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  • Andrew Lewis


If stress has become a problem for you, you may feel helpless to do anything about it. You may have found some things that give short term relief, help to let off steam, but you know the pressure will build again. You can comfort eat, or work out at the gym, or go hugging trees, but you know that the stress is still there and will return.

This is something we all experience. Why do we feel helpless? Let's explore.

First, there is a trigger, an event. Things arrive without invitation and beyond our control. Life and people can be full of surprises! This is inevitable.

What happens next? The body gets stressed, and it's 'all systems go'. A tumbling waterfall of physical activation and anxious emotions. This is a natural feature of our biology, and just like the trigger or event, it just happens. Often the cry from the heart is, 'I can't help the way I feel!'

We are helpless. We have no control. The 'event' and the 'stress' are things that 'happen to us', we don't plan them, we don't want them and we can't avoid them. There is nothing we can do about it. Right?

Well, no! In fact there is much we can do that has life changing potential.

Between the event and the stress there is a space where we have complete control if we are prepared to work, practice and cultivate. Think of it like the middle field between two other fields. It is often the easiest field to ignore but it is the most important and productive. This is the field that we own. We can grow whatever we wish in this field. It is the growing space for our 'judgement', 'perception', or 'evaluation' of what is happening, why it is happening, and why we think it is happening.

This is where we find our control. We are not helpless after all. We can change the landscape, alter the view, change the narrative.

What we practice growing in this middle field makes all the difference. We can make mountains out of molehills, jump to negative conclusions, view the earth as hostile and unfair. We can scatter seeds of anger, jealousy and resentment, stamping them bitterly into the soil. We can feed tangled weeds, allowing a bruised ego to fertilize them. In so doing we ramp up the stress in our bodies and increase the feeling of helpless despair. The cry, 'Why does all this have to happen to me?' is the signal to set oneself against the whole world, take everything far too personally, and become the isolated victim.

That is a choice, sometimes an alluring choice when we feel battered, weary and sorry for ourselves. We can, however, recognise that such unhelpful indulgences are within our jurisdiction and subject to our direct influence and control. Things that have happened can't unhappen, but our choices are open to review and change, and remain our responsibility. What I plant in my field is my concern. That is my focus.

The message is clear. Our response to the difficulties and trials of life is the key to how we view life and how we feel about it. We must keep our eyes on the 'middle field', cultivating it in a way that promotes peace and positivity, acceptance of what cannot be changed, and understanding of what really matters in our individual lives. We can cultivate greater self-belief and the courage to move forward. We can cultivate joy and gratitude for the things in our life that we cherish. Once we begin to open such channels, the energy will flow. This is where we find our control and discover that we are far more than helpless victims. Whatever happens, we can choose what kind of person we wish to be. Then we begin to train ourselves to that end, rather like we might train a muscle to increase its size, shape and strength. We begin to recognise unhelpful thought patterns, we begin to notice a negativity bias. We decide not to beat ourselves up. We reframe our narrative, get kinder to ourselves and discover a growth of resilience and inner strength. We control what is there to control and drop the other struggles. Then much of our decision making becomes easier, our judgements become more considered, and the 'slings and arrows of outrageous fortune' don't catch us quite so unprepared.

Does this come easily? No. Is it a 'quick fire' solution? No. Does it safeguard us from difficulties, heartache and pain? No. The knocks will continue to come! Could we blunder and relapse? Yes! That's all part of the journey. Mess and imperfection are woven in. Life is not easy. It has an undeniable quality of sadness.

This work requires practice. It requires re-wiring old thought patterns in order to form new patterns and new habits. It requires thinking about the way we think! It requires sitting ourselves down and looking inside with honesty and compassion. This work is not just another avoidance strategy. It is an open, brave and liberating approach to the fullness of life and human experience. We don't hide from the storm. There is nowhere to hide. We navigate through it. We discover that we are stronger than we ever assumed or imagined and not as helpless as it once seemed.

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