Create a list that combines the good qualities of each. Since the primary outcome of stress in our relationships is overlooking or taking for granted the other’s positive aspects and the relationship in general, here is a powerful but simple technique. Sit together and form a list of positive qualities and gifts that each of you possesses. Be generous and enjoy letting the other know that they are recognized for who they are. Let your heart’s rigidity melt in the process. After creating lists for one another, combine these qualities and gifts into one long and complete list: This is your relationship’s personality, a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Appreciate the many strengths that you possess and what you can give to the world together.
With all that’s going on in our country, our economy, the world, and on social media, it feels like so many of us are under a great deal of stress. Relationships, in particular, can be stress-inducing. We know chronic stress can be as unhealthy as smoking a quarter of a pack a day. What are stress management strategies that people use to become “Stress-Proof? What are some great tweaks, hacks, and tips that help reduce or even eliminate stress? In this interview series, we are talking to authors, and mental health experts, who can share their strategies for reducing or eliminating stress. As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Shai Tubali.
Shai Tubali is a leading authority in the field of self-development and self-empowerment. His numerous books have appeared internationally for the past two decades in 11 languages and have been published by major publishers. Shai also serves as an academic researcher at the University of Leeds and has developed several meditation-based therapeutic methods.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to know how you got from “there to here.” Inspire us with your backstory!
At the first phase of my life’s journey, I had been a novelist and journalist, but already in my early 20s I came across spiritual teachings, such as Zen Buddhism, Transcendental Meditation, and the messages of Jiddu Krishnamurti and Osho, that seemed to hold the key to both a deep resolution of certain psychological conflicts I experienced at that time and an unexplained but profound spiritual yearning in me. Consequently, I embarked on an intense spiritual search, including visits in India and encounters with Indian and Western gurus.
At the age of 23, while attending a silent retreat in Sinai, Egypt, I finally discovered the self-transcendent and universal reality that is indicated in Hindu and Buddhist scriptures. This inaugurated an ecstatic process that opened my heart and purified my mind for about a year, throughout which I hardly spoke to anyone, but this everlasting joy and silence have become an uninterrupted realization ever since.
As a direct outcome of this inner process, I resolved to devote my life to alleviating others’ suffering. Since the year 2000, I have been sharing this revelation with people through countless presentations, in the form of physical and direct teachings but also through books and online programs. At first, my sharing was spontaneous, but later, I came to realize that we all require certain methods and practices in order to establish this reality in our life, so I have committed myself to developing such techniques and pathways.
What lessons would you share with yourself if you had the opportunity to meet your younger self?
This is a rather tricky question since it makes me wonder whether I would really want, as my more mature self, to prevent my younger self from making certain errors in judgment and experiencing some disappointments that ultimately played a major role in the maturation of my being. A great deal of what I have taught, and much of the learning contained in my methods, are the result of painful and sobering realizations I have had along the way.
Nevertheless, I would perhaps advise my younger self not to avoid academic studies (which I later needed to complete; only now, at the age of 46, I have completed my PhD research). Even though the academic way of thinking could never resolve human suffering, reveal the meaning of life, or help us to transform our way of life, it has greatly evolved my mind. I may have also cautioned my younger self not to become a spiritual teacher at the very early age of 24. It now seems wiser to develop psychologically and to gather life experience before committing oneself to this type of delicate work with people. I would also recommend practicing caution, patience, humility, and compassion in my relationships with people around me, since the way I have chosen to live my life, radically and totally, may not be what others are ready to commit to.
None of us are able to experience success without support along the way. Is there a particular person for whom you are grateful because of the support they gave you to grow you from “there to here?” Can you share that story and why you are grateful for them?
I am grateful for Dr. Gabriel Cousens, an American yogi (an initiate of the Hindu Nityananda tradition), a mystic, and an international speaker and author, who has functioned as my spiritual teacher, particularly during the years when I was hoping for guidance. Gabriel appeared in my life when I was 26. At that time, I was undergoing peculiar physical and energetic disorders, which no one had managed to explain or resolve. However, based on his lifelong expertise as a yogi and a medical doctor, Gabriel could help me not only to mend this physical condition but also to understand how I should spiritually develop further. During a period of seven years, Gabriel guided me gently and compassionately, until he felt that I was ready to stand on my own feet as a teacher. One of the most significant personal teachings transmitted by him has been the need for spiritual teachers to restrain their ecstasy and to obey the conventional moral and ethical rules of their culture. This helps to avoid adding havoc and confusion to an already greatly troubled world.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think it might help people?
