This talk is the first of two addressing the problem of dukkha in current life. The first talk addresses craving, using the term distress to relate to subjective experience in this media-saturated consumer culture. Stress has two forms emotionally: distress refers to unpleasant experience and eustress refers to the stress associated with pleasant experience; Peter pointed out that consumerism cultivates distress through comparing one’s current life with the “happiness” that will come from consuming whatever is being advertised. Both distress and eustress generate adrenaline and cortisol, two hormones that activate the body; chronically high levels of cortisol are associated with stress-related disorders of the body and to clinical anxiety. During the talk, Peter emphasized how daily mindfulness of breathing practice lowers both circumstantial levels of stress and the cumulative effects of chronic stress, using the image of “The last straw that broke the camel’s back”, comparing the accumulation of stress to all the straws that preceded the last straw. Mindfulness practices generally lower stress, making it less likely to accumulate the “straws” of current life.
This talk was followed by discussion regarding contemporary stresses such as economic worries, the threats of mass violence, ecological changes, political strife and racial tension, with commentary about how to apply mindfulness practice to alleviating the distress and confusion that results from being deluged by contemporary media.
Next week’s talk will emphasize clinging, which Peter refers to as confusion, relating this to the complexity of modern life and the conflict between the ideal self and the immediate experience of confusion and doubt when the ideal isn’t achievable, suggesting ways that mindful investigation can clarify experience.
Here are the notes prepared for this talk and include statistical data regarding the levels of stress experienced in U.S. lifestyles: STRESS AND THE DHAMMA