Welcome to Joy Lab!: Welcome to the Joy Lab podcast, where we help you uncover and foster your most joyful self. Your hosts, Dr. Henry Emmons and Dr. Aimee Prasek, bring you the ideal mix of soulful and scientifically sound tools to spark your joy, even when it feels dark. When you're ready to experiment with more joy, combine this podcast with the full Joy Lab program over at JoyLab.coach
Aimee: Welcome to Joy Lab. So I am Aimee, here to introduce this next lesson of our podcourse.
So in this one, Henry is going to talk about stress and suffering. This is such an important distinction and something that will really set us up for some later episodes when we get into the trickiness of the mind and how destructive our thinking can be sometimes. And some of the tendencies that we might fall into.
So, tune in with a lot of curiosity and of course, a lot of self compassion.
Henry (2): So in talking about this understanding of suffering, I do want to mention a little bit about stress as we have come to think of stress in the 21st century. It's very different than what I think the Buddha or people, religious teachers, spiritual teachers, two or three thousand years ago would have thought about stress.
So I don't think stress is necessarily greater than it used to be, but I do think that it is more relentless for at least for many, many people. So I want to paint a picture for you of how stress might happen in nature and how we are designed to experience and respond to stress. So this is stress, not as a bad thing, but as a very natural thing that all of us are made for. We're designed for this very, very well. Even extreme stresses. So imagine that you are looking at a herd of gazelles that are just grazing peacefully on an African Savannah. But then, up to the left you see a cheetah start to chase the herd and the herd senses this danger all at once, and they kind of crouch, and then they leap, and they're off to the races.
And the antelopes are really, really fast. But the cheetah is just a little faster. So the cheetah has its sights set, you can tell, on one poor antelope and is gaining on it and gaining on it and finally catches up to it, leaps onto its back, pulls it down, has its jaws around its neck, and the antelope goes stiff.
Now, this is a video that I've seen and watching it the first time. I'm pretty sure that the antelope, at this point, is dead. Turns out that's not true. It has frozen. So there is a third option. If fight or flight don't work, then it is a natural reaction to freeze in the face of this extreme kind of danger.
Supposedly this is just a automatic last ditch effort to survive because sometimes a predator will lose interest in an animal that appears to be dead. So it's just woven into our biology. And people who have experienced really severe trauma will sometimes describe that this was their reaction to it. They just simply froze.
Now if you keep watching this antelope, you will see after just a few seconds that the cheetah, in fact, does get up and go away as if it's no longer interested in an animal that appears dead. And you don't see the cheetah again. But you keep watching and the antelope starts to move, and then it gets up on all fours and it's kind of wobbly for a while, and then something really bizarre happens.
The antelope starts to shake. Its entire body shaking violently. And it goes on for what seems like a few minutes. It might not have been that long, but it's what it seemed like. What's happening supposedly is that this is nature's way of resetting. It's just almost like rebooting the computer. It's getting rid of a lot of that lactic acid from the muscles from running so fast.
It's getting rid of some of the stress hormones and the effects that they have and after a few minutes of this shaking, it stops. And something even stranger happens. The antelope then walks back to the herd and starts grazing looking for all the world as if nothing had ever happened. Now that is how stress is supposed to happen in nature.
It was extreme. But the animal didn't die. It instinctively knows how to shake it off, so to speak. And it is able to let it go. It's just really able to let it go. Now, if you were watching for the next 24 hours, you would see that antelope doing very little other than resting and eating. It's recovering.
That's what we're supposed to do after a period of stress. We are supposed to rest, restore our energy through food, and allow ourselves to recover before we have to face another big stress. Now, human beings, of course, handle threats and stresses differently than animals in nature. And there's a really well known neuroscientist named Robert Sapolsky who wrote a book called Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers.
Essentially talking about this very thing. That in nature, because animals don't carry their stress with them, they don't develop all these illnesses that we associate with stress, including depression, anxiety, of course, but also things like heart disease, maybe even things like cancer. But, humans do carry their stress with them, and that is really what makes it different.
Sapolsky says that we, human beings, have evolved to be smart enough to make ourselves sick. So it's through our thinking. Now back to the mindfulness, understanding of suffering. The way that they would describe it is that we create suffering through the mind's attachment to things. In other words, we're not able to let go of things very easily.
We tend to grasp on to them and particularly we tend to create resistance to what is. So in other words, whatever is happening in our lives that's creating some sort of discomfort or sense of distress, we don't want it. And there are three different ways that they describe how this manifests in human beings.
And you will recognize these because every person experiences all of these strategies. They're unhelpful, unskillful strategies for dealing with problems in our lives. And our goal really is to learn the skills so that we don't get so taken off balance or caught up with these things that are happening that we don't like.
So the first unhelpful strategy is what's known as grasping. And this is when a person is just really wanting something more. Wanting to fill him or herself up. Often because of feelings of insecurity. But the sense is that there is never enough. No matter how much we get, how much food, how much work, how much money, how much love, whatever it is that we feel is insufficient, we're wanting more. We're wanting more of the things that we think are going to make us happy. And the emotion that is associated with this is fear. The fear that there is not going to be enough, that I am not going to get mine because there's finite amount of things out there and if somebody else gets it I can't.
So this creates, as you can imagine, a lot of suffering and this looks very much like what we described earlier as an anxious mood or anxious depression. The second pattern is known as aversion. So instead of grasping and holding on tightly, aversion means that you're pushing things away. That whatever is there is something that you don't want.
So instead of wanting it too much, you don't want it and you will do most anything you can to get it out of your life. This creates a feeling of rejection or a feeling of anger or irritability. That's usually the feeling that's associated with this. Because there is a sense of not wanting things to be as they actually are.
And of course you can see how that resembles what happens when a person is in an agitated mood state or the agitated depression. And then the third pattern is in the Buddhist literature is known as delusion. This is different from how we use the word delusion in psychiatry. And really what it's referring to is not being willing or able to see things as they are.
In a sense, it's like putting your head in the sand. It is not wanting to see. I just don't even want to deal with this. This is overwhelming. And so you just don't. You choose not to see it. And this creates a certain way of shutting oneself down. And the mood that might be associated with this is often one of flatness or dullness.
And again, you can see how this might correlate with the sluggish or lethargic depression, we've talked about earlier. Now, you do not need to worry too much about which of these states you tend toward. It might be interesting just to notice because it does tend to be something that each of us gravitates towards.
So, some people just naturally gravitate towards insufficiency and then grasping. Others towards judging that things are not the way we want them to be, and so there's aversion or pushing away. But it doesn't matter too much because all of the things that we're going to talk about doing, you can do no matter what your pattern is.
They're helpful for everybody. No matter which of those things that you usually gravitate towards. So, everybody suffers. Nobody's exempt. Suffering is, in a large part, is caused by our own minds, our own thoughts, and our own reactions to things. And, importantly, there is a way out of this. We're going to talk about that in the next lesson.
Thanks for joining us!: Thank you for listening to the Joy Lab podcast. If you enjoy today's show, visit JoyLab.coach to learn more about the full Joy Lab program. Be sure to rate and review us wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.
Please remember that this content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice and is not a replacement for advice and treatment from a medical professional. Please consult your doctor or other qualified health professional before beginning any diet change, supplement, or lifestyle program.
Please see our terms for more information.