Lately, I have been doing my best to avoid working on too many exciting new projects! I have been involved in numerous projects throughout the past few years and I am now hoping to be able to devote more time to inner life. Nevertheless, I have started working on a new book, titled Your Three-chakra Type Structure: Reading the Map of Your Destiny, which is a development of my method for personality typology, Chakra Types. In 2018, I published the bestselling book The Seven Chakra Personality Types, which first introduced a typology personality based on the ancient chakra system. This is an effective way for people to realize their soul design, which implies being able to identify their life path and to follow their authentic passions, happiness, and meaning in life. Since this interview centers on relationships, the wisdom of Chakra Types can greatly support our relationships, since one of the reasons that our relationships often become confused and conflicted is that we want the other to think and behave like us — that is, like our own personality type. Thus, this is a key to compassion and authentic respect toward the other’s journey.
Another project which I am strongly focused on is the cultivation of an online community of learners dedicated to practicing the methods and pathways I have developed along the way. After 22 years of teaching, I have come to realize that one of the hindrances to spiritual life in the 21st century is the fact that we are exposed to spiritual practices outside any cultural and religious context. This reality enables us to freely experiment with profound techniques, but also hinders our ability to lead a spiritual way of life. So, I’ve finally decided to provide a substantial answer to the question of how one could lead a truly spiritual life in the 21st century, by recommending intentions, practices, and actions. (This is offered free of charge and without any obligations whatsoever.)
Ok, thank you for sharing your inspired life. Let’s now talk about stress. How would you define stress?
In the simplest sense, stress is taking on ourselves much more than we could contain or fulfill. Externally, this may involve too many tasks and duties within a limited time frame, including the fact that we are expected to respond to so many messages because of our social media engagement. This may make us feel needed and relevant, but the price is extremely high. If I decide, for instance, that I must write down my answer to your question within one minute, I will experience stress. Another source of stress is being exposed to situations that we feel unable to contain or handle.
However, the sources of stress can be subtler and can derive from our inner experience. For example, cultivating certain unfulfillable expectations or demands toward ourselves may be a cause of stress due to the tension between who we really are, or what we can actually be, and who we think we should be. We may also cling to too many wills and wants at the same time, instead of carefully prioritizing our wishes and dreams and pursuing them one at a time.
In the Western world, humans typically have their shelter, food, and survival needs met. So what has led to this chronic stress? Why are so many of us always stressed out?
It is true that many of us nowadays have most of their basic needs fully met. But we humans are experts in creating our stress, even in the most peaceful environments. First, we have created an overwhelmingly competitive society and we develop new ways of subtle but aggressive competition every day. This gives rise to the individual’s need to expect more of themselves to be seen and noticed. We are all encouraged to rush toward becoming someone better, stronger, more famous, and successful, and it is difficult to resist this environmental pressure.
Second, our technology fools us. We keep believing that technological innovation makes our life simpler, but, life has become increasingly more demanding since its pace has been drastically accelerated. Things that required years in the past can now happen in weeks, and things that required weeks can happen in a day. Accordingly, we are expected to be more productive and quick-acting. We are flooded with messages that require our immediate attention. The precious feeling that we have time has been almost completely dissolved.
What are some of the physical manifestations of being under a lot of stress? How does the human body react to stress?
The human body hates being rushed and pressured. This state, especially when it is ongoing, is followed by the feeling of breathlessness: we often say that we “cannot breathe.” Pressure and stress put our body in a state of self-defense, which is somewhat like traumatic reactions though they are, of course, much subtler. As a result, our body freezes, and contracts. The final manilikection are mainly muscle stiffness and cramps, unexplained pains, sleep disorders, lack of energy, continuous fatigue, and a long list of psychosomatic disorders.
Is stress necessarily a bad thing? Can stress ever be good for us?
I’m glad that you’ve brought this up, since moving to the other extreme of never agreeing to experience stress can also be hazardous in terms of the well-being of the human psyche and spirit. I think that some spiritual movements aspire to achieve states of uninterrupted calm, and for this aim, they are willing to sacrifice much of what makes us fully realized humans.
Of course, there is no question that leading a stressful life on an ongoing basis is damaging. No one is supposed to put this type of constant pressure on their bodies and minds. But this doesn’t mean that we should avoid situations in which we take on ourselves too much, or situations that we feel we cannot handle, or even our own expectations to transcend our limitations and achievements. As far as I know, modern research demonstrates that we require at least a minimal degree of stress as a condition for our development and mental alertness . If you abolish all sources of stress in your life, you might end up being lethargic and even indifferent.
