Stress is a disease of the twenty-first century. Everyone seems to be in stress – from a child to a retiree. The only time you are free from stress is when you are inactive. So you look for long weekends and holidays to escape from stress. The moment activity begins mental agitation returns. Vedanta speaks of your birthright as a human being to combine dynamic activity with perfect serenity of mind. Then perfect action emerges. You are successful and happy. Billie Jean King, the Wimbledon champion, says dynamic activity performed in an environment of tranquillity brings excellence, effortlessness in the midst of intense exertion.
What disturbs the mind? You believe a bad boss, nagging spouse or the weather causes you grief. The truth is that nothing in the world can disturb you except yourself. Stress is defined as mental turbulence caused by unfulfilled desire. As long as a desire remains unactualised you will be in stress. Yet desire is being recklessly fuelled and people are in stress.
Unbridled desire makes you unhappy. When desire is fulfilled you want more and greed leads to delusion. Fulfilled still further, you are envious of those who have more than you and arrogant towards those who have less. If desire is obstructed the thought flow going from you to the object of desire gets deflected towards the obstruction. This is called anger. All this creates a lot of misery and tension.
Unrestrained desire prevents enjoyment. A person obsessed with money can never enjoy his money. He has the best that money can buy but he is so stressed that he doesn’t enjoy any of it. Desire puts you on a collision course with others which prevents you from having meaningful relationships. And desire forces you to compromise your values. When you cross the line set by your own conscience you become a slave of your own weaknesses.
Rampant desire unsettles the mind. The mind rambles to the past and future, unable to concentrate on the present. This leads to failure. The nervous nineties in cricket or unbelievable lapses in a tie breaker are striking examples. When the intellect holds the mind on the present action without allowing it to meander to past worries or future anxieties you are concentrating. The moment a desire is fulfilled your attention shifts to something else you do not have. Thus you no longer enjoy what you have. Lastly, the mind gets attached to what you have. The law is – attach you lose, detach you gain. Possess and enjoy the world but never get bound to it. Wherever there is attachment the interaction becomes painful and in the end you lose the object. Hence desire is your greatest enemy. Yet this very enemy you pamper, nourish and encourage.
Vedanta says desire obstructs your gaining object of desire. A person obsessed with marriage finds it difficult to find a partner. A man lusting after money does not gain it. When you rise above desire and work for something beyond, the object of desire comes to you. Then you can enjoy it thoroughly with a calm mind.
So what is the way out? The first step is to manage desire with intellect. If the intellect approves, go ahead and fulfil the desire without fear or guilt. But if the intellect vetoes it, keep away. This gives relief. The next step is desire reduction by upgrading desires. Pick up a higher desire. The lower one drops.. Finally when the lure of the Infinite grips you all desires vanish. You are in Bliss.