- (psychology) A state of mental or emotional strain or suspense
- (physics) Force that produces strain on a physical body
- Difficulty that causes worry or emotional tension
The one thing we will all probably agree on is that life is stressful. We have all suffered from stress at one time or another, and some of us are stressed all the time. But why should we be so stressed? And anyway, what is stress?
As we begin our discussion, let’s take a moment to consider how we are feeling right now. Do you feel tense or anxious? Is there something on your mind that’s bothering you?
Are you having relationship problems, money worries? Well hold them in the back of your mind, and for a short while, just let go. Allow yourself to become fully immersed in our dialogue, for that is all that is important now.
My father always told me the reason I was so stressed all the time was because I had no money. My therapist said I was so stressed because of my dad! But even when I had no money worries, and I had resolved the issues concerning my father’s parenting during my early years, I still found that seemingly unstressful situations were making me incredibly stressed.
I went back to another therapist and asked him what he thought. He suggested I was suffering from anxiety ((psychiatry) a relatively permanent state of worry and nervousness occurring in a variety of mental disorders, usually accompanied by compulsive behaviour or attacks of panic) and I had to admit to him that several years before I had suffered a series of panic attacks.
“Ah Ha!” He said, “I think we’ve found the reason you are so stressed!”
And although I didn’t like to be labelled with having a mental disorder, in the back of my mind, I was secretly pleased that there was a technical definition for what I was feeling. “Hooray,” I thought, “I’m not going mad, I’ve got a disorder!”
Anxiety disorder to be exact. After several intensive sessions, I came out feeling a lot better. I still got anxious occasionally, but on the whole, I was fine.
What he had done, he said, was to lower my base stress levels. To help me imagine it, he drew me a graph. “That line towards the top is where your old stress levels used to be. Now if that is your base stress level, and you encounter a stressful event, it’s going to tip you right off the scale into panic” He then drew a new line towards the bottom of the graph, and said “that’s where your base stress levels are now, so if you encounter a situation where you would normally get hyper-stressed the peak of the stress will still not tip you over the edge into panic.”
I wasn’t sure I understood all this, but from what I could gather, I was now going to be less stressed (or anxious) in my daily life. Magically, it worked! It didn’t resolve my money worries or “fix” my whole life, but I now knew I would at least be able to handle situations without going into sheer panic. That was a great turning point in my life.
But that’s enough about me and my worries! What about you?
You may not feel as anxious and stressed as I did, but given that you probably don’t live on a peaceful mountain retreat tending your crops surrounded by pure serenity, I’ll take a guess that you probably live in a highly urbanised society (or close to one), and go out to work every day in order to pay your bills, feed and clothe yourself (and your family if you have one). You may have credit cards, a hefty mortgage, and direct debits (system for making regular payments directly from a bank account) coming out of your ears! In fact, I would say that most of your life is spent managing money.
So can I help you? The answer is probably not! You see, the price you pay for having a consumer lifestyle is stress. Do you know what I mean?
For having a comfortable lifestyle you must pay. If everyone didn’t work this hard, there wouldn’t be so much stuff. So, unfortunately you are stuck.
You are trapped in a capitalist consumer society driven by greed for more. You want more? You’re going to have to work longer. You want fast internet? You must pay. You want to go out for nice meals? You must pay. You want to jet off somewhere sunny? You must pay. Even the rural farmers who may not think they are caught up in all this must pay. They must pay because they are providing products to the society. So what’s all this capitalism about anyway? Is it really the cause of my stress? Surely not…
An economic system based on private ownership of capital
The protesters always blame the system, but we mustn’t blame the system, after all, it was created by Man. To understand it, we must look to ourselves. So before we can say that private ownership of capital is evil and that capitalism must be destroyed, we must think about what it has done for us.
First, it has given us the freedom to be inventive, and create jobs, and wealth for the people without the interference of the government.
Owning capital (wealth in the form of money or property owned by a person or business and human resources of economic value) can’t be a bad thing. After all, why should the government control who has what? Capitalism allows individual freedom of expression, freedom to build wealth, for the individual, the wider society, and the country (levied in the form of taxes).
It has helped people collaborate on projects from all over the world, resulting in the invention or creation of products that the stale environment of government control could never hope to achieve. And look what has been created in such a short time.
Most of us (even people who complain that they have no money) have somewhere comfortable to live, with central heating, warm clothes and a job to go to every day to provide all the bolt-ons that make modern life so exciting, like satellite tv, internet, mobile phones, laptop computers, holidays by plane, and endless shopping for stuff we want but don’t need. So before you start complaining about the evils of the capitalist society, take a good look around you, and see what has been created by you, and for you. Because remember, you helped to build it too.
Would you really like to have the government control everything you say, do and own as happens in strict communist societies? I’m sure you don’t.
