By Andrew Peers
Stress is one of the greatest scourges of our times for the modern (working or non-working) person.
It raises its ugly head in many forms, even when we aren’t working and supposed to be relaxing, or retired from work. Stress always comes with an uncomfortable feeling of disturbance. The mind rattles off its cares on an endlessly revolving carousel of thoughts that can keep us awake at night.
Though the local minister might not agree, meditation is detachable from the religious rules and regulations that make it too constrictive for many—a price they’re not prepared to pay. It becomes the neutral space they need, where they can drill down into the spirit and a sense of identity beyond any stressy job out there in the world (or even at home as a parent).
Yet there often remains a gap between the richness of this experience and daily life.
As soon as we stop meditating and get on with things, stress floods back like the tide. Or, sometimes when we are stuck in “meditation mode,” we become distracted. I recall how the driver of a car I was getting a lift in, got involved in a minor accident coming back from a 10 day meditation retreat.
Why meditate at all if it doesn’t really help live life? When I left the enclosure of the monastery, I felt engulfed by the stress of modern living. Vulnerability to it forced me to find a solution. Had I spent all those years meditating only to be surrounded and torn at by irrational anxious thoughts, like vultures around a carcass? Long before I had entered the monastery, I had interacted with the world in an unself-conscious and natural manner, apparently oblivious to any kind of stress. I even enjoyed the unpredictability of life. But how to get back that same state now?
Life coaching and spiritual mentoring weren’t “wrong,” but seemed very limited.
While they were beneficial for a while, they didn’t offer the permanent solution I sought, as they didn’t get to the unconscious stress in the mind. Similarly, the “Power of Now” Mindfulness training and Vipassana all seemed to create just temporary floating islands in the current of a worried ego. Most spiritual systems were busy balancing body, mind and spirit, as if body, mind and spirit are all equally important, yet stress never seemed to get permanently undone—more like ignored for a bit.
None of the above freed me from unconscious views about others, and therefore, myself. It’s as if I were already hard-wired into something that simply couldn’t be changed, and there was no other choice than to accept the fact. Or was there?
Reading and studying helped a little but what I needed was to go back into silence and get back into that memory of when I was a young man. It felt as if I were searching forgotten caverns in the mind, beyond the hard-wiring of the ego. I remembered that my happiness had been consistent, that it didn’t depend on outer things. It had a feeling to it. I needed space and quiet to find that feeling again and to feel its texture.
It was like an exclusion zone, and access into this circle of exclusion was never granted without conscious permission. Inside this zone or circle, peace remained concentrated and strong—undiluted, so to speak. Guarding the boundary of the zone prevented dilution of its potency. Remembering this marked the beginning of re-gaining power for me, simply by visualizing and quietly patrolling this circle in daily life.
Spontaneous feelings of joy confirmed my practice.
There was a magical paradox to it; the more I was aware of the boundary to the sphere, the more I could relax inside it. Stress “disappeared,” but fear got atomized too, along with anything that even slightly disturbed my peace. I could lift my head up, with the same kingly sense of dignity when in the meditation posture. I felt independent, or better, interdependent—the world was still there, but now banished beyond the gate.
Inside, I knew I was completely protected and safe. I could choose when and to what I would give my attention to on the outside. It was like picking things off a shelf, examining and dealing with them, or putting them back where they belong: on the shelf, out there to be sorted out later. Those things were, and remain, out there, not here with me, in my unfathomable and juicy self. The power to make stress “disappear” became strong.
The memory of this seemed to me so deeply personal as to be universal and inherently human, given to every person whether religious or not. And, as in my own case, often somehow lost or violently destroyed early on. Precisely because it falls outside every category, I call this practice part of “wizardry.” Unaided by the spirit, I feel it’s not possible to undo the mind of stress.
This “exclusion zone” is a pro-active form of spirituality. It establishes the mind in cause, not in effect, where it is liable to be torn to pieces by the vultures of stress. Effect is understood as being everything outside the exclusion zone, including the body.
Yet even with skilful guidance and training, a passive attitude in the soul will achieve nothing lasting. It takes consistency and determination to establish and guard this magical sphere of power, where a secret fire—the fire that is longing—ignites a human being’s own conscious, inner activity.
This fire loves and feeds off stress, consuming it without a second thought! The tables are turned and meditation is brought to daily life in a way that permanently dismantles the ego-thought system. The spirit takes care of the rest on the subconscious level. A person who has mastered this art, I call a wizard. In my book, the name signifies more than mere sagacity.
All of which makes for powerful magic in the “trumpestuous” times ahead. The implicit aggression of modern life is causing younger and younger people to suffer burn-outs and depression, on a scale unheard of in my youth. It is my sincere wish then, to help them—and anyone else feeling powerless—find their own authentic inner strength, in a world that can crush you if don’t have it.
Editor: Dana Gornall