Although there are many dictionary definitions of stress, we most often think of it as “physical, mental, or emotional strain or tension.” Within the Buddhist world view, stress is a mental formation that arises when causes and conditions are present, but like all mental formations, stress is not a permanent or immutable life condition. When the causes and conditions change or subside, the mental formation—stress--will change or pass away also.
There is a related but subtler form of mental anxiety we layer on and that is the stress connected with selfing. Mindfulness practice shows us the impersonal and transactional nature of most of our experience.
A friend shared this story:
“My old center in Seattle once invited Jhado Rinpoche, a Tibetan lama to come for a week, and he did a talk at Seattle University for the psychology department. He was slated to do a talk on anxiety.
I think what he talked about probably surprised the psych students because it was completely different from what they were used to. [Rinpoche] said he actually didn’t know what anxiety was, but then he started giving scenarios were stress and anxiety could possibly arise. I think he was explaining that stress is a mental factor that arises when certain causes and conditions are present, but it’s not permanent or inherently existent, like something that’s just looming around and waiting to appear. I’m not sure they understood that, but some were interested enough that they came back for more talks later.”
One of the most exciting and inspiring aspects of my practice over the years is really seeing how “I” contributed to setting up causes and conditions that provided the opportunity for stress to appear. When I saw it and looked more deeply, I saw that the cause behind the causes was related to effort to prop up the ego. Learning this, I was able eventually to see its emptiness. Since the reality “out there” reflects our inner experience, it was interesting to watch how my outer circumstances changed as a result of this fundamental inner shift.