Our modern world seems to revolve around stress -overachievement, perfectionism, multi-tasking, traffic- you name it! But this problem isn't necessarily new. People have had things to worry about since the beginning of mankind. Although ancient worries may be a bit different from the ones we have today (getting eaten by wild animals is a bit different from missing the deadline to turn in your essay) but ancient methods of stress reduction are still relevant today. Here are some ideas Chinese philosophers had about the world that just might help you de-stress this semester!
仁 (Ren): Moderate Your Desires
Take a moment & reflect on how much time you spend wanting things- endlessly scrolling through Amazon, watching ads for the newest iPhone, waiting in line for another frappe at Starbucks. And those are just material desires. How about dreaming of a perfect GPA, your soul mate, or that insta-worthy vacation you have yet to take?
"Ren" or goodness, is at the center of Confucian thought. Ren focuses on moderation of desires, or as Confucius says "subduing one's self."Confucius doesn't say that you should try to totally suppress any desires. It's okay to want things- but moderation is key! He says you need to find a balance between indulgence & abstinence. If thinking about all the things you can't afford or don't have stresses you out, then stop dwelling on it! Focus on appreciating what you already have. Focus your desires on things that are actually attainable (remember- Cs get degrees!).
In our world today, materialism & over-achievement is at the center of everything. Because of social media & our hyper-connected society, it's easy to constantly compare ourselves to others. But as anyone with an Instagram account will know, that isn't the path to happiness. According to Confucius, you don't need to be the best or have the best stuff to be happy or fulfilled in life. Put your energy (& wallet) into pursuing on your true, realistic desires- & you'll start to feel your stress melt away.
无为 (Wu-Wei): Go With the Flow
Change can be a huge source of stress for many. Maybe you're going through a rough breakup, moving to a different city, or starting a new job. These would typically be considered stressful events, but according to Chinese philosopher Laozi, they don't have to be.
Laozi is considered to be the founder of the Chinese philosophy Taoism (or Daoism) & is the author of book Tao Te Ching. Laozi writes:
"If you realize that all things change, there is nothing you will try to hold on to."
-Laozi (Tao Te Ching)
Taoism says that there is a natural rhythm to the world. If you try to resist change, you are fighting a battle you're destined to lose. Embracing even the smallest of changes & "going with the flow" can help you let go of a great deal of your stress. You may have heard of athletes & musicians being "in the zone." This state is also known as flow, & is a good example of how you can apply wu-wei to your life.
The idea of wu-wei, which directly translates to "without exertion" is the embodiment of that idea of "going with the flow. An analogy seen throughout Tao Te Ching shows why water is a great model for stress-reduction. It does not hold on to any one form, & constantly embraces change. But no matter what change may come, it is still the same at its core. Water can be incredibly still & gentle. It can be powerful, crashing waves. Water can adapt to fit any situation -& if you put the idea of we-wei into practice- you can too!
禪 (Zen): Try Meditating (No, Really. Try it.)
Relaxing With Music
You've probably heard meditation praised as an almost magical stress reducer. Meditating is popular in practically every major Chinese philosophy, & around the world. If you already meditate, then congratulations! But if you have yet to try it out, let me address some common reactions to my suggestion.
1. "But I don't have enough time!" Meditation doesn't have to take hours. If you think you don't have time for meditation, you're probably the type of person who would greatly benefit from it. You can meditate for any period of time -5 minutes, a half-hour- whatever you want! If you're worried about falling asleep, just set an alarm for when you need to get up. Let go of your worries about time. The alarm will be there for you when you need it.
2. "But I don't want to sit like that." Look up stock photos of people mediating, & you'll see tons of people sitting "lotus" style. But here's the thing- you can sit however you want! The most important thing is that your body is comfortable so that you can focus on your breathing. I actually prefer to lie down while I meditate.
3. "But I don't know how." Meditation can actually be pretty easy to do! Here's a mini-guide on one way you could meditate: First, find somewhere where you can relax. It doesn't have to be fancy- just somewhere you would feel comfortable closing your eyes for a little. Second, get comfortable & close your eyes. Try to avoid positions that make your muscles tense. Third, find something to focus on. I recommend you try focusing on your breathing. As thoughts & worries come into your mind (which they will) just notice them. It doesn't mean you're doing anything wrong. Recognize the thoughts, & gently bring your attention back to your breathing. You could also try focusing on music, or on a bible verse or quote you like. You can meditate for as short or as long as you like.
It's as simple as that!
There you have it! From Confucianism to Taoism, Chinese philosophy has plenty of tips to offer when it comes to managing your stress. Remember: moderate your desires, go with the flow, & try meditating! Good luck this semester!