One of the simplest and most impactful ways to deal with stress is to understand that though we have it, it’s not who we are. Consider the story of the Red Sea.
With the Egyptians hot on their trail, the Jewish people run up against water with nowhere to go.
“Moshe, were there no graves in Egypt that you took us to die in the desert?” It’s over, we’re done.
Four verses later, Moshe is praying desperately when God says, “Enough. Let them jump in.” According to the Medrash, God was saying, “They’re worthy of miracles now. Why? They trust in Me, they left Egypt to follow Me. They’re believers.”
A few moments ago, the world is black. They regret the whole Exodus. Now all of a sudden they’re big believers?
Yes, says the Talmud. “Ain adam nitfas b’shaas tzaaro” – “a person isn’t defined by his times of emergency.”
God knows this. Do we?
The more a person understands that we have emergency thinking but it doesn’t define us, the less sticky it is and the more easily it cycles through. When we’re less alarmed by our stress, it quiets down and we get present.
In this state, we know how to navigate life. This is what athletes talk about when they’re in the zone. This is how a four-year old learns to ride a bike in hours. This is what allows us to find our way out of a bad habit or connect deeply with someone we love. This is our default wisdom. As King Solomon says, “God made people straight; they sought calculations.”
I don’t know how to turn my stressful thinking off like a switch, but I know there’s an understanding that makes my mind more receptive to wisdom. It starts with knowing I’m not my stress. The human being is an antenna for divine thought – when we’re not overly interested in the static.
Rabbi Henry Harris has served as a mentor to Fortune 500 CEOs and Wall Street Managing Directors as well as teens, moms and dads. He is Director of www.jewishcenterforwellbeing.com, where he offers programs and coaching that promote successful living through a discovery of one’s own wisdom and wellbeing. He feels fortunate that his wife and seven children enjoy his company most of the time.