What a buddhist nun taught me about stress

Do you often feel stressed, overwhelmed and like you aren’t achieving enough? I used to feel like that constantly, and would blame my job, my boss, society etc. What I didn’t realize then was that I had an enormous power to change my experience.

Last year I went on a 10-day silent vipassana meditation retreat. I had been on shorter meditation retreats before that had given me deep insights, so I approached the 10-day retreat with great expectations.

On the enrollment day there was a short interview with one of the head nuns, and when she asked me what I expected to get out of this retreat, I said something like: profound insights about myself, a greater sense of calm and reaching new levels in my meditation practice. The nun smiled gently and told me “try to just be present and relax.”


Time would show that it was easier said than done.

During the first days my body had to get accustomed to the new routine: getting up at 5 am, sitting in meditation for many hours and only eating two meals a day. Additionally I noticed how the mind goes through its own process: when you stop talking and stop getting new stimulation, the thoughts you are thinking become magnified. The way the mind works becomes so clear; it tends to repeat the same thought patterns again and again, and the more attention you pay to certain thoughts the more they reappear.

After the initial days of physical adjusting and mental cleaning, my western mindset began to get a little restless and expect results. I started feeling like I wasn’t achieving enough in my meditations. I felt like I couldn’t go as deep as I thought I should. So for the next days I pushed myself so much so that I created muscle knots in my chest from breathing so deeply and strongly. I put immense pressure on myself without realizing it.

It wasn’t until day 7 – when I was exhausted and frustrated – and just let go completely that things started to change. I stopped expecting to go deep into meditation, I kept showing up, just sitting in the meditation hall, sometimes kind of daydreaming other times listening to the sounds of nature. I became conscious of how crazy I had been acting and I started laughing inside. Then I realized something profound: I and only I had created the huge pressure I had been feeling! And it not only showed mentally but it had actually created physical defects.

That’s when I truly understood the words the nun had said to me: “try to just be present and relax.”

I have been working consciously with my body and mind throughout the last year, and the experience form the mediation retreat has stayed with me. I now understand that by being present and letting go of expectations we can reduce our feeling of stress – and that the ability to relax and release pressure is in our hands alone.

Here are 7 simple tools that you can use to reduce stress:

Light· Don’t believe everything you think
· Put less pressure on yourself
· Breathe
· Do your best, and know that it is all you can do
· Stop trying to control
· Laugh more
· Keep showing up