I love seeing the world, but I hate to travel. It’s so stressful. I mean, you have to pack and make sure you haven’t forgotten anything. Then you have to get to the airport. And the airport is about the most stressful place you could want to be. You have to wait in one line after the other. They take your luggage and search it, so you hope to God there’s nothing in there that can get you into trouble because it seems like security keeps adding things to the “you better not take these things on the airplane if you know what’s good for you” list. Then you have to walk through that metal detector which will go off if you have any fillings in your teeth. Take off your shoes. Take off your belt. They ought to just make us all fly naked. But don’t try to say anything funny like that while you’re there. It’s no place to be if you have any kind of sense of humor. And the people who work there definitely haven’t got any sense of humor. Tell a joke; go to jail. That’s how it is. I always feel as though I were in Stalinist Russia when I’m at the airport.
And the flights are no better. The seats are uncomfortable and the food is bad. The guy in front of me always feels the need to recline his seat. And somehow, the half a can of diet coke and stale pretzels don’t help much. And when you finally get to where you’re going, there’s that little obligatory standing up hunched over under the overhead compartments waiting forever for the rich people to leave so you can finally move line you have to stand in. Then you can finally make the trek to the baggage claim so you can watch the bags go around in circles until you finally find yours—if the airlines haven’t lost them. It’s no wonder I always arrive where I’m going exhausted and in need of a stiff drink.
But, in truth, stress is all around us. Our jobs are stressful, no matter what they are. Most of us work for people who don’t appreciate us. We seem to have more and more demands placed upon us. Prices keep going up. The media does its best to keep us scared. The world seems to be falling apart.
So everywhere you turn there are people trying to sell you ways to help you deal with the stress. Try transcendental meditation. Take some yoga classes. Learn self-hypnosis. And then there is always the good old fashioned going out and getting good and drunk way of dealing with the stress. I suspect that is why drug abuse and alcoholism are so prevalent in our culture. Stress is everywhere and people want to help you deal with it. Funny, but nobody ever considers trying to reduce the stress. We seem to accept the “life is hard and then you die” philosophy of life.
Siddartha, the Buddha, said that life is suffering, but we only suffer because we want. We want stuff. We want love. We want all kinds of things. Buddha said if we could but free ourselves of wanting, we could be happy. The trouble is, you have to free yourself from even wanting to stop wanting. And that isn’t easy. It’s hard not to want. It’s a scary world out there and we’d all like to have a little security, some kind of safety net. That’s why a lot of people turn to religion.
People hope God will keep sorrow out of their lives. They hope God can keep them from losing their jobs, or from getting sick. And in order to this, they do their best not to piss God off, so they follow a lot of rules and perform various rituals in order to keep God from fucking with them. People have been doing that for thousands of years. The Aztecs used to sacrifice thousands of people at a time in order to keep their gods happy. Jesus offered the world a different way.
“At that time answered Jesus to say, ‘I confess to you in full, father, lord and master of heaven and earth, because you hide this from the skilled and wise and disclose yourself to babies (or the simple-minded). Yes, Father, this has become your delight.
All to me is passed on from my father and no one perceives the son if not the father, and no one perceives the father if not the son and to those to whom the son wishes to reveal the father. Come to me all you who are tired and heavily burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for gentle am I and low of heart and you will refresh your spirit. For my yoke is loving and my burden is gentle.’” (Matthew, Chapter 11—Big Daddy translation from the original Greek)
In this passage, the author has Jesus talking to his Dad, and then he speaks directly to the priests and scribes of the temple. Now these are guys who spend most of their time trying to figure out what exactly God wants, and yet they seem to miss the entire point. They are concerned with rituals and fine points of the laws that govern every part of their lives and the lives of the people. Jesus, time and again, tells those who follow him that it is faith that connects you to God. And that God is not some kind of celestial judge, but a parent who loves us. Faith and love are not something you think about or intellectualize. Faith and love are things you do. Children don’t think about love. They just love. Watch children make friends some time. They don’t think about whether or not they want to be friends with someone. Trust me. As a former teacher I know. Children don’t think about things. They just do. Jesus tells us that the truth is revealed to those who don’t think about things.
