Chronic maladaptive stress is a factor contributing to disease states affecting mind and body, to the dimming of what Oriental Medicine calls our spirit light. Our spirit light dimmed, we are proportionally disconnected from our truth. Disconnected from our truth, the mind becomes confused. The warm, loving heart grows cold and hard. The peaceful, settled mind grows agitated. We withdraw into isolation when we should be cultivating attitudes of connectedness. We keep ourselves busy with superficial pursuits when we should spend time alone in states of reflection and atonement. Confused, we make poor decisions. Making poor decisions, we suffer.
It is like drops of poisonous chemical runoff slowly being introduced into a river. For many months there is no evidence of harm, but by the time the first dead fish floats to the surface the problem has already progressed to an advanced degree. We may accept a state of chronic maladaptive stress as normal–perhaps not even thinking of it as a problem, but little by little our health is damaged. By the time we manifest a clinically significant symptom, disharmony has already progressed to an advanced degree.
If chronic maladaptive stress is a problem, there is indeed a solution. But the solution has many component parts, all of which must be applied, or administered, consistently and in right proportion. Yet another challenge lies in the multi-level nature of the problem–chronic stress is itself the product of several interrelated factors, like a soup being the product of several ingredients having cooked together for some time.
In order to reduce stress, one must understand stress. In order to understand stress, one must face stress. With respect to facing stress, we should be aware of the distinction between doing so from 1) a place of subjective involvement and 2) from a place of objective witnessing.
Facing stress from a place of subjective involvement is common. It’s like the wisdom of the scout, describing in accurate detail what is present. However, it lacks the wisdom of the general; the mind operating from a place of subjective involvement does not have the executive level of discernment necessary to bring about a resolution of stress in a way beneficial to all involved parties. Subjective involvement is honest, yet tends to be too wrapped up itself, too concerned with getting what it wants, too sentimentally attached to see clearly. Consequently, it typically is unwilling to genuinely consider the viewpoints of others involved and thus unable to work for mutually beneficial outcomes.
Armed mainly with the descriptive wisdom of the scout and being primarily oriented to getting what it wants, the mind operating from subjective involvement tends to fall into the habit of being problem-oriented. It tries to solve the problem with the same kind of thinking that created the problem, and thus it never escapes the problem of chronic maladaptive stress.
Subjective involvement alone, therefore, tends to result in the perpetuation of stress and suffering. It is like honesty bereft of integrity.
Facing stress from a place of objective witnessing means to examine the related thoughts and feelings as does a compassionate, impartial judge. A compassionate, impartial judge hears both plaintiff and defendant with no preference for either party. Or we can say it is like a caring physician who attentively listens to the sobbing patient doubled over in pain recount the disease history (subjective involvement relating the details of the problem) yet maintains the healthy clinical distance necessary to both arrive at the correct diagnosis and administer the correct treatment.
The mind that operates from a place of objective witnessing–relatively less common–has a greater ability to channel the wisdom of the general. The wisdom of the general does have the executive level of discernment necessary to bring about a resolution of stress in a way beneficial to all involved parties. It is not wrapped up in itself, it is not primarily concerned with getting what it wants, it is not prone to sentimental attachment that precludes clarity. Consequently, it typically is willing to genuinely consider the viewpoints of others involved and thus is able to work for mutually beneficial outcomes.
Armed with the discerning wisdom of the general, the mind which operates from objective witnessing has more of an opportunity to focus its thinking toward the greatest good for the greatest number. There is less of a chance of falling into the habit of being problem-oriented. It therefore has a higher likelihood of seeking solutions to the problem of chronic maladaptive stress from a level of thinking different than that which created it.
Objective witnessing alone, however, is itself not enough to bring about a resolution of stress and suffering. It is like a highly educated physician sitting in a room with no patients to treat.
When subjective involvement (the experience of stress thoughts and feelings) and objective witnessing (discerning wisdom) sit in the same room at the same time, and the intent (yet another component in the solution) is aligned in the direction of resolving stress-healing-restoration-reintegration, a beautiful process starts to unfold wherein we are reconnected with truth, wherein our own Higher Self can communicate directly with us and show us our errors because we have made ourselves teachable. It doesn’t happen all at once, though–just as planting a seed today does not mean we harvest tomorrow.
Relating to life from a place of all-inclusive goodwill, from a place of self-trust, from a place of connectedness is the natural result of our spirit light shining brightly. Our spirit light shining brightly is the natural result of the twofold abiding in truth and not abiding in non-truth. When the mind and heart are situated thusly, smart decisions are made and physical systems operate at optimal. We enjoy good health.
It is by all means possible to shift from a lifestyle of chronic maladaptive stress to the health-promoting lifestyle just described. The solution involves distinguishing clearly two broad levels of relating to that stress: 1) from a place of subjective involvement, and 2) from a place of objective witnessing. They are like a yin-yang pair. Both have their strengths and weaknesses.
> reflect on the difference between subjective involvement and objective witnessing.
> practice observing your reactions to various life experiences, stepping back and creating objective distance. For example, when you find yourself feeling annoyed practice articulating here is annoyance arising, here are the people involved in this annoyance arising, here is the emotional energy of annoyance arising, here is where the experience of annoyance registers in my body as applicable.
> recall that this practice is not an end unto itself but rather a means to an end; namely, knowing oneself. When we deeply know ourselves, chronic maladaptive stress is no longer a problem; we by definition abide in all-inclusive goodwill with our spirit light shining brightly.
> where relationships are difficult, practice admitting, or even opening up to the possibility, that somewhere you may be wrong
There are three things extreamly hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self.Benjamin Franklin