Stress Management to Self Mastery: From Doing to Being

August 2, 2012 at 12:41 pm | Posted in Mind Body Medicine, Pain Relief, Sleep Health, Stress Management | 8 Comments
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by Larry Cammarata, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist,

 There is an ancient story from the Zen tradition about a young monk who was committed to seeking enlightenment. His master guided him to the edge of a meadow and said to him, “Walk deeper into the meadow and align your senses fully with your experience. What you first fully experience will be your door to enlightenment.”  The young monk strode deeper into the meadow and came upon the sound of a gently flowing brook. He immediately experienced a sense of profound peace and unity; there was nothing to do, as he was enraptured by a state of pure Being.  The monk ran back to his master, who was meditating at the edge of the meadow. Upon hearing the young disciple approach him, the master asked, “what did you experience?” The monk replied, “Just as you said…my deep experience of the sound of water from a flowing brook became the door to enlightenment.” The master responded, “and?” The young monk was pensive, and then asked his master, “What if I did not hear the sound of the flowing brook…what if I heard or saw nothing at all…what then would be the door to enlightenment?” The master simply replied, “That would be your doorway.”

There are many “doorways” to managing stress.  “Stress management” has become a pop phrase that sometimes equates into applying a mechanical technique to something that is distressing to an individual. Without a doubt, there are many useful stress management methods, skills, and practices, including mindfulness meditation, cognitive restructuring, biofeedback, self-hypnosis, autogenic training, progressive muscular relaxation, cognitive defusion, assertive communication, yoga, tai chi, and qigong.  While these can be extremely helpful to individuals in distress, I prefer to reframe the idea of stress management as a deeper reflection of what can be called “self-management”. Stress management is often about “doing”; self-management is more about “being”. Preoccupation with “managing”, “conquering”, or “transforming” something called “stress” can paradoxically create more stress! In that dynamic, stress becomes an enemy to be vanquished, rather than a reflection of self to be appreciated and integrated.

Where then shall we begin in our journey of stress management, if not with a powerful technique to apply to our discomfort? I recommend beginning with intention, self-awareness, and attitude.

Questions such as “What am I seeking or expecting?” and “What skills am I willing to learn and practice?” can help to clarify one’s intention. Without a focused intention that is supported by self-awareness and an uplifted attitude, the best stress management methods are less likely to succeed.

Self-awareness can begin with a mindful connection to body, mind, and breath. Self-awareness allows us to notice physical tension, mental activity, and the quality of our breath (e.g., shallow, deep, constricted, or calm), which can be viewed as a bridge between the mind and body.

A non-judgmental, accepting attitude can combine with intention and self-awareness to neutralize the emotional impact of self-defeating thoughts and stories that interfere with our ability to manage stress.

Above, I made mention of the term “self-management” as a reframing of the term “stress management”. Self-management is an empowering term that is not just about what we “do” when we are coping with distress. Self-management also involves who we are “being” in our world, whether we are experiencing joy, anxiety, or boredom. For example, are we being open, accepting, and receptive to the challenging people and situations in our lives or are we being avoidant, judgmental, and oppositional? Our state of being can contribute more stress to inherently stressful situations or can conversely add more stability to our encounters with the stressors that we face.

With a clear intention and keen self-awareness, proficiency with stress management skills and practices can lead to consistent self-management that is supportive of physical health, emotional wellbeing, and relationship satisfaction.

Certainly, what we do to manage stress can significantly influence the quality of our lives. Over time, self-management can evolve into “self-mastery”, where skills become integrated into the body-mind to such a degree that we can rely upon a natural way of being to harmonize with our inner and outer challenges.

As you walk deeper into the meadow of your life, what you do matters. Who you are being is yet another matter. Doing is a precondition for taking the first steps towards managing stress. Consistent practicing of stress management skills is a precondition for self-management. An integrated state of being is a precondition for self-mastery. The door is open. Enjoy the journey!

Larry Cammarata, Ph.D. will be our featured clinical webinar presenter on Sunday, August 19, 2012 as part of our Mind Body Medicine Network’s schedule of 2012 – 2013 offerings in the areas of stress, pain, and sleep management. The 90-minute interactive webinar entitled “Stress Management for Body, Mind and Relationships” will begin at 7:00 p.m. EST and will also be available as a video recording.   Larry Cammarata, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist practicing in Asheville, North Carolina, and is a member of the faculty of University of Phoenix Online. He is passionately involved in the emerging field of mindfulness-oriented therapy and is a regular speaker for FACES Conferences, an organization that brings together leaders and experts in mindfulness and psychology. He will be leading a FACES educational retreat in Bali during July 2013. Larry is a published author who was designated as an “Author-Expert” by IDEA for his writing, teaching, and service in the field of mind-body health, fitness, and wellness. Along with Jack Kornfield, Dan Siegel, and other leaders in the mindfulness field, Larry recently co-authored a book entitled, “A Year of Living Mindfully: 52 Quotes & Weekly Mindfulness Practices”. In addition to his involvement in the profession of psychology, Larry is an instructor of the Chinese martial and healing arts of Tai Chi Chuan and Qigong. In his spare time, he is a professional musician and performance artist who has performed locally, nationally, and internationally. He can be contacted via his website at Please join us for Dr. Cammarata’s webinar by going to the following link to get more information and for registration:

Larry Cammarata, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist


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  1. Reblogged this on chronicpainsurvivor.

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    • Thanks so much for your interest in our blogs. I will send your email to the author, Dr. Cammarata, so he can reach out to you. With much appreciation for your interest in the Mind Body Medicine Network, Ed Glauser.

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