Education For Health

At no time have human beings been free from stress or pressure. And, since stress or pressures are basically related to the unknown or fear, I am inclined to believe that stress is a fundamental part of man’s existence while he suffers from fear or ignorance. Assuming that ignorance is the basic cause of fear, unsolvable problems are then what creates stress.

Modern man is emotional, hyper-sensitive and hyper­reactive to his environment, to his fellows and to fundamental standards of morality. His confusion is compounded by conflict between his permissive lifestyle and the exhortations of scriptures, religious traditions and other subjects of spirituality which limit his desire to act free from the disciplines of morality and concern for others.

This tension and anxiety is deep within man, not only at the conscious level but also at the unconscious level. There is something rooted in him that does not allow him to settle down and become a totally integrated person. Bubbles of fear continually surface throughout the day, dislodging the individual from a transient serenity and peace which can only be temporary while his conflicts remain unresolved.

Let us look at some examples. The man who waits in the maternity ward may be wanting a son; until he knows the outcome he will remain under pressure and stress. Or, if he fears for the well-being of his wife, he will suffer extreme stress. Similarly, the man who loves his wife or son or daughter and who is waiting outside the operating theatre, not knowing how serious the operation is, finds himself worrying about the outcome and is therefore in a condition of stress.

The man who has mortgaged his house also suffers from stress if he has any uncertainty about meeting the repayments; or the man who has a legal matter pending suffers stress if there is any uncertainty about it.

So, if we look at a cross-section of human involvement, we can see that stress is caused to men or women involved in a mundane existence on the physical and psychological level —living on a highly psycho-sensual level in an emotional bath, preoccupied with their own health, wealth, possessions, progress, success and so on. On the other hand, a man not so completely wrapped up in all these things, who remains totally detached or non-attached, even when fully involved and responsible, will, I am sure, suffer less stress or pressure.

Many blame the parents for this inability to resolve basic conflicts, others the education system, scientific progress and industrial materialism. One does not have to look too hard to find faults and reasons for the failures, fears and anxiety. But what is fundamental is that very few people are looking seriously at the values people live by. Most of them bypass the fact that people lack morality and an ethical code of behaviour to provide guidelines for living.

If we probe deeper into our understanding, we will find that our acceptance of our problem depends entirely on what we are made of. It depends on our education, maturity, guilts, complexes, self-image, insecurity and our dependence on others for maintaining our “I-ness”. Empty vessels make the most noise — so I do believe that empty minds, or ignorant people, suffer most.

People are not trained to handle the pressures of living or even to understand exactly what the problems are. Their ignorance, as I have said, causes tension, fear and acute anxiety. If man has many problems and few solutions, then he can be nothing else but tense, apprehensive and suspicious of his future development. The people who are looked to for answers — the intellectuals, the community leaders and politicians, the clergy — are shallow in their suggested solutions. In no way do they satisfy the human soul or spirit. They cannot provide answers sufficient for man to stop questioning and start following some guidelines.

So, in tackling the problem of tension, one has to look at the total development of man: his basic needs, his requirements for release, the results of his aggression and the fears and failures he has accumulated over several decades. His lack of answers has frustrated him and conditioned him into believing that nothing is going to be resolved, that life is going to continue in a sordid fashion and is not worth living.

I have always found that people who suffer from acute anxiety and tension respond favourably when a solution is presented that is acceptable and within the limits of their understanding and what they practise. However, the solution must be able to be executed without any failure. So, even though we may talk in absolutes — of morality, for instance — the solutions must fit in with the individual’s own concept of solutions and values while allowing him to preserve his identity, however superficial it may be.

In my work with stress relief I have found that I help people by first isolating the area where the pressure is felt, then encouraging a positive attitude toward the problem and, finally, I recommend bringing to bear on it an attitude of patience and accepting the outcome.

To be able to isolate the problem causing stress one has to be totally objective and detached while examining the issues involved. Having done that, one must think out the appropriate way of looking at the problem, or take the appropriate approach then put the solution into practice and finally be willing to accept the ultimate outcome of the action. When all these steps are properly taken, I have found that the individual succeeds in living with greater peace and harmony.

In this way a person can re-assess his values, principles, disciplines and lifestyle and lay down for himself guidelines that provide stability, independence and total freedom. If man can adopt the attitude to develop himself gradually, we can be certain that he will become more secure and, out of his industriousness, create the necessary self-respect to motivate him to tame his sensualism and indulgence.

Those with knowledge, understanding or even wisdom will have far less stress or pressure than the egocentric, psycho-sensual intellectual or the mundane individual. For the wise or the mature man has, over a period of time, developed an attitude to life, formulated a way of living and thinking, found some basic answers and become more flexible and accepting to the changing pattern and demands of life. In fact he is reconciled with life and its many vagaries. He is willing to accept the unexpected and has developed and shaped an attitude that acts as a buffer between him and what he faces. His “I-ness”, if it shows at all, does not demand impatient satisfaction.

One other factor which should be highlighted is that man has become selfish, developing a totally self-centred and puny mentality. He is constantly wanting and never giving. If an educational program could be developed which trains man to be giving, he could perhaps release much of his inbuilt tension and justify to himself that there is some goodness in him, that he can share with care and be tolerant of his fellow men.

The man who faces stress always collapses because he has in some way entertained greed, self-indulgence, self-interest or an anticipation in his mind that is uncontrollable and has taken over and is controlling him through his ignorant concern for his “I-ness”.

Man is at the crossroads. On the one hand he has all the gadgets and instruments of comfort and pleasure which cater to his sensate nature and prevent his spiritual development. On the other he could be hard-working, industrious, adopt an attitude of total commitment to self-sufficiency and independence from gadgetry. We have to decide whether ill-health, suffering, tension, anxiety and fear are too high a price to pay for surrounding ourselves with comforts and luxury. The successful pursuit of the instruments of pleasure exacts its toll in terms of insecurity and fear. If a man can become independent of these factors, handle them objectively and know how to use them, he then establishes self-control, self-reliance and discipline. In developing his security within himself he does not have to be successful in the eyes of others, whether they be parents, neighbours or friends.

I can see no way of overcoming tension through medication or the various types of superficial relaxation techniques promoted throughout the world. I feel that man can overcome tension by asking himself the simple question: Is what I am involved in essential to my growth, contributive to my fellows and leaving me relaxed, helpful, tolerant and forgiving?

People who are looking for a stress-free life must therefore look for greater understanding of themselves, must seek knowledge, generate right attitudes and be in harmony with their inner self. That is, they must be free of egoism and be willing to accept the will of the Absolute while accepting the unexpected.

One needs to be educated over a period of time to be able to manage stress and eradicate stress, pressures or tensions. It is a life-long job to be able to understand the self and handle oneself so as to gain the greatest joy and fun in life.

About the Author

Vijayadev Yogendra (1930–2005) was a yoga teacher, educationalist, philosopher, author and poet. He founded The School of Total Education in Melbourne in 1977.

This article originally appeared in the Journal of the Helen Vale Foundation, Volume 3 Number 3–4, 1982. (Published on web site: November 2012).