I would recommend not avoiding stress but ensuring that we control and limit it. We may also enter periods of stress, consciously and willingly, if we know that they are going to end sooner or later. And when stressful situations are inevitable, by embracing them we reduce a great deal of stress because much of the stress is caused by our resistance to the situation.
Is there a difference between being in a short-term stressful situation versus an ongoing stress? Are there long-term ramifications to living in a constant state of stress?
That’s exactly the point since there is no way to live a fully realized human life without going through any short-term stressful situations. Fantasizing about a perfectly peaceful life can only be damaging. What we want to change is not the fact that there can be stressful situations but our ability to respond to them and to remain silent and centered even when they do take place.
This is very similar to being angry all the time versus being angry on occasion. Everyone gets angry every now and then. Never getting angry can only be the result of intense suppression. But if you’re angry all the time, as a sort of existential condition, this is already mentally, emotionally, and physically harmful (not to mention, socially unfair).
So, it is healthy to remain alert and mentally alive by facing stressful situations from time to time. This way, we make sure that we don’t become too vulnerable and even hypersensitive. An ongoing stress, however, is not only dangerous but also a complete misunderstanding of what life is all about. If you are always on the run, you are spiritually unconscious, because life, the cosmos, and our true nature can only be revealed when there is a sense of openness and spaciousness. Many lead a life of unbroken stress while harboring dreams about their next vacation, but our vacations need to take place during life, on a daily basis.
Let’s now focus more on the stress of relationships. This feels intuitive, but it is helpful to spell it out in order to address it. Can you help articulate why relationships can be so stressful?
In the very same way that stress is taking on ourselves much more than we could contain or fulfill (including our own expectations and wills), relationships become a source of stress when they are burdened by unrealistic and exaggerated expectations. Put simply, relationships are not supposed to fulfill most of our expectations, but because they are naturally heavily emotional for us, we tend to irrationally expect to receive certain things from them.
What we mainly expect is that our partners, children, parents, friends, and others think and behave like us, or do exactly what we want them to do, as a part of our fixed and rigid internally written scripts. This makes the others react strongly since they are unable to endure the pressure put on them. At the same time, similar pressure is directed toward us. So, whenever we experience a gap between how our relationship with someone is and how we think it’s supposed to be, or could be, this will be the cause of our stress.
I always say that in relationships, we live in two parallel universes: the real one, and another universe which I call the would be/should be/could be universe. We constantly compare these two universes, because we cultivate an unrealistic image of the other and the relationship in general. It is not easy to let go of the should-be universe; even being able to identify it, and to admit that it is unreal and unfair, is already a major step.
Can you help spell out some of the problems that come with the stress caused by relationships?
I would say that when we harbor these unrealistic expectations for a long time, after a certain period of time the other becomes an extension of our expectations rather than a separate and actual human being who has his or her own journey. Since we no longer perceive them as separate beings, it becomes very hard to respect them as we would probably respect others who are not too close to us.
When the other is not much more than what we project on him or her, we may probably reach a state of continuous anger and bitterness, including short and impatient reactions and sometimes even hostile expressions. This can lead to bursts of rage or a tendency to discontinue communication for a while. The most problematic by-product of this misunderstanding of ourselves and others is the fact that we begin to ignore the positive and beneficial aspects of the relationship and focus instead, sometimes obsessively, on what is missing.
Here is the main question of our interview: Can you share with our readers your “5 stress management strategies that you can use to eliminate stress from your relationships?” Please share a story or example for each.
- Create a list that combines the good qualities of each. Since the primary outcome of stress in our relationships is overlooking or taking for granted the other’s positive aspects and the relationship in general, here is a powerful but simple technique. Sit together and form a list of positive qualities and gifts that each of you possesses. Be generous and enjoy letting the other know that they are recognized for who they are. Let your heart’s rigidity melt in the process. After creating lists for one another, combine these qualities and gifts into one long and complete list: This is your relationship’s personality, a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Appreciate the many strengths that you possess and what you can give to the world together.
- Identify the should-be universe. This time go through this process alone to avoid adding tension to your relationship. Create two columns in a written form, one titled “The Real Universe” and the other, “The Should-Be Universe.” Start by filling out the column of the “Should-Be Universe” with all your wildest, and sometimes secret, fantasies about how the other should be, or could be, or should have been in certain situations in the past. (For instance, “My husband tells me every day that he loves me,” or “My partner accepts me as I am without complaint.”) Then, fill out the other column and describe how the other actually is. (Be careful: don’t use this column as another opportunity to complain!) After both columns have been completed the “Should-Be Universe” column and recognize that this universe simply doesn’t exist and will probably never exist. Now, who would you be and how would your real universe be if you let that parallel universe disappear completely? Finally, look at the “Real Universe” column through your heart’s eye rather than your mind’s eye: This is your one and only universe. Love it.
