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Beating Stress

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We’ve been on a long series about lessons I learned from our Alaska Trip and the last two posts were specifically on taking care of your health both as a full-time vandweller/RVer and on a road trip. Since I’m not qualified to tell anybody how to live, we stuck to common sense wisdom that has been around for a very long time.
Today I want to continue with staying healthy but move the discussion from the arena of what we do outside the body to looking at how effective our inner world is at either protecting us from sickness or literally making us sick and even kill us.  This is not an arena that we in the West are very good at. In fact we are so bad at dealing with stress that it is has become an epidemic that is the beginning point of many of our diseases.
Starting with the Age of Reason so much of our emphasis has been on science that if we can’t see, touch, taste and smell something, we don’t believe it. So when science say that stress is killing you and that learning methods to deal with it are critical to our health, most of us just shrug that off. Instead of learning ways to cope with stress we:

  • Lose ourselves in front of the TV.
  • Go to a Doctor and get a prescription for an anti-depressant.
  • Go shopping and buy another pair of shoes or a new tool.
  • Drink another beer.
  • Eat another bag of chips.
  • Smoke another joint.
  • Get in a fight with a co-worker or scream at people on the drive to work
  • Work 12 hours a day, six days a week at work.

We are a nation of self-medicators. We refuse to look at the real inner problems instead we look for a solution on the outside and don’t realize it’s just making us sicker and even more miserable.
I’m nobody to tell you how to live your life, but what I am is a guy who was miserable all his life and found a way to change and overcome stress. So in that spirit I want to tell you the inner changes I had to make to change my life from almost pure misery to almost a life of bliss.
Before I tell you, let me make it very clear that this is not the only way to change your inner nature. But it worked for me and I think it can work for you because all of its principles are very simple and fundamental to nearly all religions and self-help movements. It’s my hope that you can find something in them that will be helpful to you. Keep anything that resonates with you, and throw everything else away.
1) Faith versus Fear: Stress has so much power over us because we are afraid. Every day we are constantly surrounded by little things that threaten us and they create a biological stress response in our body that makes us sick. The result is we are exceptionally fearful people constantly on the alert to a danger that really isn’t there. The more afraid you are, the more you try to take control of your life and try to protect yourself from all those terrible things that are out there trying to hurt you. If we want to break the destructive power of stress on our lives we need to break the hold of fear over our heart.
The only solution for fear is faith; placing your trust in something outside of yourself to guide and protect you. The amazing thing is it doesn’t matter what that thing is.  As long as you trust it, and are certain that it has the power to change you and love’s you enough to do it, the faith will work. It’s the faith that changes you! You might want to put your faith in faith as a higher power.
There is even a scientific element to that because we all know that placebos can be just as powerful a medicine as real medicine. The power isn’t just in the medicine, it’s equally in our faith in it.
So, I would encourage each of you to find a Higher Power of some kind to trust in. I studied the world’s religions and finally came up with a mish-mash of ideas that I call my Higher Power. It is a very nebulous idea virtually without form or detail but it has worked incredibly well for me and literally has performed miracles in my life. Let me say that again, it has performed miracles of change in my life, totally changing me from night to day.
My guiding philosophy draws heavily from the fundamental truths of Native American Spirituality, Zen and Taoism. Together they give me a framework on which to build my life. But what’s important is not in what you believe in, but your belief in it, concentrate on that.
2) Give up control: Faith by itself has no power, it’s just a theory and theories only work on the mind, they can’t change you. The theory must become actions you take every day for the rest of your life. Actions will change you! But what should your actions be? Faith requires giving up trying to control everything. It’s a surrender to something greater that you trust. To do that you need a framework to build your life on. Each of us must find that for ourselves but I’ve built my life on these following principles. As I lay them out, I want you to know that I’m not an evangelist telling you to adopt these religions; because I think religions are powerless to truly change a person–I don’t follow any of them as a religion. I’m offering them as a philosophical foundation to build your life on. Turn control of your life over to these principles and allow them to guide your thoughts and actions:

  • Zen: The fundamental idea of Zen is to live in the current moment. The past is history and the future is a mystery so make this present moment the most important thing in your life. Fear is almost always the result of abandoning the moment to bring the harms of the past and the imagined harm of the future into the present.  That way you are never actually alive, your whole life is spent in the past and the future—neither of which actually exist.  This moment is exactly what it should be and anything you do to reject it or change it will only do you harm. This present moment is the only real thing, surrender to it and fear will leave you.
  • Taoism: This is a very simple and basic religion that believes there is an underlying order and design to the entire physical universe called the Tao (which is commonly translated as “the Way.”) All that is required to have a good life is to surrender to the natural flow of “the Way.” Just as the design of the universe is written into it, the design for your life is written inside you. All you need to do is stop fighting it and stop trying to go your own way.  In Taoism this is called “Wu Wei” non-action. It has nothing to do with standing still, it is a surrender to your own true inner nature and no longer fighting with it. That surrender results in peace and harmony which bring good health and a happy life. It has worked exactly that way for me! If all the component parts of the universe will follow their “blueprint”–their inherit “DNA”–we will all be happy. Now, that means that sometimes we will eat the leopard, and sometimes the leopard will eat us. Both of those things are equally good because that’s the way the present moment is meant to be. Who knows what the next life will be. All we need to know is that all is exactly the way it should be and will work wonderfully well in the big-picture. The idea is very similar to “Let go and let god.” But in Taoism there is no definition of what the Tao is and in fact there is no hint it’s even a deity or has person-hood. It can be whatever you want it to be. To me it is simply love. I believe the underlying nature and blue-print of the universe is the desire for good for all its component parts. My job is only to let it bring me the life it wants for me.
  • Native American Spirituality: Mainly I put emphasis on Lakota ideas. There is no simple way to define their beliefs, but two phrases help. The first is the concept of “Wakan” which simply means mystery. There is no defined creator beyond the “Great Mystery.” There is no defined theology or rule book, there is just an intuitive knowing that the “Great Mystery” is the source of all life and all life returns to it. If we live in harmony with it, all will be as it should be and good. The other phrase is “All my Relatives” and it flows from the concept that everything has a spirit to it and we are all connected to each other. In some way the sky, the birds and animals, the rivers and the mountains are all related to me. They are part of me and I am a part of them. If you say that isn’t logical and how can that be, they simply fall back to Wakan and say that it is a mystery.

3) “I” versus “We”: The transition from “I” dominating your inner life to “WE” dominating your inner life is all the change any person needs to make. It’s also the most difficult thing most of us will ever do. If you can make that one change, every other necessary change will fall into place.  All of these other philosophical ideas contribute to making that happen.
By far the most powerful concept is “All my Relatives.” Every time I say or think it, it is a prayer of oneness and harmony with all forms of life: other people, animals, birds, insects, trees and plants, and even rocks, rivers, mountains and valleys. My goal is that here is no room left in my life for I, but only for We.


Over the years I have endeavored to incorporate these principles deeply into the fabric of my life. I don’t want them to be ideas that I believe but deep intuitive truths that govern my every thought and action. If you have been reading this blog for long, you can see them in all my writings and in everything I do.
The result has been that stress has left my life and I have been happier and healthier than I have ever been. I hope that some of these concepts will speak to you and you will also endeavor to incorporate them into the fabric of your life.


  1. Wayne (Wirs)

    Great post Bob. I agree wholeheartedly. Both Zen and Taoism have been major guiding principles in my life, and I love the “all my relatives” concept (which I had not heard before) which fits perfectly with the Unity/Separation paradox (separate but one) I often espouse on my blog. Thanks.

    • Bob

      Thanks Wayne! Glad it struck a cord with you and introduced you to a new phrase.

  2. Al Christensen

    I’m surprised you didn’t mention rearranging our lives in ways that minimize the number of things that cause stress. You know, like living in a van instead of needing to make mortgage payments and keep up a house.
    As far as having faith in something outside ourselves goes, that never worked for me. My life didn’t make sense and the stress and anxiety didn’t start to fade until I developed faith in myself, until I believed/realized that one way or another I could handle whatever crap might come my way. It might not be in the way I would prefer, but I would deal with it, I would survive, and maybe even prosper.
    The Taoist approach to life helps me a lot to. If there’s a lot of crap coming my way, it’s probably a sign I’m on the wrong path—for me. It’s a sign I need to get to a place where there’s less struggle, less futility, and more flow. I found that in vandwelling. It’s so natural to me. So free of anxiety.

