I often locate insightful solutions to emotional difficulties in the Bible. Maybe I draw out truths like a scholarly exegete, or more likely I just see a reflection of myself in literature which provides deeper understanding of who I am.
Regardless, usually it gets me thinking about certain subjects and precipitates curious investigation. I’ll end up tenaciously combing through myriad books and glean eye-openers with the thanks of various authors.
If you are not into the Bible, it doesn’t really matter, just stick with the principle. I use it for my wrestling matches with emotional difficulties and as my idiosyncratic means to bring em to a ten count.
Understand, I simply leverage Scripture as accelerate. There is nothing unique in this that is not applicable to all of human nature.
Ok, let’s continue…
Proverbs 3:5–6 identifies the one umbrella strategy that covers seemingly all the ways of dealing with stress or I’ve termed “existential funk,”
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”
- Trust in the Lord will all your heart
- Lean not on your own understanding
- Acknowledge him in all your ways
- He will make straight your paths
This got me thinking about the different components to emotional well being. From this verse I considered four in total:
- Desire (your ways)
- Involvement (straight paths)
First Method Deals With Trust
The first method involves trust, but why? What does trust have to do with my stress? Maybe a lack of money coming from my nonexistent “trust” fund?
That could be stressful…
I always suspected that if I was only properly funded my problems would cease.
Rather, trust is essential because it’s one of the building blocks to a healthy and connected life. Trusting or cleaving to the wrong core beliefs can leave you emotionally unhealthy and disconnected from the world around you.
If you’re anything like me a million questions probably come to mind, such as, “Why is an emotionally healthy and socially connected life necessary to dealing with stress? Shouldn’t it just be emotionally healthy? Why connected? Aren’t even emotionally healthy people stressed?”
Yes, emotionally healthy people become stressed. Stress is normal. However, often the way stress is handled only begets more stress. This is what we wish to avoid.
As for the necessity of connection, well statistically there is a very high correlation between happiness and connected life (relationships, bonds, social identity). It’s scary because it demands vulnerability; moreover, most of us spend our lives trying to maintain TOTAL control and thus demand vulnerabilities absence. Nonetheless, one of the best ways to deal with stress is by becoming vulnerable. And frankly, not too many take that leap without trust.
Boundaries | You respect my boundaries, and when you’re not clear about what’s okay and not okay, you ask. You’re willing to say no.
Reliability | You do what you say you’ll do. At work, this means staying aware of your competencies and limitations so you don’t over-promise and are able to deliver on commitments and balance competing priorities.
Accountability | You own your mistakes, apologize, and make amends.
Vault | You don’t share information or experiences that are not yours to share. I need to know that my confidences are kept, and that you’re not sharing with me any information about other people that should be confidential.
Integrity | You choose courage over comfort. You choose what is right over simply professing them.
Nonjudgment | I can ask for what I need, and you can ask for what you need. We can talk about how we feel without judgment.
Generosity | You extend the most generous interpretation possible to the intentions, words, and actions of others.
So developing an emotionally healthy and connected life requires not necessarily surrounding yourself with emotionally healthy people, which would undoubtedly be profitable, but by first becoming one. This takes the willingness to say no; to let your yes be yes and your no be no; by basking in accountability and respecting confidence; by doing the next right thing, living humbly, and giving back as much as possible.
Too tall an order?
Then you need to ask yourself, “How tall of an order is your stress?”
Second Method Deals With Understanding
In the first method, I relied heavily on the work of Brene Brown. In the second, we are traveling further east, well sorta because he is still a Westerner: Jack Kornfield.
In his book Seeking The Heart Of Wisdom, he elaborates upon The Eight-Fold Path of Buddhism. Right Understanding is the first of the fold.
It’s odd how prone human beings are to look for external causes to internal difficulties. As if human problems can be alleviated with a change in government, legislation or monetary policy. Undoubtedly, these things could help substantially. However…problems such as war and starvation never appear to be solved by politics and economics. Why?
Per Kornfield, “What the world needs most is people who are less bound by prejudice. It needs more love, more generosity, more mercy, more openness. The root of human problems is not a lack of resources but comes from the misunderstanding, fear, and separateness that can be found in the hearts of people.”
