us out and help us become stable and strong. If we find ourselves lost in fear – be it fear of death, fear of failure, fear of rejection, or just plain irrational fear – we can meditate to develop an unshakeable courage.
If we lack confidence meditation will help us discover our true self with all our natural qualities. It will give us the ability to accept our faults while no longer identifying so strongly with them.
A Sound Inner World Brings out the Best in Life
Taking the time to meditate brings endless rewards which positively benefit every sphere of our day to day life. It helps us in family, professional or social circles and gives a wonderful appreciation of all that life offers and the opportunities there are for ever greater happiness, joy, peace and equanimity.
Making time to meditate creates the mental clarity to be more productive and thus have more time for what is important.
The ideal way to learn how to meditate and how to gain the most from the various meditation techniques is to find a qualified teacher and learn in meditation classes where there is both explanation, guided meditation and time for discussion.
Venerable Toby Gillies is a fully ordained Buddhist monk who has been teaching meditation and the Buddhist philosophy on life for over 35 years. He gives meditation classes in Melbourne ranging from beginners to advanced practices each Tuesday evening.
Visit his website, Melbourne Buddhist Meditation Classes, for more information about meditation generally and the classes that are offered.