- Set a limit to your expectations. Again, sit together and patiently describe what you are expecting from each other. Look at these expectations honestly: Are they realistic? Could you renounce at least some of them? Could you reach a compromise? How would it be possible for you to live up to some of these expectations, without feeling stressed and without putting pressure on the other? Recognize that each of you is really doing your best and that since this life is already overwhelming, you don’t want to make it even harder for the ones you love.
- Help one another to fulfill the other’s journey and purpose in life. This is another beneficial technique: Reserve time to sit together and discuss what could help the other find their own meaning in life. You are not only one unit, so make time to help the other become him- or herself. By honoring each other’s separate journeys, you are preventing your relationship from becoming an overpowering entity that consumes your personal wishes and needs. Your relationship can be wide enough to include these too. One way of recognizing each other’s separate journeys is by identifying each other’s chakra personality type (consider reading my book, The Seven Chakra Personality Types).
- Designate a complaint-free day each week. Even with all the techniques detailed above, the habit of complaining about one another is sometimes too fixed and great. To overcome this habit, choose one day a week in which you are renouncing all complaints, both externally and internally. You can even laugh together when the habit seems to be resurfacing during that day. And who knows, perhaps this one day of abstinence will make you so joyful that you will form a new and natural habit of not complaining at all!
- Maintain a positive distance from time to time. It is wise to allow one another separate times in which the relationship and its demands can be completely forgotten. This doesn’t mean that you don’t love each other, but that you are creating a healthy distance from which you will return to one another more respectful and aware of each other’s presence.
- Meditate together. Another helpful way to make your relationship an oasis of peace and quietude rather than a space of quarrel and expectation is by establishing the habit of meditating together. Prior to your meditation, declare that your intention is to rebuild your relationship on the foundation of being in the here and now, without past regrets and future worries.
Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that have inspired you to live with more joy in life?
I admit that when I want to be inspired to live more joyfully, I tend to draw on classical sources rather than contemporary books or podcasts. I believe that all that we have ever needed to know about human suffering and happiness has already been given to us around 2500 years ago, at the time when the Buddha, the Indian sages who wrote some of the Upanishads, and Socrates and Plato, lived and taught. In this sense, we don’t really require innovations in the field of happiness. Thus, for me, reading in the Hindu Upanishads or in Plato’s dialogues is a source of unending exhilaration and inspiration. And when I want to get in touch with profound joy and bliss, I practice Inner Fire, a tantric Buddhist technique which is best elucidated in Lama Yeshe’s The Bliss of Inner Fire.
However, in terms of more modern sources, I strongly recommend watching some of the countless videos presented on Jiddu Krishnamurti’s official YouTube channel. In my view, Krishnamurti has been one of the most important spiritual teachers in human history, and he possessed an unusually profound insight into the nature of human suffering and happiness.
Last, I draw strength from thinkers that come from the world of existentialism and absurdism, because they show us how to embrace this life as it is in a way that can make us joyful and empowered even when our reality feels stifling and limiting. For instance, Albert Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus or Nietzsche’s writings. Some films and TV series, which seem to be inspired by these sources, have the same effect. Consider a film like Everything, Everywhere, All at Once, or a TV series like The Good Place or The Leftovers.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
My greatest dream is establishing a new educational system that will be truly holistic and that will prepare our children for a life that is imbued with meaning and awareness. Unfortunately, I don’t find this type of education even in the existing alternative schools. I envision a school that will be committed to nourishing all the human potentials and needs. Among other things, this includes learning to take care of one’s body, experiencing physical joy and playfulness, cultivating ambitions and goal setting, developing loving and harmonious relationships and the spirit of egoless service, learning to express oneself and to manifest dreams, acquiring true wisdom and philosophical ways of thinking, and learning to meditate and to open oneself to Spirit. A preparation for life must include actual capacities like emotional maturity, being able to be in relationships, and knowing how to master our turbulent mind. The reason many of us seek out self-development techniques later in life is because no one has taught us how to live. Additionally, even the existing subjects, such as math, physics, and biology, should be taught in a context that makes them meaningful, beautiful, relevant, and playful. I hope I’ll be able to manifest this vision one day!
What is the best way for our readers to continue to follow your work online?
I heartily invite readers to get to know my teachings via my YouTube Channel: youtube.com/@ShaiTubali.
You can also learn more about what I do through my personal website: shaitubali.com.
If you’d like to explore some of my actual teachings, consider registering to one of my Udemy courses: udemy.com/user/shai-tubali2.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.