If you read karl marx’s communist manifesto, you would probably think to yourself: “Actually this seems like a good idea!” But unfortunately, like all good ideas, they are implemented by Man, with all his ambition, and desire for power and wealth. Pretty soon, you find the utopian society you hoped to create is now full of inequality, with the few owning the most, and controlling the many. That just seems to be how it goes. And capitalism is no different.
It is like a pyramid with those at the top controlling everything and the wealth and status gradually filtering down to the widest point. The base. That is where the workers sit. They are the ones who provide all the labour necessary to keep the show running. In communism that is where they would stay, but with capitalism, the world is their oyster! Instead of struggling to climb the (deliberately) slippery slope to the top, which, under government control, would just result in you sliding back to the bottom (sorry, sliding back to equality). With capitalism, you just start your own pyramid!
Now you are at the top, and everyone else is underneath you. Of course, you will have to work very hard, you will have to have a better product, and better business strategy than your competitors, but if you play your cards right, you will not only stay at the top of your pyramid, but can takeover other people’s pyramids! This is the joy of capitalism. No one is forcefully kept down in order to ensure “equality,” which as we have seen with communism, is just a myth circulated by the powerful to dominate the weak. Their pyramids involve them sitting at the top, surrounded by barbed wire and soldiers with guns, with you at the bottom. Some equality.
But capitalism is only a system, one that was touted as being a way out of poverty for the masses by the scottish economist adam smith, who, in the eighteenth century, advocated private enterprise and free trade. One man, one idea. And on the other, we have marx, who comes up with a new system 100 years later, touted as being a way out of poverty, based on abolishing private ownership. The two systems went head to head, and now in 2008, most countries have adopted the capitalist system, or are heading towards it. Smith 1 – Marx 0
A new future?
It is incredible what the idea of one man can achieve, don’t you think? With every system, there has to be an idea, and ideas start usually with one man. But don’t worry, I’m not going to start promoting any new system that will “free man from oppression,” ideas have caused enough misery as it is.
But one day, I am sure someone will come up with a new “way” forward, and as long as the powerful can see benefit in it for themselves, they will ensure it becomes widely adopted.
We must always remember that communism was forced onto the people, and so was capitalism. By who? I’ll leave that up to you to work it out…
“So if capitalism isn’t the answer, and communism isn’t the answer, what is the answer?” you ask.
Well, unfortunately, there is no “answer,” as with all systems they are run by people. And if people like what they get from the system then why would they (a) want to change it, or (b) want to change themselves? Lots of people have benefited from capitalism, just as the few benefited from communism.
“So,” says you, “let’s stick to the one that has benefited most people.”
“Hear, hear” say the crowd.
And capitalism is installed as being “the only way forward.”
But like an election with only two parties, the choice is somewhat limited, wouldn’t you say? And that’s normally what happens, isn’t it? Conservatives vs. the socialists; Capitalism vs. communism. These are your options. You must choose one of them.
“But why must I choose one of them, I don’t like either of them. Isn’t there a third way?” you ask.
“No, there isn’t.”
Of course, these days, even the capitalists are starting to come up with ideas for “social businesses” where the business is in business to do some good in the community, or co-ops (a jointly owned commercial enterprise set up for the benefit of the owners) are set up, but the underlying theory that the political and economic system runs on, is capitalist. So maybe one day, some clever social theorist, or economist will come up with a new book on how to run the world with equality and wealth for everyone. It will become widely adopted, and eventually one man will sit on top and the rest will work for him, or the system. And so it will continue. Round, and round, and round.
But whose really to blame for all this? The system, or you, for blindly following it?
I’d have to say, unfortunately, it’s you. You are a member of the most intelligent species on earth, yet you blindly follow someone’s whimsical idea! Do you not know that it is ideas that got us in this mess in the first place? And what a mess it all is.
- Your intention; what you intend to do
- A personal view
- The content of cognition; the main thing you are thinking about
Now before you start, I am not about to blindly criticize ideas. Ideas have solved many of Man’s problems (and caused as many, sorry). When ideas are limited to the bottom steps of the pyramid – whatever system you are in – they merely help solve limited technical problems, whether they be social, financial, or commercial; it is only when the ideas originate on the top steps, that things start to become worrying.
“Hey! I’ve got a great idea, let’s start a new religion!”
“Hey! I’ve got a great idea, let’s go to war!”
“Hey! I’ve got a great idea, why don’t we set up a new economic and political system”
“Hey! I’ve got a great idea, let’s not have any more great ideas!”
You see, when ideas are created at the top level, the person at the top uses their influence, their will, or soldiers to enforce it. He is the great man; the great leader. His ideas must be listened to, people should follow his ideas; after all, why else would he be on top?
