Sunday, April 19, 2009

Zen Vacation

I am thinking about stress.  It is on my mind for a couple of reasons: one I am watching myself getting ready for two upcoming art shows.  On the good days I can say everything will get done and I can work away patiently doing what needs to be done.  On other days I notice the impatience and sense of hurry that I impose on myself.  It is definitely good training to watch me and adjust my course when I am blown against the rocks of fretting and rushing.  

The other thing that got me thinking about stress was a spot on the TV news the other night.  I'm not a big TV news watcher but happened to see a piece where a tour company declared bankruptcy, leaving travelers stranded.  The mother of a young woman commented that her daughter had taken a holiday to Mexico to get away from stress and now the holiday was causing stress.  

It got me thinking.  It's the old story of looking outside of ourselves for the solution to our problems.  And there in her statement of the problem was the answer.  Studying the Dharma we learn that the  solutions to any problems aren't out there.  Don't get me wrong I am not saying bah, humbug, holidays are bad, stay in your cave and eat rice.  Sometimes a change of scenery can offer us the space we need to see more clearly.  And doing something fun and spending time in beautiful places is good for the soul.  But where are we coming from when we do that?  What is our intention?  I love the title of Jon Kabat-Zin's book "Wherever you go, there you are" which kind of sums it up for me.  If I go on vacation to "escape" my problems, to "escape"myself or my "situation" the fix is either temporary or illusive. 

Dealing with stress is about changing the landscape allright.  It does require some travel but we're talking about the internal landscape now, the hills and valleys of habitual tendencies, the patterns of behaviour that have carved the mountains and gullys of our stress.  To really deal with our stress we need to look at what causes it and how we respond to our perceived stressors.  Is it the boss, is it my financial situation, my too busy schedule, the noisy neighbours?  Whatever it is I need to look at it and evaluate.  The old AA  serenity prayer, "God give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the ones I can and the wisdom to know the difference."  That's a good starting place.  Is there action we need to take or reaction we need to desist from?  Are there things we just need to let go of?   I am reminded of the story of the man who is listing his troubles to the Zen master.  And the master just continues to say, "it isn't important," to each thing on the list.   How much of what stresses us is really important?  Now the tricky part here is to know that this doesn't stand against taking appropriate action when necessary.   We don't just say "it isn't important to everything as another form of escape.  Always after well considered contemplation and moving from that place in our heart, that says "this is good to do".  There are things in this world that are "good" to do.  They may be bringing up a difficult situation with a loved one, quitting a job, leaving a relationship.  You have all the answers somewhere inside you.

So by all means have a delightful vacation, now or in the summer or whenever, but don't mistake it as something that will alleviate "stress".   That work is best done from the inside out.  That will make your vacation even more joyful!    So take a vacation from stress by training in the Dharma, by reading some inspiring Dharma books, by sitting regularly in meditation, by contemplating the details of your life, by making changes in the small things you do that no longer work for you.  Start your holiday today.  Your life will thank you for it!    A bow and a bon voyage to you!


  1. Great post on stress. And thank for the reminder to reread "Wherever you go, there you are," a great book.

  2. Thank you so much for this lovely post on stress! I am applying the same principles to a recent awareness of "chronic complaining" that I find myself doing lately - a habituated tendency to look at life through the lens of "something not right."

    So thank you, I will look a little deeper at the inner landscape :)

  3. Ah yes complaining, I know it well. I remember the funniest one was when the light went on that I was complaining about my mother's complaining!