Therefore, perhaps the answer is as Bill Wilson brilliantly noted, “We should not seek to change our conditions to meet us, but change ourselves to meet our conditions.” At least as a starting point, it’s the only way to wield any influence over one’s externals.
“Right understanding…requires from us a recognition and understanding of the law of karma. Karma is not just a mystical idea about something esoteric like past lives in Tibet. The term karma refers to the law of cause and effect. It means that what we do and how we act create our future experiences. If we are angry at many people, we start to live in a climate of hate. People will get angry at us in return. If we cultivate love, it returns to us. It’s simply how the law works in our lives.
Someone asked a vipassana teacher, Ruth Dennison, if she could explain karma very simply. She said, ‘‘Sure. Karma means you don’t get away with nothing!’’ Whatever we do, however we act, creates how we become, how we will be, and how the world will be around us. To understand karma is wonderful because within this law there are possibilities of changing the direction of our lives. We can actually train ourselves and transform the climate in which we live. We can practice being more loving, more aware, more conscious, or whatever we want. We can practice in retreats or while driving or in the supermarket checkout line. If we practice kindness, then spontaneously we start to experience more and more kindness within us and from the world around us.
There’s a story of the Sufi figure Mullah Nasruddin, who is both a fool and a wise man. He was out one day in his garden sprinkling bread crumbs around the flowerbeds. A neighbor came by and asked, ‘‘Mullah, why are you doing that?’’
Nasruddin answered, ‘‘Oh, I do it to keep the tigers away.’’
The neighbor said, ‘‘But there aren’t any tigers within thousands of miles of here.’’
Nasruddin replied, ‘‘Effective, isn’t it?’’
Spiritual practice is not a mindless repetition of ritual or prayer. It works through consciously realizing the law of cause and effect and aligning our lives to it. Perhaps we can sense the potential of awakening in ourselves, but we must also see that it doesn’t happen by itself. There are laws that we can follow to actualize this potential. How we act, how we relate to ourselves, to our bodies, to the people around us, to our work, creates the kind of world we live in, creates our very freedom or suffering.”
Third Method Deals With Your Way (Desire)
The third method deals primarily with desire – this I’ve drawn from the phrase – “your way.”
Because desire can be profitable or damaging. It’s normal and completely involuntary, but as with most things we can adjust it to foster healthier and more desirable outcomes.
The following paragraphs I’ve pulled from two different blogs, both of which communicate precisely what the problem is and offer what I believe is the “straight way” as suggested by the Bible verse.
In the article “De-Conditioning the Hungry Ghosts,” author and speaker Tara Brach noted that,
“In a very human way, desires are natural and wholesome. They are necessary for us to survive and flourish. The challenge is that, to the degree that our basic needs for safety, bonding, and a healthy sense of our value are unmet, desire contracts and we become fixated on substitutes. Whether it’s alcohol or drugs, or perfectionism, or approval, it catches and confines us. It creates tremendous pain and stops us from living from a deeper sense of presence and love.”
The Hungry Ghosts
The other fantastic piece I found was titled “The Little Known Realm Of The Hungry Ghosts” written eloquently by Ginelle Testa. Pay attention to her following description of this psyche realm and how it aligns with desire that goes awry, or what the Buddhist call “cravings.” She writes,
“In Buddhist cosmology, there are six realms. The mandala, or the Buddhist wheel of life, goes through each of them. One of them is the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts. It’s a description, really, of us in this state. It’s supposed to reflect human characteristics.
This realm just happens to have beings depicted in it that are shown as having narrow necks so that no food can pass through and huge bellies to house all that desire. These creatures are really reflecting an endless desire for satisfaction and inability to be satisfied. It’s an exaggerated version of human craving. Picture that gnawing sensation, when you’re really desiring for something. It makes your fists clench and that clenching sensation is sent through your entire body. The desire is a desperate feeling as if you’ll lose it without having the object of your affection. It could be alcohol, food, people, or more. These are our attachments and addictions.
