STRESS: A Spiritual Perspective and its Management

55The Review of Religions – November 2003 Stress may be the greatest, single contributor to illness in the industrialised world. Stress is an oft-spoken word, being used rather loosely in the lay public for whatever it might mean. On the science-oriented platform, stress has been a subject of interest to psychologists, behavioural ana- lysts, physiologists and physicians. It has been exten- sively researched and talked about. I feel that stress has a significant spiritual perspective, the understanding of which should help its management. It is an inescapable fact of life that the physical being of life, is inseparable from it and closely integrated to the spiritual side. The two aspects of life are complementary to each other and create a specific milieu for the individual. In illness and adversity, the spiritual being of the individual supports and sustains the physical existence during abnormal times. Thus, stress becomes a life long associate of body, mind and soul. It is not easy to define stress and indeed it is a subject with diverse implications. The C o n c i s e Oxford Dictionary defines stress as: ‘Constraining or compelling force, effort, demand upon physical or mental energy.’ I would define ‘Stress’ in simple terms as a state where physical, mental and emotional reserves are being tested beyond the capacity of the body and mind, which cannot bear it or withstand STRESS – A Spiritual Perspective and its Management by Dr. Ihsan-Ul-Hague, MB FRCP Consultant Physician – Pakistan The following article was first published in its abridged version by THE DAWN (newspaper) in its Sunday magazine of 21 July 2002. 56 The Review of Religions – November 2003 STRESS – A Spiritual Perspective and its Management it. Stress, I may say, is a state of being ill-at-ease. In the 1920’s Walter Cannon, the distinguished American physiol-ogist, first called attention to stress as the ‘fight or flight’ response. Wilhelm Raab subsequently demonstrated the risks inducing effects of excess of hormones, adrenaline and cortisol. It was Hans Selye, however, who gave new meaning to the term stress and proved in his animal experiments that it contributed significantly to the development of disease. The disease, he discovered, could be fatal and could occur in man. Stress, for good or bad, is a part of life. To understand its genesis, it is pivotal that man understands the purpose and ultimate goal of his life. Man owes his birth and existence solely to God, Creator and Sustainer of all. It is God who has ordained for man a purposeful and useful course in life to justify his existence. The purpose of life enunciated in God’s holy Word is: I have not created men and jinn but that they and worship Me. (Ch.51: V.57) Thus the true purpose of man’s life is the worship of God, loving Him and showing complete devotion to Him. In worship, the spiritual state of one’s being should transcend the mere observance of certain rites and rituals. Worship is an attempt at and practise of total subju- gation and submission to God’s Will. Man’s actions and deeds, become subordinate to the passion of winning His and only His pleasure. God’s will is operative in two spheres, which are interlinked and mutually complementary. Firstly, it is the matter of discharge of one’s duties to his Maker. Secondly, it is the fulfillment of one’s obligations towards fellow creatures. An insight into God’s word in the Qur’an enlightens us with the knowledge that, acquittal of our obligations towards, not only mankind but all God’s creations, in reality embodies and enshrines the 57The Review of Religions – November 2003 STRESS – A Spiritual Perspective and its Management discharge of duties towards Him. Our service to fellow creatures is, prima facie, service to God. This attitude in leading life should provide us with the greatest sense of accom- plishment, comfort and solace, leading to peace of mind. To fulfill a moral and spiritual aim of life, God has created man in His own image. Thus, man has been endowed with attributes, which indeed are sprinkling of God’s own attributes. God’s attributes being limitless imponderable and unfathomable in nature, design and measure, there is for man a scope for constant learning, advancement, progress and improvement. But man’s capacity to perform will always remain dependent on and limited to the extent, he can nurture, harness and utilise the faculties, capabilities and qualities endowed by God. Thus it behoves man to inquire, search and explore the nature, scope and extent of his endowments and qualities. This in turn should enable him to progress, from an animal state to a moral state and finally to a spiritual state. God has revealed: We have created man in the best mould, then, if he works iniquity, we cast him as the lowest of low except those who believe and do good work for them is unending reward. (Ch.95: Vs.5-7) God has also enjoined: Allah requires not of anyone that, which is beyond his capacity, each shall have the benefit of the good he does and shall suffer the consequences of the ill he works. Supplicate, therefore: Lord take us not to task if we f o rget or fall into e rro r. . . . . . . . . . . L o rd burden us not with that which we have not the strength to bear; over look our defaults and grant us forgiveness and have mercy on us’ (Ch.2: V.287) 58 The Review of Religions – November 2003 