We live in a world that is probably more stressful than at any other time in history. Nuclear weapons are proliferating at an alarming pace … the Russian bear is once again on the march … experts warn us that just about every food we enjoy will kill us … quality, affordable healthcare appears headed for the trash bin of history … America’s $18 trillion debt is all but guaranteed to bring the country to its knees … child rapists are given little or no jail time … criminality goes unchecked in our nation’s capital and threatens what is left of our freedom.
But I believe our personal problems cause us even more stress than macro issues like these — problems like unhappy marriages … family members suffering from drug or alcohol addiction … the fear of losing our jobs … retirement nest eggs melting away … the list is endless.
Stress has become our jailer. And, perversely, it is we who grant it permission to imprison us by hanging on tightly to those things that cause our stress. In fact, we have to go to the trouble of bringing perceived problems into our minds in order to convert them into stress.
I believe the 8th century Indian Buddhist monk Shantideva gave us the best path to a life of reduced stress when he said, “If the problem can be solved, why worry? If the problem cannot be solved, worrying will do you no good.”
Centuries later, Shantideva’s second sentence was recast in an equally simple and poetic manner in Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.”
Deep down, I believe we all know that letting go is the solution to our stressful, self-imposed imprisonment, but few of us ever come close to mastering this art. It’s somewhat of a paradox that letting go of things we cannot change seems so simple, yet is so hard to put into practice. Or is it possible that we simply choose to make it hard? It’s a question worth pondering.