From Stress To Happiness

“If you don’t trust life, the worst has already happened.”-Brother David, Benedictine Monk on Stress to Happiness Documentary

Yesterday I felt guided to watch a documentary on Netflix entitled Stress to Happiness.  The film pulled me in with the initial song by Paz that played in the background “I Am,” which is on my beloved Puzo’s favorite playlist.  It was filmed in Argentina and follows Alejandro, a 39 year old husband, father, and filmmaker who has had increasing amounts of stress. He is seeking mentorship and guidance from Tibetan Buddhist Matthieu Ricard, who has been named the happiest man on earth.  He earned this title after he was part of a 12 year neuroscientific study that looked on meditation and compassion.  

The one hour documentary was simple.  A brief description of the struggle Alejandro is facing, and his wife trying to support him on his journey of seeking a calmer state.  They host Matthieu Ricard as he travels their home country, and head to Patagonia and Mount Fitz Roy.  As they film and take Matthieu around, they pick his brain as to how to achieve this calmer state during these times.  

When they are in a small cabin by Mount Fitz Roy, they engage in a loving kindness meditation. Metta, or loving kindness meditations, encourage us to send loving thoughts to ourselves, loved ones, acquaintances, those we dislike, and the larger world.  What I found fascinating as Matthieu offered the meditation, the audience can meditate as well.  Background images of a fireplace is shown or a beautiful snow capped mountaintop. 

The film served as a beautiful reminder to focus on what matters in one’s life and to not get caught up on our attachments to things, situations, or people.  This is a prominent teaching in Buddhism, attachment is the root of all suffering.  There were numerous questions that Alejandro asked, and although not all were answered, what arose seemed to be the importance of reflecting on this.  

Why am I stressed? What is meditation and what is it for? How to get out of anxiety? How to get out of fear? What does neuroscience have to say about it? What is the purpose of life? How do we develop a life of purpose? How do we build trust? What is the best way to make use of our life? And what are the questions that really make sense to ask ourselves?

What seems most important is to sit with the following question, which poet Mary Oliver asks in her poem The Summer Day
 Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

A Reminder Stress Is Good

“Comfort is the opposite of stress.  Modern living tends to seek stress-free conditions, where we are comfortable, but this comes at a terrible cost: fragility.  Said another way, comfort is fragilizing.”-Bernie Clark

I am currently enrolled in a week long yin yoga anatomy class.  For those who aren’t familiar with yoga, or yin yoga, here is a brief explanation.  We have all heard of the term yin and yang, and perhaps are familiar with the yin yang symbol.

Yin yoga is the compliment to yang yoga, or our current modern day yang world.  Yang is action, doing, busy, movement, sun energy.  Yin is receptive, stillness, reflective, moon energy.  One is not all good or all bad, we need both to survive.  The facilitator of the class and author Bernie Clark says that “Yoga is a dance, not a wrestling match.  Yang is about changing the world, yin accepts the world as it is.”

Yin yoga focuses on working on our deeper tissues, our fascia, and stressing our joints.  This is to elongate them, release stored up chi/energy, and to balance the body.  

In the class, it was mentioned that we yearn for comfort but to not stress is to atrophy.  I couldn’t help but think of this metaphor for life.   I myself am a creature of comfort.  I do long for what is easy.  Who wants to struggle, when we could ease through life?  But if I keep turning towards this ease and comfort, I do not grow.  I need to remind myself this at difficult times. 

I want my life to be full of ease, and part of me continues to pivot towards this. But if this perpetually happens will I atrophy and decay away?   

The instructor discussed how astronauts who are floating in space for months at a time, they are not using their bones.  When they finally land back on earth, often they need to sit in wheelchairs.  Their bones are weak after not having used them.  We need to put pressure on our bones to support us.  It’s called anti-fragility, but I believe we know this more in our everyday world as resilience. 

We crave comfort, and indeed this is called for at times.  But we cannot live in this space.  In order to continue to grow, we need some stress.  We need to get out of comfort zone.  This could be travel, new jobs, new friends, new experiences.  There are so many ways to shake up one’s routine and patterns.  Pushing oneself is good for you, although it can feel overwhelming.  

It may be helpful to ponder in this season of your life, how are you stretching and stressing yourself?