STRESS – A Spiritual Perspective and its Management Mind and body are integrated and inter-related. One without the other is redundant. In the final analysis, what reigns supreme over mind is his moral and spiritual status. It is the strength or weakness of spiritual state of mind which determines the onset and progression of stress, affecting the entire physical being but more significantly, as we know, the heart. Again, in the light of spiritual state of human being, stress by virtue of creating a challenge can trigger off the birth of a more determined and finally, more accomplished personality. On the other hand, a person of feebler mind and lesser spiritual strength may succumb to the onslaught of stress, both phys- ically and emotionally. The spiritual status depends upon the human recognition of a Superhuman, All-Pervasive, Omnipotent controlling Power. It also rests on one’s belief in and reliance on, the ubiquity, omnipresence and invincibility of that Power. This faith is the very foundation and all time nourishment of life without which one becomes rudderless and looses his moorings. A weakness in this faith is at the root of the genesis of stress. It is inherent in one’s faith that one is cognisant of the unknown and the unseen, accepting the absolute and inevitable in God’s domain. As one commonly experiences, it is the fear of unknown and hidden, which is the cause of stress. Cultivation of faith with unshakable belief in AS ONE COMMONLY EXPERIENCES, IT IS THE FEAR OF UNKNOWN AND HIDDEN, WHICH IS THE CAUSE OF STRESS. CULTIVATION OF FAITH WITH UNSHAKABLE BELIEF IN THE ATTRIBUTES OF GOD AS ALL POWERFUL AND THE FINAL ARBITRATOR, A CONSTANT ENDEAVOUR TO PERFORM SOLELY TO WIN HIS PLEASURE AND SELF ABNEGATION IN FAVOUR OF HIS WILL, ARE THE IMPORTANT COMPONENTS OF AN EXERCISE TO CONQUER STRESS. 59The Review of Religions – November 2003 STRESS – A Spiritual Perspective and its Management the Attributes of God as All Powerful and the final Arbitrator, a constant endeavour to perform solely to win His pleasure and self abnegation in favour of His will, are the important compo- nents of an exercise to conquer stress. At the root of man’s struggle for existence and strive for achievements and accom- plishments, is an inherent desire to compete and excel and, in return, to receive rewards, approbation, applause and accolades from his masters and peers. One also has to have his ego satisfied and vanity boosted. H o w e v e r, these are physical instincts not providing with, eternal peace of mind and happiness. These instincts if not modulated, will become overbearing and lead to stress. Having attained a spiritual state after having progressed from an animal state and intermediary moral state, one is able to subject oneself to the will of God. He, then, looks for approbation from God and no one else. God’s approbation being unadulterated, bountiful and eternal, affords a heavenly peace of mind. Often, a subconscious or even an overt feeling of inadequacy of talent and sense of inferiority by way of impaired qualities, lack of endowments and achievements make one suffer through lowering of self-esteem. But, this is the time and opportunity to remember that God has created man in the best of moulds and it is for man to develop and nurture his faculties to avoid iniquity. He would then be steering away from stress. A deeper insight into human nature (or even the nature of animals) reveals the fact that the ultimate of satisfaction, conso- lation and emotional satiety lies in giving away of one’s self. The quality of graciousness flows in our veins and it is the offshoot of G o d ’s attributes of ‘Rahmaniyat’ ( G r a c e ) . The mother gives away her best to her child. The employee performs for his employer and the servant serves his master. The teacher wants his pupil to excel and the physician 60 The Review of Religions – November 2003 STRESS – A Spiritual Perspective and its Management gives his best to save life of the patient under his care. However, the quality of graciousness even though inherent, may remain dormant till exploited and utilised for the welfare of mankind. The service to mankind wins pleasure of God and gratitude of fellow beings, giving Divine bliss and acting as an antidote to stress. The every day situation that creates stress is a mismatch between your expectations and your environment. Stress follows when, you hope what will happen, does not and, you begin to think it never will. This mismatch occurs regularly and with more serious implications, at interpersonal relationship. It is my contention that at the root of such a predicament is the absence or lack of quality of graciousness. It is the quality of graciousness, which enables one to be more considerate and understanding. Managing stress actually means controlling anger and anxiety you face during the mismatch. The quality of graciousness makes you more flexible and resilient, you learn to see and develop options for yourself. This does not mean, you will not suffer at times. Rather, it means, you will not be overwhelmed and you will learn to see the situation as a challenge you can meet. The more you try and rise to the occasion, the more IN THE BACKGROUND OF STRESS, THERE COMMONLY IS A FEELING OF DISGUST AND FRUSTRATION ARISING OUT OF A SITUATION WHERE RESULTS AND REWARDS OF ONE’S EFFORTS A R E N O T I N K E E P I N G W I T H O N E’S A S S U M E D TA L E N T, CAPABILITIES, IMPORTANCE AND EFFORT….. HERE TOO, FAITH SHOULD COME TO ONE’S RESCUE BY PROVIDING HIM WITH A CLEAR CONSCIENCE THAT HE HAS DONE HIS BEST, TO THE LIMIT OF HIS ABILITY AND CAPACITY. ….THE REWARD OF MAN’S ACTION LIES SOLELY WITH GOD, THE EVER MERCIFUL AND LORD OF THE DAY OF JUDGEMENT. 