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Protecting the Spiritual Environment Workshop: Stressed but not Depressed

On April 24, 2016 Dharma Drum Mountain Buddhist Centre Malaysia organized a “Stressed but not Depressed” workshop. Over 80 participants joined the workshop led by Ven. Chang Zao (常藻), the Centre’s director.

To start off, Ven. Chang Zao led a group discussion on how to channel and relieve the stress we face in our daily life. Participants were happy to express their personal approaches, such as going on an expedition or tour, reading books, playing chess, and doing painting, as well as calming the body and mind by reciting Amitabha Buddha’s name. The venerable then asked participants to write down the things that had been causing them to feel stressed or troubled recently.

The next activity was the Jenga game to let participants experience subtle changes in their body and mind while playing the game. Participants were enthusiastic about and fully engaged in the activity, breaking into bursts of laughter every now and then. After the game, the venerable asked participants to share their feelings and thoughts about the process, and invited everyone to ask themselves questions such as: Are you feeling nervous in the process of playing the game? What is that nervous sensation in the body and mind like?

Many participants expressed that they were so tense that their body began to feel hot, tremble, and become stiff, with their heartbeat going faster. Meanwhile, they experienced fear and anxiety, worrying about whether the blocks would collapse or not. Interestingly, most people were nervous simply because of being afraid of becoming the possible “loser” of the group by failing the game and therefore getting blamed from other group members. The venerable then asked them to explore why they were worrying about becoming the “loser?” Participants said it was because they felt worried about letting down other group members, and that it is a simply natural tendency to pursue perfection.

The venerable explained that the phenomenon of feeling nervous is usually caused by a “presumed condition,” and this presumption comes from our concerns about other people’s views and opinions. If we can realize that, then we can actually eliminate our nervousness.

How should we face the stress at work? Only by becoming aware of the state of our body and mind when we are stressed can we really start to face it. When stressed, we need to be aware that our body is tense and our mind is agitated. With the awareness, we are then able to accept the situation, and go further to observe our own feelings.

Why do we care about people’s opinions so much? We might fear that we are not doing well enough, that we are not accepted by others, and that others will spot our weaknesses. If we further investigate, we will find out it is because we don’t actually know ourselves. If we know ourselves, we will not expect ourselves to be a perfect person and not make any mistakes during the game. By knowing ourselves, we will not worry about whether we are flawless or not, but will instead honestly acknowledge our strengths and weaknesses as they are, and accept the unchanging fact that the phenomenon of rises and falls represents the law of conditioned arising. To sum up, we should recognize who we really are, and also realize the reality of the universe as it is, thereby learning to accept ourselves.

So, how should we deal with stress? We can try the “four steps for handling a problem”, an approach proposed by Master Sheng Yen—face it, accept it, deal with it, and let it go. The former two are the mindset we should develop, while the latter two the method of practice. By practicing this approach, we can train our mind to focus more on the present moment.

After her Dharma talk, the venerable led participants to practice calming and settling the mind by playing the Jenga game again silently while remaining aware of what is going on in their body and mind. She also encouraged everyone to free themselves of the burden of their past and the worry of their future. Participants did it again mindfully, and later in the group discussion shared how they felt differently the second time they played the game, how they had learned to manage the stress, and how they got inspired by this workshop activity.

Towards the end of the activity, the venerable also shared her experience, and said that if we put everything on ourselves and only consider our own interests, we will definitely feel stress. On the contrary, if we take ourselves as part of a positive cause, then we will have no regret and feel less stress, by doing the best we can.

How do calm ourselves in the face of stress? First of all, serve sentient beings, instead of just ourselves. We will feel more relieved by letting go of our self and seeing things in terms of their causes and conditions. Secondly, there is no such thing as the best and the worst. We need not worry too much, and shouldn’t limit ourselves. Instead, we should believe that every happening in our life is the best.

After the three- hour learning experience, participants all benefited a lot. The venerable hoped that participants can put what they had learned into practice in daily life and be more aware of the occurring changes in their body and mind. She also looked forward to the next workshop, where participants can share their experience in this regard.

Reported by Zhang Hanci(張含慈)
Photography by Li Jincheng(李錦成)
Translated by Frances Liu (劉珮如)
Edited by Chiacheng Chang (張家誠)

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