What Everybody Ought to Know About Meditation and Stress
Do you meditate?
If you want to thrive and live with a high level of success and happiness, but you’re not meditating, I’ve got some news for you. You’re missing one big key to the kingdom.
If you’re reading this article, here in Health Science, you’ve probably had some powerful experiences of inner peace already. Moments when your mind went quiet, your soul settled down, and you lived life from a deeper center.
But let’s be honest. For someone who may be striving for a higher level of achievement and fulfillment in their life, flashes of peace aren’t enough for you to live into your full potential. Stress tends to have its way with us, distract and hold us back, especially when we get tired and our thinking goes awry.
You might have influence and authority, you may even be rich, but without the ability to center your mind, focus your being, and sink into stillness, you’re missing the secret sauce that at once relieves stress, while enabling you to live from a position of strength no matter what’s going on in your life.
Because success comes at a cost. You probably know this all too well. We don’t achieve great things without working incredibly hard and embracing some measure of stress. That’s fine, and even necessary, but without a reliable way to experience relief from that stress, you’re going to pay a steep price.
The Common Cost of Success
What is the cost? I’m talking about a spiraling mind, a schedule of commitments that spreads you too thin, burnout, and ultimately compromised health if you’re not aware and careful in your approach to living and achieving your goals.
It’s no secret; those are the all-too-common side-effects of “success” that people talk about.
We’ve all heard about work-life balance, but while useful as a concept, this balance can play very differently than most people imagine in reality, is not so easy to attain, let alone maintain.
Matter of fact, the traditional version of that concept, along with the idea of a balanced life, in part, because they are vague ideas to start, can throw you out of balance. They can cause you to spend your vital energy all over the map as you try to maintain ideal’s and keep up with everything life has to offer, which is more and even more these days. It’s a potential recipe for a lot of stress.
Which is why, today, we need to live with deeper insights and a broader set of skills that include but transcend our traditional definitions of balance and healthy living—like nutrition, fitness and sleep alone, and develop our lifestyles to help us interact with this rapidly evolving world, better. That means not only smarter and more accurate concepts but also practices which, for example, deliver balance no matter what situation you’re in.
Foremost, we need that key to kingdom mentioned earlier. It’s living from a position of strength, no matter what your circumstances.
So what’s this source of strength I’m talking about? How do we create a lifestyle that balances worldly achievement with the inner fortitude we all want to maintain? I think you’ll agree, a life that’s richly lived includes both.
To answer that question, it helps to embrace the new idea of whole life performance; where you’ve got the balanced integration of lifestyle skills to navigate the world in an authentic, resilient, and renewable way so you can be both productive and efficient.
Ironically, meditation is not just one of those skills; it’s the universal life practice that grounds you in the source of authenticity, resilience and the renewable energy that is your potential. As a lifestyle practice, it instantly delivers the absolute experience of balance you want, any time you want.
It sources the vital energy you need to function and perform well, even in the middle of a busy day when you’re not sleeping or napping. It also establishes right-relationship to your brain and its thoughts, simply by being still, relaxing, paying attention and having no relationship to the content of consciousness—the driving thoughts or ideas of any kind we can simply let go. From this place, we can also contemplate—and choose to engage in ideas that make sense.
In the relentlessly busy world we live in, meditation is the practice that immediately awakens you to the buoyant source of wellbeing and confidence you long for in our lives, yet you’ve always had. You were never divorced from it, but for many of us, we’ve gotten separated.
Meditation may start for us as a mindfulness, spiritual or stress management practice from 5-30 minutes a day; then, eventually, if you give yourself enough time to awaken, meditation becomes the primary posture to life itself. It reveals the real you.
Why Meditation Is the Secret Sauce
So let’s break it down. Why is meditation the secret sauce and how can it help you maintain balance integrated with the lifestyle skills you need to thrive in a stressful world?
Here are four common ways that we compromise in pursuit of success and how meditation can help you turn it around.
- A Spiraling Mind
A Pre-emptive Approach to Burnout (Constant Fatigue)
Burnout is a killer. You have big goals, big visions, and big plans, so you need to keep your nervous system (battery) charged. Burnout happens when you tap your vital energy reserves without replenishing them. Maybe you know what I’m talking about—it’s like hitting a brick wall when you burn out. Unfortunately, it’s a very real obstacle for high performers.
Meditation is one of the best ways to prevent burnout. Why? It’s because it taps you into the unlimited source of vital energy. What is that energy? One simple way I like to think about it is that it’s the currency of life—pure and unmediated.
A lot of people don’t know this, but when you meditate, you sink into the very best of part of yourself that is regenerative. This part of yourself is always at rest and forever untouched by the world of time and action. It also sources what many NHA members may know as “nerve energy.”
Spending time relaxed and at ease in this part of yourself is like plugging into a cosmic wall socket. It restores your deeper batteries (vital energy) and creates space for fresh perspectives (information) to emerge.
And when it comes to burnout, meditation is one of your best preemptive remedies. A regular practice restores your vital energy and focus while centering your mind and expanding your awareness beyond the crisis of the moment.
Balancing Meditation and Stress
Did you know that stress is addictive?
When you are trying to achieve big things, it’s easy to start living off the energy of stress and the hormonal cocktail it evokes that will use up your stored vital energy (life force) fast. I mean fast. I’ve seen it a lot, and I’ve experienced it.