    • Bob

      You’re right Al, nothing will relieve your stress more than living in a van down by the river, but I say that constantly so this time I focused on something else. I also know that there are people for whom living in a van down by the river is not enough, this post was written for them.
      We’re all different so there can be no “one-size-fits-all” for any topic, and stress is one of those. What matters is that you found a way that works for you. Actually, your approach sounds exactly like the one I followed for most of my life. Using it I was able to survive, but ultimately I was too weak to keep it up and I had to find something else. That’s what worked for me.
      I agree totally about Taoism, it is actually much more a philosophy than a religion. However I can’t help but think it is also having faith in higher power, the higher power is just very non-defined as simply “the way.”

      • Calvin R

        I have known quite a number of people who assume that a “Higher Power” has a human form and attitudes to match. I want to add here my understanding that anything a person can work with (the Universe, humanity as a whole, the phrase “good orderly direction,” whatever else you can imagine) works.

        • Bob

          Agreed, totally Calvin, what you believe the Higher Power is, is much lass important than your faith in it.
          In the West we are so ingrained with an anthropocentric “god” it is very hard for us to break out of it.

  3. Patrick

    Tao is all things in universe that manifests itself, The Way. Tao can not be teach, pass from father to son, it only manifests itself. Bob, Your Tao is the journey of your life experience that manifest and only you understand and bring happy and healthy life to yourself. No one in world can copy it, because this is Bob’s Tao.
    I love your the way explain Tao, but my understand is difference. There are million ways of understanding Tao. This is your Tao and nobody can tell you it wrong. This is pretty of Great Master Teaching Lao Tzu.

    • Bob

      No argument from me Patrick! Taoism is very difficult for the Western mind to understand because we are so steeped in a totally different way of thinking. No wonder we all see it differently.
      However, I’m certain that if we approach it with an open mind we can all find something very helpful in it

      • Patrick

        I ‘m totally with you, but it’s also very difficult for Chinese to understand, because Lao Tzu Teaching is very deep. One thing I ‘m pretty sure that You manifest Tao; therefore, you are Taoist. You are stopping on earth on your way to Heaven; While on Earth, you are living your life to according Bob. On Earth, happy Life is ultimate goal.

        • Bob

          Thanks Patrick!

  4. jim

    The happiest people i’ve every knew in my life were the ones that had just what they needed to get by with they would tell me i have all i want and don’t want anything else the main thing i learn from these people was things will not make you happy as mr bob said things will only weight you down keep you in a job you hate to pay for it, People have become trap by telling there self i want it and want it now and i don’t care how much it cost or how long i have to pay on it just where do i sign, Most people only go outside the house to get to the car to go to work or to the mall never ending cycle like robots, People that spend more time outside and away from the malls and tv’s are more happy here is a test anyone can do go to a campground walk around and see how many people talk to you and open up about there life and travels then go to a mall and try the same thing they may or may not speak to you but that will be it there are to busy looking and buying junk just adding more stress to there life.

    • Bob

      Very, very wise Jim! I couldn’t agree more!

  5. oldnavy

    For those of us who are non-religious, a book came out just this last week from the famous (or infamous, depending on your views) atheist author and debater, Sam Harris. It’s called Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion. He offers a way to enjoy the benefits of Eastern-style meditation without the doctrinal/guy-in-the-sky baggage. And as a neuroscientist (Ph.D) he can’t help but teach how this works in our brains. I’ll end with a quote, “How we pay attention to the present moment largely determines the character of our experience and, therefore, the quality of our lives.” (p.3) I’m about a third of the way done with the book and have only been saying “amen” so far (in a very non-religious way).

