Most people think of inner peace as something they experience in the absence of stress. There is a good reason for this. Our physiology exhibits various biological representations of the different types of stress we encounter. It also has biological representations of inner peace in the absence of such stressed states.
Its also important to realize that there are both beneficial and harmful forms of stress. Dawson Church Ph.D. speaks of these two basic types of stress in his book “Genie in Your Genes.” The harmful form of stress is referred to scientifically as “distress.” The beneficial form of stress is called “eustress.”
Eustress or beneficial stress is the type of stress we experience when we are faced with an exhilarating challenge, usually one which we have consciously chosen to undertake. We grow into the challenge, we epigenetically create new neural pathways in response to learning new things in order to succeed in the endeavor it represents.
Distress or harmful stress is the type of stress we experience when things unexpected happen to us. Things that seem out of our control happen at times and we are then faced with a different type of challenge. The challenge we are faced with is not one we have consciously chosen to undertake.
With eustress we have consciously chosen the challenge and we generally feel positive about it. In this state of mind and emotion the eustress hormones enable us to perform at top levels, to learn new things and excel.
With distress, where we do not feel as though we have chosen the challenge we face, we may feel negative and resistant about meeting these challenges. In this state of mind and emotion the distress hormones can start to wreak havoc on our physiology and inner state of mind and emotion.
When something happens to us that we did not consciously choose we may feel like a victim of circumstances. This state of mind will easily perpetuate itself and can do so for a very long time. This can then become a pattern wherein we are continually bathing our physiology in distress hormones. The distress can then become chronic and this is where real biological damage can occur within our physiology.
Distress hormones originally evolved as part of the fight or flight mechanism. The fight or flight stress response produces copious quantities of adrenaline and cortisol. The overall affect they have in the body is to divert blood supply from all parts of the body and their various functions in order to send more blood to the large muscle sets and to supply these muscles with all the energy they need to perform at optimal levels. The fight or flight response also shuts down the immune system which requires a lot of energy to keep going.
This means that your digestion, immune system and higher cortical brain functions get shut down. This is useful if you need to run from a Sabre Tooth Tiger, or turn to fight a hostile invading tribe. It is even useful when someone cuts you off in traffic and you have to make quick instinctive maneuvers to avoid a collision without the benefit of thinking it through.
If you chronically wind up in this hormonal condition, however, you will eventually wind up with various forms of diseases related to poor digestion and a malfunctioning immune system. You will also no longer benefit very much from your brain’s higher awareness centers, which means you get stuck in the little picture. This condition then breeds even more of the same hormonal condition further reinforcing it. This can be quite a vicious cycle and many people are unfortunately caught up in it. Many of the health problems our modern societies face are directly related to such distressed mental, emotional and physiological states.
Let’s try to understand one of the basic hormonal differences between distress and eustress. Both distress and eustress produce adrenaline. Distress also produces cortisol wherein eustress produces DHEA. This is an over-simplified explanation, but it does speak to a primary difference between these two types of stress. Therefore with distress you have the action of adrenaline coupled with cortisol. With eustress you have the action of adrenaline coupled with DHEA.
Cortisol is a steroid. It increases blood sugar levels and aids in fat, protein, and carbohydrate metabolism. So far so good. It also, however, suppresses the immune system and decreases bone mass. There are quite a few things we need cortisol for. It works synergistically with insulin and both must be in balance to keep us healthy.
If cortisol is chronically out of balance our health and well-being will suffer the consequences. When you get angry about something that happens to you, these are the conditions that you are creating in your physiology if you allow yourself to perpetuate the anger. Forgiveness is not just a spiritual practice, it also preserves your own health and well-being.
DHEA is considered to be a longevity and well-being hormone. It is also a steroid and can protect your body from the negative effects of cortisol. Scientific research by organizations such as The Institute of HeartMath and others have shown that when we are in a coherent state (love, inner peace, forgiveness, caring) our bodies produce more DHEA which then preserves our youthfulness and enhances our higher cortical brain functions.