Let us get this straight. Ideas are created by thought, which in other topics, we agreed was limited. Ideas are never created by insight, as insight is just insight. So why do grand ideas always cause misery for everyone and everything? Because, as they arise out of thought, which is just the accumulation of experience, knowledge, and memory, they are never “well thought out!”
How can something that originates in the “me” possibly have thought out all the connections and the consequences of the idea? If you start from “me,” then you obviously have a vested interest in the idea.
You would not implement something that hurt you either financially, physically or emotionally, would you? So an idea can never be for the benefit of all beings in the universe.
Our whole world is built on ideas, there is no escaping it. Actually, I’ve had an idea! Maybe the reason that the animal kingdom gets on so well without us is that there are no ideas! No lions standing up and saying:
“Now listen everyone, I’ve had an idea that will benefit all of us. What we are going to do is to share the feeding ground more equally so everyone gets enough to eat”
“But lion, there is already enough to eat, why do we need to change it?”
“Because, I say so,” growls lion.
You see, there is no such thing as a good idea or a bad idea, just beneficiaries of the idea. But in the end, no one benefits. There is just suffering. Sometimes the result of the idea is financial suffering, sometimes psychological, sometimes emotional and sometimes physical.
Do you follow what I am saying here?
Capitalism is an idea, communism is another idea, but the end result is suffering for all concerned. But we are human, and we can’t stop having ideas, that is one of the great beauties and curses of having such a big brain, capable of so much complex thought.
The only way we can stop having these grand ideas, is to give up all desire on power and control over others. It is the only way out of this mess, where we have Man fighting Man over land and money, and destroying our natural habitat for profit. We may not have created the system of capitalism, but we are sure taking full advantage of it to benefit ourselves. We love being able to work hard and enjoy the material benefits of our labour.
Thanks to the way the system is set up, all you have to do is give your labour to it, and you will be rewarded with wealth. You don’t even have to be at the top of the pile to enjoy it, you can be anywhere in between. But you must compete for it. You must have your own self-interest at heart at all times. You must forget compassion for all beings, and think about yourself, your needs and your desires, always, if you want to taste its riches.
Be careful though; once you join, you are trapped forever, constantly in a state of acquisition; for it is only through the acquisition of more material goods, and money, that the system can survive. If you do not desire a new tv or a new car, or a bigger house, how is the tv manufacturer, car manufacturer or builder expected to satisfy his desires? How are his employees to fulfil theirs? It is a constant movement of give and take. You give your labour and your time and you take material gains as the pay off.
But what happens when the body says, “I can’t cope with this anymore. I thought this game was fun in the beginning, but now I want out.” I’ll tell you what happens. Your body ends up competing with the system to see who will win!
Are you ready for all this, caveman?
We may have come a long way financially, technically, and artistically since the days of our cavemen ancestors, but in universe time, not long has passed. What’s a few million years in a universe that has been going for billions?
If we are to believe that we evolved from the apes, sometime ago we came down from the trees, had to adapt to our new environment, started walking on two legs, were forced to look for food elsewhere, finally discovered fire, developed simple tools for hunting, were forced to wear animal skins for protection against the cold climates we wandered into, had to compete, and then collaborate for food with other tribes as the population grew, eventually invented the wheel, and then a long time later, someone had the bright idea to start agriculture.
We domesticated several species of animals, started specialising, settled in one place, built a wall around it, and someone proclaimed themselves the leader. And the modern city was born. Fast forward 10,000 years and here we all are; living in cities, ruled by leaders, competing, and fighting for resources. What’s changed? Well, intellectually we have changed a lot, but biologically we are still the same animal we were all those thousands of years ago.
Stress has always existed, not as a hindrance to man, but as an asset, to help motivate him succeed in surviving. And even 10,000 years ago, all we were doing was surviving. Even when we started to trade with other nations it was about trading one resource you had, for another you did not. Pure survival. But that’s not what life is about now.
Thanks to the industrial revolution, and backed by a capitalist economy, we are mostly secure in our survival needs. Most of us have sufficient food, shelter and water, but we have been offered something more enticing. We have been offered the chance to compete for as much as we could possibly imagine in the world. Untold gold, diamonds, money and success could be ours if only we give ourselves to the god of greed, capitalism.
Remember, we don’t need all this stuff. If we look to the monks of any religion, you will see that they live happily with a basic meal, basic clothing, and basic accommodation. After all, that’s all we need to live happily. They do it to free their minds from attachment, and desire to the earth, but it doesn’t matter the reason. The fact is, they do it, and it’s no hardship. One could say they actually had an easier life because they are not subjected to competition.