    • Bob

      oldnavy, thanks for that book recomendation, looks interesting. There’s no doubt that meditation works and improves your life. In and of itself it has no religious or even spiritual element to it, although it can be added easily.
      I know many people in AA and they will all tell you that “one day at a time, one moment at a time” is the only way they can sober. They can’t be sure about tomorrow, they can’t be sure about an hour for now, but for right this moment, they aren’t going to take a drink. It was living in the future and past that compelled them to drink.

  6. Calvin R

    I would probably use different words to say this, but the bottom line is that I believe and work hard at exactly these ideas. Th only thing I might add is self-knowledge. If I don’t know what I have to work with, I am bound to confuse myself.

    • Bob

      Very, very good point Calvin. It was included in an early draft but I had to take it–and many other things–out.

    • jonthebru

      I’m glad you are still here Calvin!

  7. Diane Bentley

    Thank you Bob. This is very timely for me as I am going through some difficult changes in my life right now. Also, thank to Wayne W. All of these other replys have given me “food” for thought as well.

    • Bob

      Diane, I’m grateful to have something to add to your life in a time of need. If there was only one thing I could say to somebody who was going though difficulties it would be to live in the moment. No matter what the future may bring, if you will adjust your attitude, this moment is good.
      I wish you the very best as you go though these times.

  8. Karen

    Recently I’ve been stuck and indecisive about making some major changes, which has trickled down to procrastination on even minor things. You expressed beautifully many of my own beliefs and reading this has shown me a way to move forward with acceptance and faith. It always surprises me when I (again) get caught up in societal expectations, with consequent feelings of alienation. You reminded me how important it is to act daily according to my true beliefs and to “mind my mind” in order to remain present and aware and at peace. Thank you, Bob.

    • Bob

      Karen, thank you so much for taking the time to write, I’m very grateful to have been some small help to you.
      There are never promises that life will be a bed of roses, but if we will live in the moment we can always be at peace.

  9. Ken in Anaheim

    Bob……AT LAST !! I’ve finally come up with a (in my mind) good nickname for you…..”Brother Bob, The E-VAN-gelist !!”
    It incorporates : 1. You being my relative, 2.Your spirituality, 3. Your abode/lifestyle and it’s 4.E-lectronic aspects..
    I believe Vista Prints would be happy to start you off with a free set of “business” cards….

    • Bob

      Ken, what a great idea!! Very good play on words! Thanks for that!

  10. Linda Sand

    I believe in a creator because the world is too well organized to have happened by accident. I believe that creator is my parent who gave me free will because I know what it is to give your child the best you can then turn her loose to make her own best decisions. I believe the best way to act is to find people who inspire you then try to make your decisions based on what you think they would do in your situation. I believe there is someone or something who looks out for me because I have “lucked” into so many good things. I just need to keep reminding myself to have faith in that someone or something.

    • Bob

      Linda, you and I think very, very much alike!
      The issue of the complexity of life is so often poo-pooed and shrugged off but there is one way that it simply can’t be ignored”
      Where did DNA come from? Here is this unbelievably complex instruction set necessary for all life, so where did it come from? The naive answer is it evolved, but it is not a living thing, it cannot evolve in the biological sense. In fact evolution is caused by a mutation of DNA: no DNA means no evolution so it is impossible for it to have evolved.
      There can be no life without DNA, but DNA is not alive. Where did it come from? the only answer is it just spontaneously popped into existence and just happened to be exactly what was necessary for life. That’s what we call a miracle!!

  11. Jamo

    Bob personally I don’t believe in anything except the small hard core of my inner self, whatever that is…All religions and most philosophies have proven to me to be either complete nonsense or just plain silly ways to try to explain things that we have trouble understanding. One of the nice things about science is that it actually CAN explain a lot of what we attribute to “god”. A lot of the reasons that we’re here actually IS chance…

    • Bob

      jamo, your’s is a very commonly held belief and one that I held once myself.
      I don’t anymore, so we will just have to agree to disagree. But I am very glad you found a system of belief that works for you and I wish you the very best as you follow it.

