Whenever I teach psych-education groups on stress management, one of the things I find interesting related to the subject is that to a certain degree, we can’t avoid stress. We are wired for it with a built-in protective device to fight or flee when we perceive a threat to our well being. All we can do is learn to work with our bodies to counter the hyper-arousal that stress induces and widen our perspectives when we distort the degree of danger we’re actually in. But what I also find interesting is that a certain degree of stress or tension occurs when we’re experiencing positive events that demand us to grow and step beyond our comfort zone. So do we learn to tolerate stress for the benefit of our good or do we ultimately reject it because the growth it demands makes our skin crawl?
I have never been one to enjoy stress. I don’t thrive on pressure. I don’t like working under the gun. I have never pulled an “all nighter” to get a paper done or meet a deadline of some sort. Up until recently, I’ve been able to keep my life somewhat under “control” by saying “no” to things when I thought I had too much on my plate. But lately, many good things have been put on my plate that I don’t think I’m supposed to reject. Instead, I think I’m supposed to grow. Yet what does one do with the tension that is evoked?
Peter Senge addresses this question in his book “The Fifth Discipline.” He writes, “Emotional tension can always be relieved by adjusting the one pole of the creative tension that is completely under control at all times – the vision. The feelings that we dislike go away because the creative tension that was their source is reduced. Our goals are now much closer to our current reality. Escaping emotional tension is easy – the only price we pay is abandoning what we truly want, our vision.” That is all fine and dandy but do we want to give up our vision and the things that make us tick in life? I don’t think that is what Senge is suggesting. Instead, I think the answer lies in Leighton Ford’s comments on the subject in her book “Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership.” She writes, “A spiritual leader is not willing to merely escape emotional tension; rather, he or she has the stamina and staying power to remain in that place of creative tension until a third way opens up that somehow honors both realities” (p.27).
I think that third way opens up through faith and surrender, which creativity ultimately demands. While on the one hand, I create through my will and discipline, it is my willingness to walk into the unknown and to trust the Source that is guiding me that ultimately sustains me and the product I produce.
When I was younger, I pursued acting in college and although it was my PASSION, I couldn’t stand the demands that being in a show put on me while trying to juggle schoolwork. So I would occasionally not audition for plays and/or turn down parts. Yet inevitably, when I did that, I would sink into a semi-depression because I missed being immersed in my passion. Likewise, whenever I plugged into that current, despite the stress, I always made straight A’s those quarters. I believe this was because there is something about being engaged in our passions that makes everything else flow.
Case in point – I just finished writing a big paper on a dense subject. And I am spent. And yet it isn’t the type of exhaustion that breaks you down and gives you a cold. It is the type of exhaustion like after giving birth. One is spent yet filled up with the mystery of life itself which to me is God.
Yes, I hate creative tension, but I don’t think there is any escape from it for me. I must create. But part of creating is also resting and being still enough to connect to the Source that fills us. ”