Sure, there are benefits to stress, because it can motivate us. But in our culture, chronic stress becomes “distress” and often acute. Many of us struggle to manage it, and the toll is heavy on our health and our humanity. There is a massive cost to living with this kind of stress, which isn’t always obvious at first.
Think about it. You are your most precious resource. Pure energy with a name. When you live with massive stress, you are redlining your nervous system all the time. Even the best performance athletes in the world will buckle if you keep them revved at that level all the time. It’s the same with the rest of us. Stress erodes our energy, minds, and bodies if we go too far without regeneration.
And that’s where meditation comes into the picture.
Meditation and stress are opposites. A regular meditation practice helps you cultivate access to the dimension of yourself that is free from anxiety, worry, and the pressure of redlining deadlines. And amazingly, recent studies have shown that meditation, and more accurately the state it puts you in, is ideal to repair some of the damage done by stress.
The more you practice meditation and access this still calm and resourceful center of yourself, you will start to notice something interesting. Your energy will grow, and so will your capacity to let go and release the reactive thoughts that drive your emotions and ultimately the unnecessary expenditure of energy that will most certainly throw you out of balance. As that capacity grows, in right relationship with all that’s happening in your experience, you’ll find that you are developing a preference for cool and calm composure amidst stress.
Being calm is enormous, and this is how meditation can help you break your addiction to stress.
Note: You don’t even have to sit, say “om,” or close your eyes. Eventually, meditation simply becomes your first posture for life.
Stopping Your Spiraling Mind
Meditation helps you center your mind. That’s something all of us need, but it takes practice. Just like investing money in the bank, time spent in meditation pays dividends. What are those dividends? It’s your capacity to be and to center your mind when you need it most.
Often, your mind can feel like your best friend and your worst enemy. That’s a problem because you need your mind to be steady when you are trying to achieve big things.
How do you steady your mind? Contrary to popular belief, it’s not through trying to stop your thoughts. That’s like trying to bottle a tornado at times. The beauty of meditation is that it teaches you how to be at ease with the constant ups and downs of your mind.
How? Meditation taps you into a stratum of yourself that is always and forever free of the turbulence in your mind. Your practice acquaints you with that deeper layer of yourself.
Over time, meditation helps you develop the habit of staying grounded and stepping out of your mind into this deeper Self sense. The more you do this, the more your confidence grows in that part of yourself that is free from all the drama. With consistent and engaged practice, that confidence just trumps the ups and downs of your mind.
Trust me, if you stick with it and develop your practice, you will discover this wellbeing and confidence in yourself (as your Self) and how valuable it can be. Why? It’s because meditation is the key to centering your mind. Spend regular time inhabiting this deeper layer of yourself through meditation and you can’t fail.
Master Mindfulness and Stop Spreading Yourself Too Thin
Do you spread yourself too thin? This is another challenge for high performing individuals.
Meditation is not mindfulness, yet this sister act can help with mindfulness; with being present with your thoughts both contemplatively and in action. When I meditate, I always return to the center of myself. From that center, I know that anything is possible. I feel that I can conquer the world.
But there’s a catch.
If you leave that center and go back to the living as an ungrounded, gyrating “thinking thing” you can quickly lose touch with that feeling of confidence and conviction. You see, meditation fills us with an innate sense of the positivity of life. Being alive is a beautiful thing, and meditation helps us to know and feel that in our core.
But it’s as easy as breathing, especially when you’re feeling your best, to overcommit and spread yourself too thin; to lose that clear vision of what’s best and just say yes to all that’s happening in your life. It sounds inspiring, but it can be utterly overwhelming.
The impulsive yes is often true for high-performing individuals, who are either not operating from a grounded sense of self or are caught up in the psychosocial, emotional plane of life. When that happens, we find ourselves a million miles from home, scrambling, and wondering how we got there.
So how does mindfulness help?
For me, it means slowing down and honoring that space I discover in meditation. Respecting and valuing that space is what mindfulness is all about. When you start to appreciate that calm center in yourself, you make different choices. You consider what actions are going to support your equanimity and which ones are going to spread you too thin.
And trust me, you can never stay centered when you are spread too thin. Usually, you generate stress, resentment, and other qualities that knock you off your game when you are experiencing the depletion of your life force.
Tune into this quality of mindfulness. Slow down and honor the calm center you are discovering in yourself as yourself. If you do, I think you’re going to be surprised what can happen and how quickly things can change.
But of course, meditation and mindfulness are more than just an antidote to all these potential pitfalls. For me, meditation is the secret sauce that makes life amazing, even during challenging and stressful times.
When you have come to the realization that living a lifestyle that enables you to function and perform “well,” with an active and healthy body-mind that neither distracts or holds you back; these four tips will certainly help. But here’s the big takeaway; meditation, the practice that grounds you in the source of it all, will do so much more than what I’ve pointed to in this short article.
Posturing with the source of it all is never a bad idea. It’s always good. And like any other aspect of Your Lifestyle, meditation is just one part of the whole picture, but I do want you to know, it’s is the most important part.
Morgan Dix is a writer who enjoys exploring the intersection of contemplative fitness and culture. He is a co-founder of About Meditation, an online guide for the modern meditator.
John Allen Mollenhauer is the founder of Performance Lifestyle Inc., a transformational education, training and coaching that offers powerful, expert-guided personal energy and lifestyle management courses that promote the balanced and healthy, whole-life performance goal and success-oriented people want.
Photos licensed under Copyright. Thanks to mrhayata and grimsanto for the images.