Stress, Zen and Chinese Finger Puzzles

As president of Natural Vitality,  makers of the market-leading anti-stress drink Natural Calm®, the subject of stress has been of great personal interest, involving considerable research. We are all prone to stress. It just seems to be part of living. But are we unintentionally contributing to the escalation of our own stress levels?

When we examine our daily lives, they really consist of a lot of relatively simple actions. You walk to your desk, sit down in your chair, check the e-mail, assess what’s important, pick one to answer and compose a response.

What seems to complicate things, and create stress in the process, is simultaneously pulling in different directions. It may be answering an e-mail while fielding phone calls or thinking about all of the other things we have to do, the meeting to prepare for or the dreaded upcoming dental appointment.

A great metaphor for this is the Chinese finger puzzle. The trick is the more you resist by pulling your fingers apart, the tighter it gets. Your only escape route is counterintuitive—relax and push inward.

We could all probably take a lesson from Zen monks. They specialize in doing one thing at a time. They sit, walk, eat, sleep and do their chores. They keep it simple and only focus on what they’re doing at the moment. And they don’t cheat and think about other things at the same time. This probably seems terribly boring, but rock climbers, surgeons, pilots and sky divers bring their full attention to what they’re doing or face disastrous consequences. What would happen if we brought that kind of alertness to the simple actions that make up our lives?

Life is certainly lived in the present, and it appears to be up to us as to whether we’re going to give our complete attention to the experience or stressfully—and futilely—try to be two or more places at once (past/present, future/present, or past/present/future).

I’ve been trying this and find that the same work seems easier and less stressful when I’m simply fully there doing it.

I’d be interested in what you’ve found helps you to lead a less stressful life.



Ken Whitman
Ken Whitman is president of Natural Vitality, a purpose-driven nutritional products company. Natural Vitality publishes Calmful Living as a public service as part of its Calm the Earth Project.