Choosing Happiness Instead of Stress for Your Body

Co-authored by Jan Jennings & Dr. Darryl Luke Pokea

Dr. Pokea shares deeper understandings about stress as the confluence of the mind body connection. He explores the latest research and his own insights that include practical solutions for shifting a stress-filled mind and body towards healing.

The appearance of things change according to the emotions, and thus we see magic and beauty in them, while the magic and beauty are really in ourselves.
Kahlil Gibran

We cannot be happy if we expect to live all the time at the highest peak of intensity. Happiness is not a matter of intensity, but of balance and order and rhythm and harmony.
Thomas Merton

Every man is the builder of a temple, called his body, to the god he worships, after a style purely his own, nor can he get off by hammering marble instead. We are all sculptors and painters, and our material is our own flesh and blood and bones.
Henry David Thoreau

It is common now to succumb to a most imprisoning illusion that is percolating throughout our belief systems. This illusion forms when you believe you can be happy within the compartmentalized constraints of a box manufactured by minds that know nothing of spirit, creative thought, or humanity.
Dr. Darryl Luke Pokea

The trouble with Archie is that he don’t know how to worry without getting upset.
Edith Bunker

“Sanctuary” was born through personal trials. During an intensely difficult time, my mind escaped out the window to the trees. I watched the play of light filtering through the leaves and imagined being a bird. I dove through the sun beams and danced in and out of the spaces between. When I finally got home, I painted the idea as quickly as possible to not lose the feeling. After I was done, the emotional pain was gone and there was this painting instead.
Words and painting, “Sanctuary” by Jan Jennings, artist

Stress is a state of being induced by the fears within the mind expressed as a bodily response to both real and unreal events in the outer-world. When it is habitual, stress no longer has contrast to other states of healthy being. It no longer serves its purpose of warning and protecting the body. As a chronic habit, stress is not very kind to the body or any body around us.

Our mind is the gatekeeper for what enters our body. As we make the kind choice to keep our body calm and our perceptions clear, we create a healthy flow of neuropeptides that are released and promote deep intercommunication throughout our inner cellular world. As our inner life choices are more balanced and content, we pay attention to the body and the stressors surrounding us in the outer world affect us differently. In a true Zen sense, we learn to watch the parade of events outside, staying calm and open to the healthiest life giving pathways, always available inside.

Just as our mind is the gatekeeper for what enters our internal life, each of the 50 trillion cells that make up our body have their own gates that open and close. The gate in each cell is much like our skin, a thin layer that protects the inner workings of the cell. The gate of each of our cells is the cellular membrane. Each of our cells has these membranes that open and close to their surroundings as the mind also decides which outer world surroundings may stress or calm us. As our mind does, each cell makes its best decision to open or close to the events and experiences occurring around it. All that we internalize from the outer world is a confluence of our own inner dialogue occurring each moment between mind and body

When we allow ourselves to feel stressed all the time, as may be the condition of the world around us, the body adjusts to this pattern of unhealthy demand that we are placing upon it. As stress molecules are excessively generated by the mind much of the time, the body receives the mind’s message that stress is the state you want it to be in. The body follows the mind’s lead and builds an infrastructure in its organs and each of its cellular membranes to support what the mind keeps telling it to do, “be stressed and on full alert.” When our mind, as a gate, selectively attends only to stressful outer world events, the body follows the mind’s instructions to prepare for continuous danger and the accompanying physically overcharged states. All 50 trillion cellular bodies become chronically conditioned and alerted in their own gates (membranes) to respond to a flood of stress molecules produced by the mind’s narrow expectations that we must remain in a hyper-guarded state because stressful experiences may explode upon us at any time from the outer world.

Perception of Danger

The stress-response process is healthy when it warns our cells that something is frightening from the outer-world. The cells respond by closing their membranes until the mind’s perception of danger passes. In contrast, stress is damaging when the lens of the mind is chronically focused only upon stressful experiences. The cells cannot remain in a perpetually closed off state. They would quickly die without taking in food or oxygen through their membranes. Likewise, we cannot completely close our minds off in isolation from the outer-world. Both our minds and the cells of our body require optimal levels of stimulation, curiosity, and interest. These are necessary for meaning and purpose, and for health and wellness. If we are locked in a pattern of chronic expectation of stressful events, we impede our own happiness and the happy molecules that give the body vitality and health.

