Feeling overwhelmed by the pressures of daily life has become a common complaint, especially for those who are trying to balance marriage, family, and work.
The external demands can mount up to the point where you feel that simply getting through the day is the biggest challenge you face. There are strategies for coping better with the overwhelm. These generally divide into external and internal strategies.
As society is set up, with a strong emphasis on achievement and rewards, one hears much more about external strategies than internal ones. It's certainly true that taking steps to reduce sources of stress is a desirable external strategy. So are other things as well such as straightening out your immediate environment so that it’s more orderly and less chaotic, and planning some realistic steps to reach your career goals.
But the world's wisdom traditions suggest an entirely different approach. It might seem that the “out there” is overwhelming you with all kinds of duties and demands. However, wisdom traditions declare that everything "out there" reflects a person's state "in here." So the best way to reduce the overwhelm is to address what is going on inside yourself. The chief problems that everyone encounters "in here" are the following:
- Feeling confused.
- Being pulled between conflicting desires.
- Failing to find adequate solutions.
- Being afflicted with negative emotions.
- Losing control.
- Giving in to old conditioning and ingrained beliefs.
If you itemize the mental obstacles in your life this way, it can look discouraging. But the wisdom traditions point out that each of these problems can be traced back to one cause: constricted awareness. Here’s where an understanding of consciousness is more helpful than any external strategy or even the conventional approaches of psychotherapy. If you leave a window open and a storm blows through your house, you will see all kinds of disorder afterwards, yet you know that it all resulted from one thing, the open window.
Likewise, when the mind is constricted, which means that it’s operating within boundaries it can't escape, it creates confusion, conflicting desires, and negative emotions. The solution is to expand your awareness through meditation and by holding on to a higher vision of possibilities. These possibilities will unfold as your awareness reaches beyond its old narrow limitations. Another way to express it is to say that you start to see your life from a deeper level, where consciousness is calmer and less agitated.
How can we have trust that this strategy actually works in real life? Only by testing it. First comes a vision of possibilities. The ones offered by the wisdom traditions are primarily the following:
- Consciousness always contains an answer to every problem.
- The path to these answers lies within—the level of the solution is deeper than the level of the problem.
- By regularly practicing meditation, you culture a new state of consciousness.
- As this new state unfolds, you begin to notice that your life runs more smoothly, with less effort and struggle.
The second step is to practice meditation while focusing on the fruits of the practice in your daily life. In other words, you don't meditate and then plunge directly back into your old habits of struggle and effort. Those habits increase the overwhelm. Instead, you keep track of how your awareness is changing—journaling helps here—because it focuses your attention toward your goal of coping with life through fewer struggles.
The signs to look for are both internal and external, since they’re intimately connected.
- Feeling more alertness and clarity.
- Feeling less stressed.
- More acceptance of yourself and others.
- Developing a naturally optimistic attitude.
- Trusting more.
- Feeling safe.
- Believing in yourself.
- Feeling more open to new possibilities.
- Decreasing sources of stress.
- More cooperation from others.
- Fewer obstacles and less resistance during the day.
- New opportunities springing up.
- Surprising coincidences that bring solutions to a problem.
- Being more appreciated and valued by others.
- Greater challenges that are somehow as easy to conquer as small challenges used to be.
This inner strategy for decreasing the overwhelm has centuries of wisdom behind it, meaning centuries of experience in methods for expanding a person's consciousness. Taking advantage of such wisdom has a transformative power. So don't look at the duties and demands in your life as something totally negative. They is telling you that a change is needed, and you have the ability to change once you hold the key to expanded awareness.