Due to this craving, we all move through life as if something’s missing. We live with a gnawing dissatisfaction. A disappointment that our lives aren’t turning out the way we wanted. There’s a sense of never arriving. We’re on our way somewhere, but we never get there. It’s often referred to in addiction circles as the hole in the soul. This hole is endless, so we spend our entire lives trying to fill it to varying degrees. Addicts aren’t the only ones who experience this though, as we all do on some level. Living in that chronic sense of “something is missing” and “I need something more to be okay,” we reach for our vices. Whatever those vices, they keep us from living a full life.”
Branch adds to Testa’s description by utilizing what appears similar to Pascal’s God-shaped hole analogy and giving it teeth, the basis of which is shame.
“This is the very core of the hungry ghost. On a deep level, we sense that we are disconnected from others, and devoid of basic goodness. We chase after substitutes that can’t possibly fill that hollowness inside us. Like drinking salt water to quench our thirst, the substitutes never satisfy the deeper need. Then, sensing our neediness and the futility of our grasping, we heap on another layering of self-hate. Buddhists call this shame and self-aversion the second arrow. Not only are we caught in the pain of craving, we are condemning ourselves for it. When we are stuck in this craving, shame and addictive looping, we cannot be present for our moments. Always wanting something different, we miss out on the life that is right here.
The layer of aversive self-judgment fuels the suffering of the hungry ghost more than anything else I know. I have never seen anyone heal an addiction without addressing shame in a very profound way. Finding a way to remove the layer of self-blame allows us to begin to work with the deeper needs — for safety, gratification and connection — that are calling for our attention. The good news is that, no matter how we are caught, mindfulness and self-compassion can bring us home.”
Fourth Method Deals With The Straight Path (Involvement)
In my opinion, God’s way aka the straight path or what I’ve termes “right desire,” has to do with social interest and contribution. When Erik Erikson ingeniously developed the psychosocial stages of development, he understood the importance of relationships on every facet of personal development. It cannot be eluded.
The stages are as follows:
- Trust vs. Mistrust
- Autonomy vs. Shame/Doubt
- Initiative vs. Guilt
- Industry vs. Inferiority
- Identity vs. Role Confusion
- Intimacy vs. Isolation
- Generativity vs. Stagnation
- Integrity vs. Despair
Each stage’s successful consummation relies on the relational dynamics surrounding the individual. Moreover, we can see a domino-like effect through each stage, for better or for worse. To illustrate, if one is able to garner trust early in life, this will give them the courage to be free-spirited and autonomous. This is turn produces a drive or initiative which fosters industry and resilience i.e. the willingness to fail gloriously.
Consequently, a strong or at least stable identity is forged which relies heavily on intimacy and well-connected relationships. Overtime, generativity simply refines this process, harnessing greater trust, autonomy, initiative, industry, identity and intimacy, namely, a community-orientation.
In the end, one finishes the race with the glorious prize of integrity, fulfillment, and satisfaction by the distribution of legacy. The opposite, however, is also true, if one fails to acquire that initial trust the dominos fall upon the other side of shame, guilt, inferiority, role confusion, isolation, stagnation, and despair.
Ideally, we would all move through each stage optimally. But, as Brad Pitt mentioned in the movie Fury, “Ideals are peaceful, history is violent.” Yet even with the messiness of life, I believe we can re-establish these developmental stages by focusing on generativity.
It’s my opinion that much needless stress is simply induced by self-absorption due to lack of perceived meaning, purpose, and value in one’s life.
“Generativity refers to ‘making your mark’ on the world by caring for others as well as creating and accomplishing things that make the world a better place.”
This concept of making one’s mark is not a self-interested one like the motivations of Achilles, but is instead is focused on the needs of others and finding one’s niche in satisfying those needs.
If you’re unduly stressed, chances are you’re without a niche. Start giving back and discover it today.
Therefore, it would seem that right trust, right understanding, right desire, and right involvement can mitigate stress and make life more manageable.
It enables one to break through the existential funk wall.
I don’t think straight paths means “stress-free” but simply communicates that one will not succumb to the stress. In other words, the stressors don’t necessarily change but the person does.
As you can see, one tiny dose of inspiration from a piece of literature can send you down a rabbit hole of self-discovery and insight. It only requires two components: curiosity and tenacity.
If you enjoyed this blog please leave a comment below. Thanks for reading!
Timmy G (2019)