Both DHEA and cortisol are formed from the same biochemical precursors in our bodies. The primary substance is cholesterol, and this gets converted to pregnenolone and then into a number of other steroidal
hormones including DHEA and cortisol. Therefore, which one you produce in greater abundance is largely a matter of your state of mind and emotions which determine whether you are in distress or not.
Therefore, the real key is in understanding that while something may happen to trigger distress we have the power within our consciousness and mind to convert it from distress to eustress after it has been triggered. To do this only requires that we recognize we have entered into a state of distress and make a conscious choice to turn the circumstances into something positive and beneficial. Releasing any negative emotions is a part of this process.
There are many techniques being taught to accomplish and this article is not meant to discuss them. I have, however, provided a listing of different resources at the end of this article you can check out in this regard.
The point of this article is to demonstrate how our states of inner peace are in fact directly related to our biology and what state it is in. There is a persistent tendency to think of our consciousness as something that is independent of our physiology and thus not subject to it. Yet at the same time we might also say that consciousness has manifested as our physical body. There is a bit of a contradiction there which is not often recognized as such.
In her book “My Stroke of Insight” Jill Bolte Taylor Ph.D. also describes how as a neural brain scientist she was able to observe her own experience as the left hemisphere of her brain flooded with hemorrhaging blood and essentially died. She had a stroke in other words. As this occurred her left brain functions shut down and finally ceased altogether for awhile. The author then found herself experiencing a state of total oneness and peace which was very desirable and delightful. This was as a result of her right brain function left alone without the left brain.
Her life was spared and eventually her left brain function started to return. She relates how she had inner conflicts about whether she really wanted that part of herself back again. Having it back meant she had to deal with things that took her out of the deep state of inner peace she had become accustomed to experiencing. She relates how there is actually a physiological portion of our left brain hemisphere that is what she calls “the story teller.” That part of our brain is biologically meant to work this way and is not something we are doing “wrong.” The story teller can biologically ruin our inner peace is the point she makes.
Jill’s post-stroke journey thus takes her down a path that requires her to find a balance between her right and left brain functions so they can each serve their purpose in her life. She learns to be able to consciously choose which hemisphere she wishes to experience for any given purpose. It’s a marvelous story with many helpful insights into the working of our physiology and how it relates to our experiences of inner peace and oneness, which are very much related.
I have found that just having more awareness about how my physiology is inextricably linked to what I experience in my consciousness – as inner states of mind and emotion – actually helps to strike a better balance in my approach to experiencing what I desire most.
We all want to experience more inner peace and oneness even if we are not consciously aware of it. Understanding how our biology plays a key role in what we experience allows us to address the physiological, mental and emotional components more effectively as a single holistic inter-connected system rather than as separate and isolated dynamics that somehow affect us from a myriad of different directions.
The Meridian Tapping Solution (free DIY e-book, practitioner listings)
Institute of Heart Math Solutions for Stress (free online resources with tools and books for purchase)
Bliss Coach – Andy Dooley (watch his free videos, get bliss-coached)
The Power of How by Tom Stone (buy book)
Live in a Better Way: Reflections on Truth, Love, and Happiness by the Dalai Lama (buy book)
The Dalai Lama’s Little Book of Inner Peace: The Essential Life and Teachings (buy book)
Inner Peace: How to Be Calmly Active and Actively Calm by Paramahansa Yogananda (buy book)
The Top 10 Steps to De-Stress (free article) by Success Coach Pam Woods
6 Ways to Reduce Stress and Protect Your Heart (free article)
10 Tips to Help You De-Stress (free article)
How to Find Inner Peace by Kevin Sinclair (free article)
Finding Inner Peace: Five Steps to Serenity and Joy by Anitra Lahiri (free article)
Find Inner Peace in 10 Ways by Frederic Premji (free article)
Self Identity Through Ho’oponopono (buy workshops – revised ancient Hawaiian method)
Image (enhanced) Credit: Wikimedia