Posted by Rick Chrisman
What would you say pervades the mind of a student? I would hazard a guess that stress definitely preoccupies the minds of Skidmore students. In the last few weeks alone, I met with eight different students who mentioned how heavily they feel stress weighing them down. Is it Skidmore? Is it just college life? Is it the epoch we live in as Americans?
Whatever the source of the stress may be, do we know the remedy? Well, some are pretty famous. Sex, drugs and rock and roll, for starters! And that other handy remedy – rage. Road rage, parent rage, roommate rage and, on a much grander scale, war, are all stress outlets.
But one need not reach for those extreme measures before you find some intermediate solution. The College takes this issue seriously as a threat to student health and provides resources, like stress reduction classes, yoga, Reiki sessions and education about the danger signs of stress. And your fellow students are on the case, too – offering a week of focused attention on energy and energetics in a program called "Flow Jam." Check it out.
None of these stress reduction measures, of course, makes the sources of stress go away. Those are only going to increase as students enter the job market and, more generally, greater exposure to the world and its injustices. The best remedy to all this is a preemptive one, something that we integrate into our daily or weekly rhythms of life. For if we wait until the stress is upon us, the response may not be so effective. To use a gross analogy, which do you prefer — dental floss or the dentist's drill?
Some the perquisites of stress reduction are obvious, but we should consider another benefit hidden in these practices.
When we practice a physical or spiritual exercise, I believe we are stepping out of the rushing river of Time where some honesty about ourselves is possible. In this moment of honesty, apart from the day-to-day mania, we can plan our escape from all false ties.
Unfortunately, many of our spiritual practices have been diluted and rid of their spiritual potency. Tantric yoga, an exercise practiced 1,600 years ago, was aimed at finding and redirecting our most basic energies, such as anger, fear and lust. Through this process, we are able to find a truer self-consciousness. However, in hatha yoga, a form of yoga that originated only 100 years ago and is often found in today's American studios, the service of "fitness" gets left aside. It is easy to take the "good feeling" as the goal.
Likewise, in our practice of "Sabbath" in Judaism and Christianity, we can also lose the opportunity for honesty if we become over-involved in the sensual aspects of the rituals or distracted by its cerebrations. It is a shame there is so little time for silence in our liturgies. The ritual action should feed us with its content, but it should also allow us to and achieve real perspective.
The honesty found in silent contemplation prepares us for the time when we might face some gulag or another, as did Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Ruben "Hurricane" Carter. It equips us to survive when "the silver cord is snapped and the golden bowl is broken," as we read in Ecclesiastes. It also provides, in the instant, a joy more rewarding than the pursuit of happiness.
Stress be gone!