Toby Gillies Buddhist Meditation

Time stress, time to meditate

How meditation relieves stress

Meditation for Stress

This article will show how meditation and meditation classes can help in relieving stress. We need to understand more about how stress is produced.  In particular we can benefit from discovering the inner cause of tension. Tension may be felt physically, but its basic source is the mind as we shall discover in this article.

What the engineers have to say about stress

The engineering definition of stress gives some helpful insights into the mental phenomenon of stress, or more accurately distress.

A definition goes along the lines: when a force meets resistance there is stress. An example is when a concrete block, a load under gravity, applies a force to a horizontal cross beam.  It stresses that cross beam. If the load is too great the force is too much. The stress on the cross beam resisting the force is such that the beam can bend.  It may perhaps even break. Where the load is lighter the stress is less. The cross beam may hold, but still be under stress. When the load is removed, there is no longer any stress. The two key elements are force and resistance. Force + Resistance = Stress.

Our experience of stress

In the psychological sphere the uncomfortable events or difficult people that we encounter are the force. The faulty mental states with which we respond are the resistance. Some classical stress formulae then could be:

{being busy} + {the inability to enjoy being busy} = {stress}.


{partner looks like walking} + {fear of being alone} = {stress}


{company is downsizing} + {fear of failure or poverty} = {stress}

If the stressor, or the force, in any of these formulae is too heavy then the resultant tension can break us. For example, the level of busyness may get greater and go on for longer.  When we continue to resist, the resultant tension will cause a breakdown.

If the stressor is less heavy, our tension may become less uncomfortable and be bearable. It may then eventually slip to a subconscious level where the tension nonetheless continues but remains largely unnoticed. Though unnoticed, this underlying tension continues to affect both our psychological and physical health. Even if we were to stop being busy altogether, a subtle subconscious tension could remain due to our fear of being busy once again.

The ways we deal with stress

Whenever we feel the discomfort of stressful situations, we can (and generally do) attempt to address the external stressor. We find ways to be less busy, or to reassure ourselves about our partner, or to shore up our position within the company.

Of course, we can certainly continue to work with the external situation and achieve some reduction in our stress level. However, if this is all we do, we miss an invaluable opportunity to make real progress. We miss achieving a lasting and complete elimination of the negative effects of stress.

The way that we can eliminate stress completely is by letting go of the internal resistance. Without the internal resistance it no longer matters whether the external stressor is heavy, moderate or light. With no resistance there is no stress. Understanding this, we can then use the presence of an external stressor to help us to identify and see clearly exactly what the resistance is within our minds.

The stress of being busy

Being busy can stimulate us to find ways to embrace a busy life. We uncover ways to remain calm and focussed while stimulated and busy. Having a lot to do can motivate us to meditate. Then we gain the clarity and calm to structure our activities skilfully.  We focus our minds to achieve what needs to be done.

Being busy encourages us to find a real joy in a stimulating, challenging and rewarding life. It can help us to find a truly healthy balance in what we do. When we have this joy and balance, it no longer matters how busy we are or what demands we face. We tackle it all with enthusiasm and in this there is no longer any stress.

A stress in relationship

Similarly doubts about our partner can point out our resistance to the thought of being alone. Once we have identified this to be the problem we can set out to remove this resistance.

Many people equate being alone with the suffering of loneliness. In truth aloneness is not the same as loneliness. Loneliness is experienced as suffering because there is some sense of not being wanted or valued. We feel as though something or someone is missing. This loneliness is an irrational projection distorting the situation. We can feel this distorted loneliness whether surrounded by others or being by ourselves.

Aloneness on the other hand is an acknowledgement of reality. In truth we are born alone, we suffer alone and we die alone. No one else can do this for us and no one else can do this with us.

When we are alone, we are complete. We accept ourselves as we are, and have no neurotic impulse to search for something or someone to complete us. In this wholeness and self acceptance we are happy whether we are with someone or not.

We accept our own impermanence and the impermanence of relationship as simple fact and can let go and not cling. Released from the fear of being alone, there is no resistance to changes in our relationship and thus no stress. It is not that we stop working on our relationship and the changes in our partner’s attitude but we do so freely and without stress.

Stress at work

In the final example, changes in our workplace due to downsizing can point out the inner resistance of our fear of failure or poverty. We can eliminate this fear by reflecting on karma and impermanence.

Our real success is found in our actions, in the honesty and effort to do our best. Whether this is sufficient to retain our job or not depends on previous karma. But doing our best now creates the cause for better and better jobs in future. Good actions now create future success. Our real security and success is found in our attitude and actions now.

Similarly our real wealth is found in the contribution we make and the pure intention motivating this. This karma of generosity brings good conditions in future.

So, no matter how threatening the present situation, if you face it with courage, generosity of spirit, and focus on contributing your best effort and attitude, you will create the cause for wealth and good conditions in future. With this understanding there is no longer the resistance of fear and therefore no stress.


These are just a few simplified examples. There are a limitless variety of external stressors in relationship, work and lifestyle situations not to mention other stressors, such as death in the family or serious illness. Each one of us responds differently according to our individual makeup.

Each of us have our own unique points of resistance and faulty responses. My purpose in using the examples above is to point out the principle that, though stress can be temporarily lessened by changing the external circumstances, it is the inner work of changed attitude overcoming resistance which eliminates stress entirely.

The external ‘problem’ can be made an indicator of the real issue, the internal resistance. This is always a faulty mental attitude and emotional reaction. The world around us, at work, at home, nationally or globally can point out to us the problems we need to address within. We know there is a problem when we feel the discomfort of stress.

Ideally stress should then point us inward to discover our internal issues. Once those issues are resolved nothing in the external stressor, no matter how great, can cause us stress.

The role of meditation practice in dealing with stress

As we see more clearly the need to address the inner world we find that the greatest tool in dealing with stress is the practice of meditation. Just practising calming meditation can help to reduce stress and provide greater confidence and emotional stability. Within this we can employ the insight of analytic introspective meditation to identify the internal resistance.  Meditation will help us reframe with a more enlightened view of the situation. The more we learn of the spiritual path, the path to enlightenment, the more skilled we become in dealing with stress.