The Trigger and the Pressure Cooker

A different way of looking at stress is to see that human life itself is stressful (reference The 1st Noble Truth from the Buddha: Life is Suffering) Furthermore, the cause of stress lies upstream of the conscious mind. Psychological traumas and difficulties do not cause suffering; they release it. They act like the trigger of a gun. The trigger does not cause the explosion that sends the bullet on its way; it releases it. Stress, moreover, is not just negative and undesirable; stress and conflict are essential elements in the creative process.

“Conflict and Creativity at Work” by Albert Low p. 14-15.

Today, the word trigger is used a lot. “I just got triggered,” I hear myself saying. It is interesting because most people look at the situation where we get triggered as a challenging moment. We look at work as triggering or our family as triggering. Even past memories can be triggering. So to look at traumatic and challenging moments as triggers to release stress, that to me is a game changer. Question: Could we look at challenging events coming up, say at work, as expected? Could we ask ourselves: How much tension is okay to release during this experience? How much release can I handle? I think I have had enough now.

One of the images coming up for me is a pressure cooker. I use a nice one a lot. Once the cooking is done, there is a mechanism at the top where you move the dial from pressure to release pressure. You have to hold it in place to get the full release. It is hot so I use a small rag. I am in charge of this release. Another image is that of a knife at the side as I a am sitting in Zazen position on a zafu and cushion. My teacher Cornelia once said when someone says something we don’t like, it is like a dagger is thrown at our side. We can choose whether to stab ourselves with it. The release of pressure is similar, although I am not sure it is a great analogy.

A couple other points that come to mind. Albert Low in Zen & Creative Management says that the mind is a tension inducing and reducing mechanism. That we are always trying to find the right amount of tension. When stress is released, although it is uncomfortable for us, it is necessary to release the tension that is inside of us all the time. Tension means we are alive.

One other note from Zen & Creative Management in the chapter titled Zen: Creativity Through The Dilemma. He says that the thought stream that is often in the back of our mind without our knowing dissipates energy. Although it is a huge waste of our energy, maybe it is our way of releasing energy.

The basis of Zen is Zazen. This is often mistranslated as “meditation,” and it is very important to make the distinction between Zazen and meditation, not in any pejorative sense, but because there is a difference. The word “meditation” is derived from a Greek word medonai which means “to think about”; Zazen does not involve thinking about anything. Za in Japanese means “to sit,” and “Zen” is a transliteration of the Chinese word Ch’an, which in its turn is the nearest that the Chinese can come to saying Dhyana. Dhyana is a Sanskrit word and can be approximately translated as “concentration,” but a concentration of a particular kind and familiar to us as a consequence of our study of the dilemma. The concentrated state of Zazen is a natural condition of the mind that arises from an unresolved dilemma. In Zazen the automatic, habitual ways of coping with the dilemma are warded off. Of these ways, the one we use most persistently is surrendering to an automatic stream of consciousness. This dissipates concentration because basically it is a steady stream of thought designed to use up energy that is generated naturally by the primordial dilemma. This is the very opposite of zazen. Thus, the concentration of Zazen differs from other forms of concentration in that an individual is not concentrating on something, and it is different from meditation in that conceptual thought is not used. The practitioner must awaken the mind without resting it on anything.

~Albert Low

So the next time we look at stressful experiences as bad, maybe we can look at them in a different light.


As in most posts on, italicization of words refers to the words of either Jiddu Krishnamurti or Albert Low.  The website writer’s words are in regular text.

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