Jesus says the way to peace and understanding is not in taking on the burden of the law and its various rituals. The way to peace is in trusting in the Father to take care of you, to have faith. David says the same thing in the 23rd Psalm, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” This doesn’t mean you’re not supposed to want things. It means that you will never be in want of anything. Everything you need will be provided. There is nothing to fear. Ultimately, Jesus offers those who follow his teachings liberation from fear.
There is no need to fear because all you need will be provided. There is nothing that can hurt you. Death is only an illusion. In other words, it doesn’t really matter what happens to you here because nothing can destroy you or anybody else. You are divine. You are a part of God. Nothing can hurt you. That is why Jesus says that his yoke is easy and his burden light. Once you let go of fear and anxiety, you experience total liberation, sort of like Obi-wan Kenobi facing Darth Vader.
The reason why Asian martial artists can be so fierce is that there is no fear of death. According to Eastern thought, you are one with all life energy. It is only an illusion that you and your foe are different. There is no dualistic thought. You and your enemy are one, so it doesn’t really matter who wins. Either way, live or die, you win. It just doesn’t matter. We get angry and fearful and stressed out because the universe isn’t acting the way we think it should, or the way we want it to behave. But there is no “should be” universe. There is only the universe that is. Once you accept that, and that whatever happens doesn’t matter, then you can let go of fear and sorrow.
There is a Zen story about a monk who lived alone outside of a village. One day the daughter of a local farmer became pregnant and rather than tell her parents that the father of her child was a young man from the village, she blamed the monk for her condition. After the child was born, the parents took the baby to the monk and told him, “Here! Our daughter told us this child is yours, so YOU can raise it!”
The monk only replied, “Is that so?” And then he took the child into his home and cared for it tenderly and raised it up. After several years, the daughter became quite ill to the point of death. On her deathbed, she confessed to her parents that she had lied about the monk and that the child was not his. After she died, the parents went back to the monk and apologized and explained the whole situation to him regarding their daughter’s confession.
The monk only replied, “Is that so?” And then he gave the child back to the girl’s parents.
Now to most of us, this story makes no sense at all and seems totally unfair. But in the Buddhist perception, the whole meaning of life is that there is no meaning of life other than living. And it seems to me that the teachings of Jesus make the same point. The point of living is to be connected to life itself. You don’t connect to life by ritual or meditative contemplation. You connect to life be being that life force. You connect to God by being the loving spirit of God, by allowing the loving spirit of God to flow through you. You are the hands of God. Jesus taught us to love one another and to love life.
And that is how you let go of stress. You don’t “deal” with stress. You simply let go of it. You let go of fear. You let go of anxiety. As Jesus said, “which of you can change one hair on your head by worrying?” In the end, there is nothing we can do to change the world or how it treats us. We can only change the way we respond to it. We can only change ourselves, our way of thinking.
Joy and sorrow are both parts of life. As Lao Tzu tells us in the Tao Te Ching, for a room to be useful, you must have the walls and the space between them. That is the yin and yang of creation. Lau Tzu also teaches that it is in thinking about the Tao that we lose it, “The Tao that is called the Tao is not the Tao.” So you can’t achieve understanding by trying to understand. You must let go. You have to approach it like a child (just as Jesus said). No matter how much you pray, God won’t take away all the bad stuff. But the more you pray, the more you connect to God, and the more you connect to God, the less the bad stuff affects you. When I was studying martial arts, they didn’t teach me how to not get hit; they taught me how to be strong enough so that getting hit wouldn’t hurt me.
Once you realize that nothing can hurt you, then you can be fearless. Once you are fearless, then there is no more stress, no more anxiety. Once you realize that you will have everything you need, they you shall not want. There is nothing to fear. The apostle John said, “You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” Of course, that doesn’t make the things that happen to us any less annoying, but then, what would we have to talk about? And, when I travel, I always find that getting to where I’m going is worth all the trouble it took to get there.