Have you ever felt caught in a relentless storm of thoughts and emotions? That’s stress, where the mind dictates our reality, and we often forget our true essence. In today’s fast-paced world, stress is an all-too-familiar companion for many. When faced with stress, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, losing touch with our deeper selves. The underlying cause? Our minds have taken the driver’s seat, leading us to act primarily as “mental beings“. However, by understanding and realigning our consciousness, we can regain balance and inner peace. We can recover quickly from the stress.
The Overwhelming World of the Mind
Imagine you’re driving in heavy traffic, late for a pivotal meeting. Every honk seems to echo your heartbeat, the constant glances at the clock deepen your anxiety, and every red light feels like a personal vendetta. In moments like this, our mind is no longer just a tool for thinking—it becomes the director of our reality, weaving a story filled with panic, regret, and dread.
This is a common human experience. Our mind, which is a wondrous tool for reasoning, planning, and creating, can also become our own prison. Often, we start identifying so closely with our thoughts that we blur the lines between “I am thinking this” and “This is who I am.” For instance, a single thought like, “I might be late” can spiral into, “I always mess things up,” “They’ll think I’m unreliable,” or “I might lose my job.”
When we identify with these thoughts, we give them power. They’re no longer just passing perceptions; they become solidified beliefs about our identity. It’s like seeing ourselves through a distorted mirror where every imperfection is magnified. Over time, this can lead to constant stress, anxiety, and a skewed perception of self-worth.
But here’s the thing: while our thoughts are a part of us, they aren’t the entirety of who we are. We are more than our immediate reactions, more than the worries of the moment, and certainly more than the self-critical narratives we sometimes tell ourselves. By constantly identifying with every thought that passes through our mind, we distance ourselves from our true essence, which is far more stable, peaceful, and resilient than any transient thought or emotion.
The challenge—and the journey—is to recognize when we’re getting swept away by the mind’s narratives and to gently bring ourselves back, understanding that while thoughts are a part of our experience, they don’t define our entire being. In doing so, we can navigate life’s challenges, like that stressful drive, with greater equanimity and a deeper connection to our authentic self.
The Underlying Calm: Our True Consciousness
Picture a serene lake. Its surface, reflecting the changing moods of the sky, is often disturbed by ripples—caused by winds, falling leaves, or passing creatures. This is akin to our everyday state of consciousness, where various stimuli, emotions, and thoughts ripple through our mind, causing disturbances like stress and anxiety.
Yet, dive deeper into this lake, and you’ll find a realm untouched by these surface disturbances—a place of profound tranquility and silence. Similarly, beneath our everyday consciousness lies deeper states of wakefulness, dream, and deep sleep.
But there’s an even more profound layer, the “Turya” or the fourth state. This state, described in ancient Indian philosophies, is the underlying consciousness beneath the other three. It’s the eternal, unchanging essence, representing pure awareness and a state of complete union with the universe. Just as the lake’s deepest layers remain undisturbed regardless of what happens on the surface, Turya remains unaffected by life’s fluctuations.
Turya is mentioned in several Upanishads, with the most detailed exposition found in the Mandukya Upanishad. The Mandukya Upanishad delves deep into the nature of consciousness, presenting it in four states: waking (jagrat), dreaming (svapna), deep sleep (sushupti), and Turya. It is in this Upanishad that Turya is described as the underlying consciousness that pervades the other three states, transcending them and yet being the very essence of them. The Turya state is depicted as pure consciousness or the ultimate reality, beyond conventional understanding and experience.
So, while stress and anxiety might trouble the surface of our minds, deep within, in the realm of Turya, we remain calm, centered, and infinitely connected to the universe.
Recovering from Stress: Reconnecting with Consciousness
How can we dive back into the serene depths of our consciousness when lost in the whirlwind of stress?
- Awareness as a Beacon: Imagine walking through a dense forest and suddenly realizing you’re lost. Just this realization acts as a beacon, helping you find your way. Similarly, when engrossed in stressful thoughts, the simple act of recognizing your state can create distance from the chaos.
- Being Present in the Mundane: Consider the act of washing dishes. Feel the water’s temperature, the slipperiness of the soap, and the weight of each dish. This simple act of being fully present can pull you out of the maze of stressful thoughts and anchor you in the now.
- The Power of Breath: Think back to a time you were startled or scared. Your breath was probably shallow or rapid. By consciously taking deep, rhythmic breaths, you signal your body and mind to relax, drawing you back to your innate state of consciousness. Breathing can be a powerful tool to reconnect with our core. A particularly effective method is the 4-5-6 technique:
- Inhale deeply and slowly for 4 seconds.
- Hold your breath, pausing for 5 seconds.
- Exhale gradually over 6 seconds.
- Mindfulness Meditation (Observing thoughts without judgement): Imagine sitting by a bustling highway during peak traffic hours. Cars of all shapes, sizes, and colors zoom by, each with its unique speed and direction. If you were to focus on each vehicle, trying to decipher its destination or the story of its occupants, you’d quickly become overwhelmed. But instead, if you simply sit and watch these cars pass by, acknowledging their presence without attempting to dissect their journey or purpose, you’d remain detached and at peace.
Similarly, our minds are often like this busy highway. Thoughts, emotions, and memories rush through, each carrying its weight of joy, pain, or anxiety. When we become attached to every thought, analyzing its origin, consequence, or validity, our mental space becomes cluttered. This attachment can lead to emotional upheavals, stress, and mental exhaustion.
However, the practice of mindfulness teaches us to be the observer of these thoughts, akin to watching cars on a highway. By observing thoughts without judgment, we give them permission to come and go without internal resistance. We understand that just like the cars, thoughts are transient. Today’s pressing worry or overwhelming emotion is tomorrow’s passing memory.
Moreover, watching without judgment means we don’t label our thoughts as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. This non-judgmental observation prevents the buildup of emotional baggage and helps us realize that we are not our thoughts. They are mere visitors to the vast landscape of our consciousness.
As we cultivate this practice, we find that our internal chaos diminishes. The tumultuous highway of our mind begins to slow down, and amidst the passing cars of fleeting thoughts, we rediscover our innate state of peace, calm, and equanimity.
Life is replete with challenges, much like a movie filled with various genres—thrills, drama, and sometimes horror. But by recognizing when we’re overly engrossed in the mind’s narrative and consciously choosing to reconnect with our true nature, we can watch this movie with detachment, knowing we are the silent observer, unaffected by its twists and turns.