Who Are You in Times of Stress? and a Messages from the Cholla Cacti
I crossed the threshold in the midst of a wildly stressful week, setting the intention of being centered in myself throughout it all.
As I walked across the rock, road, sand, dirt and debris from the recent rain, I thought of the words of one of my Rite of Passage guides, “Who are you when you are most stressed?” I remember her asking this, as if the answer to this question revealed something utterly essential about who we each are.
I could not help but think of this question: my answer and its purpose.
I thought about all the stress of my week and all the stress of those around me this week. (It was a pretty wild week!) I wondered about all the ways we deal with this experience of cortisol levels rising, and how unique it is to each of us. It is widely researched how stress effects our bodies and relationships.
Some of us turn to others constantly talking about the stressors and almost seem to take comfort in the drama of the situation-- some of us can’t sleep-- some of us need to talk it out quietly in a coffee shop with a good friend-- some of us get quiet and introverted with the stress and hide from the world-- some of us can’t eat-- some of us work hard and methodically to “get things done,” nose to grindstone to move through it-- some of us get ill-- some of us go out and have a good time to avoid it or feel lighter in it--- some of us lash out on others to gain some sense of control-- some of us use humor to cope, laughing our way through the absurdity of the situation.
Stress forces us to meet ourselves in a real way, not in the way we necessary wish to present ourselves to the world. I know for me, when stressed, I do a mixture of going inward, getting quiet, thoughtful and not quiet present, as I also dive deeply into getting things done in a very regimented and hyper-focused way. The trouble is that this often leaves me feeling lonely, disconnected, not so alive to the experiences of the moment or the people around me who I know I love. I am not entirely connecting to my loving, meaningful, and cherished relationships because I have fallen too deep into my head space.
As I reflect on my stress tendencies, I begin to wonder about what gets me there? As I typically do with my practice, I began to look at the nature around me, noticing as the monsoon season creeps in after the intense June heat onto our desert landscape. I remember the heat so intense just weeks ago, and the rains that came flooding in only a week ago. I realized that nature, too, experiences stress at times. This can largely be a result of too much of something, too little of something, or something that infesting from within-- a bug, virus or bacteria that can be causing a plant (or animal) stress from the inside out. Humans are no different! When we experience stress it is likely because we have too much on our plate, we feel like we are drowning, or we are not getting enough time/ space/ love/ respect/ etc. It could also be that there is a thought, feeling or physical illness that is infecting us from the inside.
I looked to the cholla cactus on my path, I noticed all the places in which it was getting too much or too little of something. I noticed there were parts that had begun to dry out, decay or look ill. I saw discoloration, parts that looked eaten away, parts that were hollow where only the skeleton of the plant remained. Yet at the same time, I also saw parts that were flourishing-- areas full of sharp and strong spines, the out stretched and muscular arms reaching towards the sun, the beautiful soft blooming and budding pink and magenta flowers.
Something important occurred to me during this interaction. There is a need for balance, and that both always exist together. It would be unrealistic for us to live a life without stress, but can we still experience a full life—along with the stressful parts? Stress is part of life yet our relationship and ways of meeting it can make all the difference. Can we find our way of allowing the stress we all experience be part of our larger self? When stressful days, weeks or months urge us to pay attention, can we also call in the ways that truly help us through it?
In some cases, the Cholla let the part of itself that seemed stressed by the heat, fall off, recognizing it was no longer serving its growth. Or maybe nearby birds, animals, or insects come along to assist the plant in shedding its decay. In other cases, the stressed out part of this cactus was clearly connected and part of its form and contributing, dare I say, to its beauty. What if we can notice our experience of stress and find a way of continuing to carry it at the same time we also carry our loving, strength, beauty, ability to connect and open up to the world around us and the people in our lives? (rather than isolate, become a workaholic, or get angry?)
How do we find a way of acknowledging our human nature in times of stress and of getting to know ourselves better?