61The Review of Religions – November 2003 STRESS – A Spiritual Perspective and its Management you will feel a sense of self- control and accomplishment. Stress is a burden when you respond to it with loss of control. It is crucial for you to realise that you can alter the environment only to a limited extent. Mostly, it is your own reaction (or overreaction) that needs to be tamed to avoid being brutalised by the force of circumstances. In the background of stress, there commonly is a feeling of disgust and frustration arising out of a situation where results and rewards of one’s efforts are not in keeping with one’s assumed talent, capabilities, importance and effort. He also finds that his usefulness and productivity are suffering. Here too, faith should come to one’s rescue by providing him with a clear conscience that he has done his best, to the limit of his ability and c a p a c i t y. The ultimate reward would accrue through God’s attribute of ‘Raheemiyat’ that is M e r c y. The reward of man’s action lies solely with God, the Ever Merciful and Lord of the Day of Judgement. We meet challenges daily in our lives and thus cannot escape stress. But, many of us apprehend the outcome of a challenge in the negative sense and overload our personal circuits. It is a common observation that what is work for one, is play for another. What feels like pressure to one person, is stimulation to another. Everyone seems to have his own definition of too much, too little or just enough load. If one remembers that God does not mean to put us under any more burden than we are capable of withstanding and remember also that He alone provides us with strength and moral courage to bear it, then, there should not be any cause for a negative attitude. One way of overloading one’s self is by undertaking not only beyond one’s capacity but also trying to put on one’s plate more than one can chew. There also is a rat race to keep up with the Jonese’es. Setting priorities of work and harnessing mental and physical endeavour accordingly, involving one’s self in one 62 The Review of Religions – November 2003 STRESS – A Spiritual Perspective and its Management specific assignment at a time, even though difficult to practise, is not beyond the scope of human prowess. I do not think genius as such is born. It is the ability of a man to concentrate and devote unhin- dered attention to what is most important for him at a specific time, forsaking everything what is peripheral and not central, that, moulds him into the character of a genius. The behaviour of any human being is the product of his environment, very emphatically, the parental influences and attitudes. A gentleman’s son has better chances to be a gentleman. The offspring of a nervous parent is more likely to be ridden with anxiety. Man is in the habit of judging others with his ill-conceived standards and perceptions, which lend themselves to bias or prejudice. In the matter of ill-will and malice, one who harbours these for others, suffers more than one who happens to be the t a rget of such feelings. Generosity, magnanimity, charity and chivalry in dealing with others give birth to peace of mind and tranquility. To sum it all, one’s life is God’s sacred trust and everyone has a purpose to serve in life. God has created man in His own image. It is for man to explore and try to understand God’s attributes. In turn, man should try to reflect in his person, those attributes to the best of his ability and capacity. The best use of man’s God given faculties is in the service of humanity. This should inevitably result in tranquility and peace of mind, far removed from stress. To err is human and all of us have our weaknesses, faults and foibles. However, we should get solace in the fact that God is Most Forgiving. The remedy for overcoming stress lies in ‘Istighfar’ that is, praying to God for forgiveness and for seeking His help in overcoming our weaknesses. 63The Review of Religions – November 2003 January 2002 Natural Selection & Survival of the Fittest February 2002 Achievements of the Promised Reformer March 2002 The Future of Life onEarth April 2002 Is the Shroud of Turin a Medieval Photograph? May 2002 Religious Beliefs of North American Indians June 2002 Progress of Islam is Dependant on Khilafat July 2002 Teotihuacàn – Religious Capital of Central America August 2002 Islam and the Global Quest for Sustainable Development September 2002 The ‘Blind Watchmaker’ who is also Deaf and Dumb – The Honey bee October 2002 Ramadan – Part II November 2002 100 Year History of the Review of Religions December 2002 The Palestine Question The Review of Religions – 2002 & 2003 CD The Review of Religions is pleased to announce the availability of a CD containing all articles published in 2002. The files are in PDF format and can be viewed using Adobe Acrobat version 5 or above. CD’s cost only £5 plus postage and packing. Please complete the details overleaf. The Review of Religions 2003 CD will be available from January 2004. We hope you have enjoyed reading this edition of the magazine. 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