    • Patrick

      “Tao Te Ching” is the blueprint and tools of Wisdom that give to us by Ancient Chinese to help us live our life harmony with nature which will bring good healthy and bring happy life. Understanding these tools, one can build whatever the life one want to live without disharmony with natural flow of “Chi” through balancing the Yin and Yang. Chinese teachings are deep and complex, but at the same time it is very simple that every human can understand. Let put the principle of Yin and Yang to work. It says that Day and Night depend on each other. If Night and Day is out of balance, it will cause disharmony of “Chi”, you will be sick. If you don’t believe, you can try not to sleep a week and see what it will do to your health and happy life. You might die from it. Can you build a house without tools? Bob is right, we need the tools of Wisdom to build health and happy life.

  12. Openspaceman

    I guess I’m guilty of living in the future…tryin’ to build up a little financial cushion for my get away. Do to a little medical setback looks like I’ll be spending another Midwestern winter in the van.
    I just had my one year anniversary living mobile and have been doing pretty good paying down my bills but it feels so normal now, I don’t feel that anxious.
    *Your blogs helping me stay on track.
    **i thought about trying to make it to AZ this winter but I’d rather have the van paid off and be able to take a whole year off with no bills except insurance, cell & food.
    “The futures uncertain and the end is always near”
    The Doors

    • Bob

      openspaceman, actually the living in the moment I was referring to has little to do with what we do on the outside, and has everything to do with our inner attitudes and feelings.
      It’s entirely possible to adopt a Zen attitude of living in the moment while making elaborate plans for the future. It’s not an either-or situation.

      • Openspaceman

        Sounds simple enough, probably a lot easier to in the woods then stealth parking in the city…but I’m trying to quiet my mind.

        • Bob

          Openspaceman, there are many, many books about Zen and living in the moment. “The Power of Now” by Eckhard Tolle is a great one to start with.

          • Openspaceman

            I read 3 or 4 books a week…I’ll put this one on my list. Thanks.

          • Bob

            It will serve as a very good introduction to the topic.

  13. Furry Gnome

    One of the most thoughtful posts I’ve read on any blog anywhere. Much appreciated. I already connect well with the importance of faith, but I’m going to think about your other ideas.

    • Bob

      Thanks for the kind words FurryGnome. All I can ever hope for is to give you some food for thought.

  14. Ming

    hey Bob,
    I liked this post a lot, it contains all of the principles by which I try to live. The funny thing is I never had any patience for reading about religion, but came to these principles one at a time from spending time outside trying to connect to nature and to the greater universe.
    I think that religions came from a time when more of us had that connection, and over time they got loaded down with excess baggage that comes from trying to live in too close quarters with each other, and with outright distortions that served the political power structure of the time. This becomes obvious when you learn even a little about religious history.

    • Calvin R

      This post needs a “like” button. I share this experience and the opinion of (organized) religion.

      • Ming

        wow Calvin, what a nice thing to say! Thank you for the kind words. I like to comment on this blog because I find Bob and commenters such as yourself to be thoughtful and generous about sharing experiences, insights and knowledge. Have a great day!

  15. Taranis

    Great post and very timely in my life right now. Thank you for thinking and writing on the subject!
    I guess I have another blog to follow! 🙂

  16. jonthebru

    As usual the comments are really good, stimulated by Bob. Kind of like chumming the water to get the fish to rise! Not to difficult with this crowd…
    I believe in spirituality and science, so there. And to relieve stress I listen to Alan Watts talks on youtube. Eckhart Tolle is another pertinent source.

  17. Claudio

    Bob, again, a wonderful post, your blog in general is among the most thoughtful, sensible and in many regards helpful I know on the net.
    One thing that always accompanies me during my short stay on our planet (as the human race in general, that will be nothing more than a minuscule chapter in the history of what we call universe, or cosmos, without having really a clue what that is all about…) is the feeling, that everything we humans, so very limited in every sense to a degree we are not even able to comprehend, processing all the signals and information from the outside through that little box we call brain, think to know, to see or to understand, is utterly incomplete if not mostly wrong.
    But this doubt helps me in a way, it goes in the direction of TAO: let it flow, man, it’s completely useless to worry or to try to understand, let it flow, live and be happy…

    • Bob

      Thanks Claudio, very wise words!

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