In ancient times, when big packs of wolves roamed the vast forests and fields of Europe, when sabre-toothed tigers targeted us as their natural prey, it was vital to escape these wild predators. As evolving monkeys, we developed a genius mechanism for this purpose: FEAR.
When your life is in danger, energy from the kidneys shoots up to the adrenal glands. Within a few seconds, the adrenals are stimulated to release a large amount of adrenalin and other chemicals into the bloodstream. This intense energy boost switches us into full power mode and makes it possible to do whatever is necessary, thus giving the body a better chance at survival. With wolves and other dog-like creatures who hunt by smell, that means you have to flee for your life. With sabre-toothed tigers and other cat-like animals who hunt by movement, it’s better to wait and freeze. Sometimes there is no escape and only one option left: you have to fight. Without the three F’s: flee, freeze or fight, we would never have evolved into the beings we are now.
Usually in nature, a battle between life and death doesn’t last longer than 20 minutes. Within that time, you can be safely hidden in a tree with the tiger passing you by on the ground. Either you escape from your opponent or… you are dead. For that reason, the body is biologically equipped to be in a state of fear for a maximum of 20 minutes, without any significant damage. Afterwards, the survivor needs to find a safe place to lick his wounds, to rest and recuperate. This will enable the body to recover from the shock within a few hours.
It is a totally different story when you are in a state of fear longer than 20 minutes. After that, a chronic state sets in where the body enters an undesirable process of degeneration and self-poisoning. This is what we call stress. Toxins and chemicals released from the adrenals will accumulate, causing bodily functions like digestion, maintenance, cell renewal and detoxification to be put on hold. That way you have more energy to survive, but slowly and surely this depletes the kidneys.
When this process takes too long, say over a few years, the kidneys become devoid of energy and you will enter a state of chronic fatigue. After a certain point, you won’t have the strength to fight anymore and approach the limit where you are forced to give up. Perhaps you wake up tired in the morning, don’t get anything done during the day, or nothing appeals to you anymore. Sometimes you actually get sick. We call this state ‘burn-out’, as if we intuitively know that something gets burned up, which is our energy reserve in the kidneys.
Where does stress come from these days? In modern times, we live in a world where our natural enemies are long gone. We’ve tamed the heat and the cold, the supermarket is just around the corner and drinking water still comes out of the tap. But according to our bodies, it still seems that we believe this world is full of wild beasts out to kill us, despite the fact that we are top of the food chain.
This is all a matter of perception. A symptom of chronic stress and burn-out is that you see danger everywhere. What if you don’t meet your deadline? What will others think of you? Or what will you think of yourself? And will you make it home in time to avoid a fight with your partner? These situations can be really tough, but (usually) there is no acute life danger. However, you internally react as if you are being chased by a pack of wolves: the energy from the kidneys shoots up to the adrenals and you jump into survival mode, because something in you feels unsafe. This is perception - an interpretation of reality, but not reality itself.
It is true that our modern lifestyle does not meet our natural needs anymore. Over consumption, constant stimulation, artificial lights, being surrounded by strangers, lack of sleep, just to name a few examples amongst many. Now we all consider it normal, but deep down we know that with this lifestyle we are slowly destroying both ourselves and the earth. It is understandable that we find this rather disturbing. Stress, from this point of view, is then a warning signal. Alarm bells start to ring, warning you that something is wrong and challenging you to act.
The approach of Tao Training for dealing with chronic stress is twofold. On the one hand you are given tools to relax and feel safe within your current circumstances. On the other, you learn how to look at these circumstances with a realistic and objective view, but also to change it if necessary, without the need to panic or worry. This is what we call ‘the ability to act’.
Tao Training offers practical tools to diminish the stress in your life. With the help of ancient techniques and meditations, that you will find in ‘Module 1’ from Tao Training, you can develop a state of being we call ‘the permanent holiday feeling’. In this state, you no longer experience reality as dangerous and stressful, even when you are in the middle of life’s daily storms. During a busy work day you might be stuck in a traffic jam while in a rush, or in a difficult meeting, or any other situation where you tend to experience stress, but now you will be able to manage your stress levels. With the Tao Training tools, you can stay as relaxed as when you are sitting on your couch at home or taking a walk in the forest on your day off. Your perception of reality changes. Your feelings can now be carried along by an undercurrent of safety, no longer fuelled by stress and fear or the indefinable feeling that something is seriously wrong. These meditation and visualisation techniques activate your ‘I-power’ and lie at the base of this transformation.
The ‘I-power’, or in short ‘I’ (for which the Chinese character is ‘I’ as well), can be defined as a state of being between sleeping and waking that combines the benefits of both. You are calm as well as alert. You are relaxed while also fully active. Brain scans have demonstrated this in a clear way. When looking at the brain of someone where the ‘I’ is active, you can see ALL their brainwave frequencies - including the delta waves that belong to deep sleep and the gamma waves that reveal an active consciousness – they are all engaged at the same time.
You could also define the ‘I’ as a relaxed, effortless form of attention. In essence, the ‘I’ is the opposite of concentration, focus and will power. While concentration is an attempt to control reality, ‘I-power’ is more like a gentle experience of that reality. To be in ‘I’, feels like reading a beautiful story to a child. Meanwhile, when deep in concentration and focus, it feels more like the mandatory study of a boring instruction manual.
This is why, surrendering to the ‘I-power’ is the key to a stress-free life.