But we don’t need to compete. We don’t need to be rich. We don’t need to be successful. We don’t need all the latest gadgets. We want them! Something in our mind clings to the idea of being rich, probably because we see how the rich live. People respect them, people cook for them, clean for them. Why wouldn’t you want it? We see how the kings and queens live, and the god of capitalism says, “You don’t need to be a king or queen to have it all, you just need to believe in me.”
The god of capitalism
You may think it is strange, but that’s what it is. It is something we believe will lead us to a better life. It is exactly the same thing people are looking for in their spiritual life. A better life. Except with capitalism, you don’t have to wait until you are dead. You can taste the riches while you still live on this earth.
So believe you do, and every day, you pray to your god for more money, a better car, or a bigger house. The god answers that you can have it all, but first you must do his bidding.
I decided to interview a well known successful business man about life…
Him: What did the cavemen know about living? All they were doing was wrapped up in goat skins, going out hunting every day so that they could eat, they had no intelligence and they knew nothing about the world. Now I have it all. I have a beautiful home. I have a successful career. I have plenty of money. I have great knowledge. What more could I ask for?
Me: I don’t know, what more do you want?
Him: Well, I’ve had my eye on a boat, an ocean going cruiser, nothing too flash.
Me: Why do you want it?
Him: Why? Well because I’ve pretty much got everything I need now.
Me: You mean you want?
Him: Whatever. But the point is. I am so much more than my ancestors. They would have been very proud to see what I have achieved!
Me: Which is?
Him: I am rich and I am successful. What more could you ask for ?
Me: Do you not think that there is something more to life than just money and acquiring things?
Him: Sure there is. I love golf, and I love going to the theatre, and I’m taking a course in ancient history now, all made possible because I worked hard.
Me: So is that what people have to do. Work as hard as they can? What if they don’t make as much money as you have, what if they aren’t able to start their own company or get promoted? Won’t they feel bad about themselves, that they are in some way worthless because they are not measuring up to rich people like yourself?
Him: Look. In today’s world, everybody has the ability to make money. Heck, I didn’t even go to college and look at me! If they don’t make it they are either too lazy or too stupid!” (chuckling)
Me: But doesn’t all this ambition come at a price? Doesn’t all this becoming something better than you are cause a great deal of stress?
Him: Sure I get stressed. I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t, but it’s all part of the job.
Me: So even if you suffer incredible stress with trying to become rich, trying to pay your bills on time, fending off credit card companies, having your relationship suffer, it’s all still worth it?
Him: Hell, yes. Of course it is. If you want to become rich, there’s always a lot of stress.
Me: But what if you don’t want a stressful life?
Him: Then you shouldn’t live in this country. Stress makes the economy go round. It’s good for the ‘spirit’.
Me: So if I don’t want to become rich would I have an easy life?
Him: I don’t see why you should have an easy life when we’re all stressed!
Me: What I mean is, if I don’t want any part of this would my life be simpler?
Him: Of course it would be, what a stupid question, but let me ask you a question. ‘Why would you want a simple life when you can have all this?’
And he’s right. Why wouldn’t anyone want a sports car or a swimming pool? They’re nice things to have, but not at the cost of living your life in constant stress. You see, when you think about it, biologically, we’re not ready for the life our ideas have created. We are used to our bodies being under stress as a tool to help us find food, but this has gone on way beyond that. With the psychological and physical stress we are under to just keep up with this society, our bodies have gone into meltdown. It’s the stress equivalent of hunting 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It’s no wonder people turn to alcohol as a “de-stresser.” It has surely saved many people from having (and caused many people to have) nervous breakdowns.
We are, at best, simple hunters, who have had the unfortunate burden placed upon them of a mind that craves more than it needs. A mind that has taken the simple art of competing for food into all out war for as much as it can gain. Maybe in another 10,000 years we will have the biological adaptation necessary to live in this world of stress, but what would be the fun of that?
Stress is the fun of the chase, but this time we are not chasing an animal, but material wealth. As it has no way to satisfy us biologically like a meal could, we keep chasing after more and more, for you see, the desire for wealth can never be satisfied. It is not a natural thing. It is not a natural drive. It is invented by Man, and for that we must pay the price.
So, no, I am not going to give you any tips on stress reduction, you can pay your therapist for that, or go to a yoga class or take tai-chi! Stress reduction is not about learning yogic breathing or doing meditation, although it may give you a break from competition. Stress reduction is not about re-aligning your city self with your natural self by going on retreats, although they may help temporarily.
Stress reduction is only about one thing; and that is the realisation that the god of capitalism is a false god. He can no more help you to achieve happiness than I can. Once you let go of this longing for a better life, he will disappear. And you will be free to choose the life you want.
And as we let go of the god of ideas and the gods of ambition and success,
we pay tribute to them, but acknowledge that their time has come.
They were good company while it lasted, but now we must move on.
Let us not look back.
by alan macmillan orr
‘the natural mind – waking up