As there is frequent supply of stressful molecules, the cells increase the number of their membrane receptors to receive them. As more and more receptor sites are created on the cells surface for stress molecules, less space is available on their membrane to take in oxygen and essential nutrients. The physical landscape of the membrane is unnaturally physically altered by the mind’s narrowing focus producing less variety of receptors on the cells for many other kinds of messages in the full range of human experience. The cellular gates open to the repetitious flood of stress molecules and begin to form a chronically alert, never resting state. Restorative oxygen and nutrients and endorphins are curtailed for the cells as are the experiences of calm, safety, joy and happiness.

As in all addictions, the cells create a greater number of receptors towards the substance being abused so that substance becomes the whole world of the cell. Stress molecules, produced by a mind ever-focused on stressful events, becomes the addicted drug of choice. Many blame the body for a stress hunger it feels and then say, “my body seems to thrive on stress.” This is both the dilemma and root of chronic stress as an addiction. It leads to a fixed workaholic lifestyle that eventually causes premature aging and the death of our cells. Passion and enthusiasm for a great variety of experiences in life are drained away as all outer and inner experience is diminished. Advertisements, TV programming, including newscasts, capitalize on keeping us hyper-stimulated so we easily may form an addiction to stress, as they present endlessly through stress-inducing programming.

A phenomenon also occurs that complicates the stress addiction process. When our cells replicate to replace weak or dying ones, the new cells carry the adapted characteristics of previous generations. These new cells will have membranes with many more receptors for stressful molecules because a stressed state of being has previously been established by the mind. John-Baptiste Lamark (1744-1829) insightfully suggested that evolution was not driven by purely chance mutations. The mind body connection illustrates that in a true Lamarkian evolutionary manner, the forced stress biases of our mind are inheritable in the body’s cells. Future generations of cells crave stress molecules as this tendency was sculpted into their duplication by a mind attracted more often to stressful events. They have a disproportionate increase in the number of receptors on the cell membranes for future generations. The future generations of the cells are programmed from previous generation conditioning to be highly stressed and addicted to stress molecules as much as life-giving oxygen and food nutrients.

Stress Addicted

The stress-addicted mind unknowingly has formed a body that is stress addicted. Health, wellness and flexibility in the life of the cells is seriously limited by the addiction created by the mind. Habitual stress messages from the mind, give stress instructions to the current cells and their future generations. Without persistent determination to change this established stress programming taken root within the body, the cells are weakened and they die prematurely. The mind in its poor choices started and overlooked the whole process. In both an immediate physical and evolutionary sense, our minds can damage the cells that make up our body by too frequent stress responses. We simply do not realize what we do to ourselves and to one an other by creating so much stress in the outer and inner world.

There is a way out of this looping quandary leading to ill health. Copious amounts of gratitude, generosity, appreciation, forgiveness, compassion and loving kindness are the antidotes for anyone’s mind overemphasizing external stressful events. Turn the TV off, and talk with someone you love; let them know how much you appreciate them. When we are consistent and persistent in practicing these life-giving states, the stress addiction may be broken as our selected perceptions of the outer-world also transform. Our body is restored to balance and heals rapidly as the mind offers loving signatures in all its messages to the body.

The consistent practice of loving heart-felt compassion, gratitude and forgiveness, influences the outer world, but more immediately generates a healthier inner world of mind and body. Instead of craving stress molecules, a calmer composed mind and body together enjoy happy matter molecules that assist more harmonious flow throughout both the inner and outer world. This is the heart of health, healing and happiness for all of us whenever we replace the stress response with responsible loving choice.

“Why Knot”, a satiric play by Jan Jennings, artist

Negative thinking narrows thoughts that can manifest in habitual self-destructive behaviors. This may be thought of as “karma”, that we pattern within our daily lives and occurs when we simply do not realize what we are doing to ourselves.
Dr. Darryl Luke Pokea

Jan Jennings, artist

Listen to “Think Fit: The Power of Your Mind”:

Additional Reading:

“The Surprising Science of How Feelings Help You Think”

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