Stress Lesson from a Stuck Elevator
Just Doing Some Standing
Some time ago I found myself stuck in our elevator for about an hour. Well, needless to say, it seemed longer than that at the time, but I don't want to exaggerate now.
My initial reaction was a slight boredom, as I had no idea how long it was going to take the technician to come and fix the problem. It was quickly replaced by some practical reasoning which is going to be the theme of this article.
So, first came to mind gratefulness that my bladder was not in an urgent need to be emptied, and that alone made me ready for an indefinite test of patience. The second reason for being grateful was the fact that I was alone, I mean not sharing the situation with a hysterical or claustrophobic person.
Now, allow me to brag a little. Situations like that always find me quite satisfied with my mind which automatically scans through most practical options, and in that case it was a realization that I was expected to do merely some of that same standing which I do while looking through my balcony window.
Indeed, the whole situation got reduced to that "standing", and there was even a trace of a meditative calm in that gazing at the closed door in front of me. You know the kind, like when you are having a bath surrounded with the privacy of the ambient.
Getting Even with the Technician - for Fun
Of course, every little while I pressed on that red button to alert the superintendent about the situation, but even that I did in a slow manner, knowing that poking on it wouldn't make the technician come any sooner.
When my "patience-testing-chamber" finally moved and the door opened, I was facing a couple of mocking eyes of the technician that seemed to be asking: "So, how did you like it?"
Then I blurted out a question that seemed appropriate at the moment, while I knew that it required a technical answer which I wouldn't have understood anyway: "What was wrong?"
Sure enough, it was technical enough, and I didn't understand it. But then he said something that gave me a chance to get back at him for that sneer: "I have been servicing this elevator for a long time"---upon which I said with a mocking grin : "And you still don't know how to fix it?" I shook my head and walked away, missing the expression on his face.
We Can't Breathe for Yesterday or Tomorrow
This is certainly one of the simplest and most precious pearls of wisdom that I ever had a chance to learn : the only time that life is happening is NOW. And it's also one of the most overlooked ones, judging by nations, ethnicities and races that can't stop living in the past; or equally erroneously fixated on future while amassing weapons for some hypothetical foe.
It's not easy with such a mindset to imagine the phenomenal unburdening relief of living in the here and now. Soon I will tell you about a couple of powerful questions - well, powerful in my personal experience anyway.
But first we have to see as true that stress is not something happening outside of us---but rather our own response to situations which "we are not willing to deal with".
Willing to Escape Equals Stress
Indeed, we can be equally stressed out by an upcoming job interview and walking down the isle to say our wedding vows, because both situations are something new to our experience. Wouldn't it be nice if we were just told what time to come to work tomorrow, and if we could skip the ceremony and have that first dance at the reception? Well, life doesn't work that way, and who are we to be exempted from the way it does work.
However, it may not take much more than asking ourselves a couple of questions to find that equilibrium in our nerves when one is really needed. They could belong to that so called "reality therapy" which I once read about, and which was insisting on realizations about "what is", not any "what if's, maybe's, should be's...and alike hypotheticals.
We Are Not Relaxed Even when Relaxing
Check your facial muscles, your throat muscles, shoulders and stomach muscles while you are doing nothing more demanding than watering your house plants---and you may be surprised how little you are in the moment.
For nothing around you is calling for a muscular readiness for something other than watering those plants. If you were really in the moment, not only that you would be relaxing those muscles not in use, but you might even do some little baby-talking to those plants to express your love for them.
Believe it or not, but we don't completely relax even while we sleep. Some of us may talk in sleep, or have wild dreams and wrestle with the bedding for the most of the night. Like many folks may testify to that, it's not easy to unwind completely and just surrender to that oblivion called "restful sleep".
Well, I guess, we are not cats to be able to shift in a blink of eye from running around into a state of a purring bliss. To me it takes about 3 minutes, but I had to practice for it. You can too, even without a need to grow whiskers first.
Questions that Could Make a Difference
Now, here we come to those two questions that I was announcing a moment ago. Don't expect some magic incantation like "abracadabra" that would instantly poof away your stress. Instead, what I am suggesting is that you try applying these two questions as often as possible during the day, until they become unconscious criterion of how much the current situation presents a stressor. The questions are:
- Is there any real sign of a threat around me now and here?
- Does the situation involve doing anything that I have never done before?
Simple, isn't it? However, you may not be in a mindset to immediately grasp the curative effect of these questions---like after they are repeatedly applied over a time. You see, except if you are a cop, a fireman, or a soldier in a hostile environment, all of your life situations are free of any threats. O.K. guys, maybe I could have added mother-in-law after you (again!) forgot to wash the car, mow the lawn, or fix that loose stair on the porch.
Referring to the First Question
Look around and see if there is anything posing a threat. Your furniture is not conspiring against you. Those house plants are not badmouthing you behind your back. There is no tornado outside, and no terrorists are plotting to destroy your house out of all other in the street. In other words, there is absolutely nothing around to piss you off.
Now, the trick is in matching between the state of your muscles and that peaceful ambient of yours. In your mind go back and forth from that innocent looking furniture and lazy cat to your tense shoulders, and just ask yourself how that situation deserves that tension. Don't rationalize by bringing into picture anything that is not there - like your work, your finances, your kids, or that car that is overdue for a tune up.
If you are not actively doing anything about it right in this instant, then it doesn't matter in this only moment when life is happening. And if you are doing anything in that direction, then why be tense, you are fixing it.
So, keep matching the situation with your level of stress and see how the situation is deserving it. You may get some spontaneous laughs when you see what you are doing to yourself.
Referring to the Second Question
The second question is helping us to assess the do-ability of whatever it takes to be effective in the current situation. We already had an example of my being stuck in the elevator, and now we should make a rule based on my response. It would read something like this: "Reduce the situation to its doable components which you have performed many times."
In my case, it was just doing some standing and waiting. I had done that million times, anywhere, and if I mentioned waiting in the lineups in grocery stores, you would guess what the whole list of examples would look like.
There is an enormous simplification of life once we make that a habit to break the situation down into its easily doable components---instead of bombarding our nerves with the whole apparent complexity with its imaginary hardships.
For me to be stuck in that elevator it was "humanly normal" to panic, to be pissed off, to press on that alarm like crazy, and swear loudly if in the next five minutes the elevator hadn't moved.
On top of it I could have cursed the management for not taking a proper care of the elevator, and rehearsed in my mind what I was going to tell the manager when I see him...no, maybe a petition among tenants would do, or a filed complaint at Tenants' Association...-
You see what I mean? I would have lost a ton of nerves accomplishing nothing--- while still having to wait for that door to open one way or another. So I opted for the simplest solution.
I hope my "elevator adventure" was not for nothing, and more folks may draw some pragmatic wisdom from it. And, of course, you can use those two questions without waiting for the time when you may be next to be stuck in an elevator.