Thursday, February 3, 2011

Unpack Your Troubles from Your Old Kit Bag, and Smile, Smile, Smile

Long before I had identified my culinary interests, I once spent part of a summer doing extensive yard work for a man with the assistance of another. Among other incidents, the most memorable instance I recall spending with the person is witnessing him trying to tie up a bundle of twigs. He was having significant trouble in doing so, and his frustration mounted to the point that he started getting loudly vulgar, cursing and calling the bundle filthy names. He then told me that this was a characteristic phenomenon to him: Major bad things don't bother or impact him, but the little things, such as that bundle of twigs, is what sets him off.

I beg to differ. In fact, I would say it was precisely the big problems in his life that was causing his frustration with that bundle, regardless of whether or not those problems were present at the time.

The presence of the Circumstance in my life has made me learn a lot about my own psychology, particularly that of how I deal with stress. Its impact is systematic throughout my life, and it doesn't matter whether or not the Circumstance is immediately effecting me, for it is something that physically exists (as opposed to being in the mind). I've always been free of it at work, for instance, and yet it still affects me there. The primary reason I'm going about the Project is because the Circumstance is a nearly omnipresent piece of cognitive material in my mind, one I cannot relieve myself of except through the Project, and the reason I have difficulty not concentrating on it is, of course, because it involves a mass of loose ends that constitute unsolved problems piled on top of each other.

But the question, of course, is that if the Circumstance is something physical and does not physically impact me at work, then how can its influence still be present there other than through the loose ends?

In my own being, I've learned there's such a thing as a *capacity* for stress. Regardless of who you are, there's a certain quantity or quality of stress you can handle before you pop your cork. It varies from person to person and can easily be improved through self-improvement ventures, but either way the important point is that there's a finite limit to how much we can handle. Anything beyond what we can handle is what actively provokes our emotions into an upset.

The metaphor that comes back to me again and again is a glass. Our capacity for stress is like a glass, and the stress itself is the water. In a psychologically healthy or strong person the glass has a hole in it, or even has no bottom, which causes the stress to leak out or go straight through as it's poured in. That means the stress doesn't build up, leaving no opportunity for overflow. In concrete reality, this means that people who either have a limitless capacity for stress or else relieve it on a regular basis never reach the point that it seriously provokes their emotions, thus allowing for a better sense of life.

On the other hand, a person with irrational psychological habits or a bad situation (such as I with the Circumstance) can have a bottom to that glass, which causes poured stress to be retained. Left alone, the stress sits there, keeping perpetually filled part of that finite capacity. Add any more and the capacity gets more filled, getting closer to the point of maxing out or even overfilling. Consequently, that means that there's less tolerance to any additional stress that can be added in. If the glass ever does take to overflowing, then it is the material that has just been added in that leaks out. The water on top comes out; it doesn't rush up from the bottom. As such, I think when a particular person gets in an emotional upset over any insignificant stress added to him, such as an inability to tie a knot on a bundle of twigs, it's because his capacity was already partially or totally filled, and the stress freshly added in is what leaked out and got all the attention. The guy cursing over the bundle of twigs probably was upset over the significant problems in his life, for those problems were what was filling his glass.

I noticed in my own life that whenever I get upset over something I nearly lose awareness of the concrete thing that is upsetting me and concentrate on my fundamental problems, such as the Circumstance. If someone in my social life deeply offends me, for instance, then it is stressful visualizations of the Circumstance that occupy my mind: While the concrete incidents causing my stress to overflow may be of a different nature than the Circumstance, it is inevitably the Circumstance that I concentrate on since it's what sitting at the bottom of my glass. My capacity for stress is limited, most of it being filled by the Circumstance.

It doesn't have to be this way, however. That guy's, and mine, glass can be emptied or otherwise reduced. It just takes an understanding of what the problem or problems are filling up the glass, and then one only needs to apply the appropriate solution. For me, for instance, I need the Project to empty my own glass, and even my mere engagement in it before its final completion is sufficient to severely drain it to a point. When at work on my Project I am very much at peace with myself; when not, the stress levels slowly accumulate...

So the next time you think something of an insignificant nature is what's upsetting you, think again. It could be more likely that something bigger is bothering you, and the insignificant thing is only pushing you past your level of tolerance. Tackling that more significant base will make you an incredibly stronger person, perhaps make you invulnerable against stress. You just need to get rid of whatever's sitting at the bottom.

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