Imagine Harmony – How to Evolve from Stress to Gratitude by Dale R. Duvall is a 342-page book about Stress Management and taking Conscious Control of the Mind/Body and Gene Expression. It is an enjoyable stress management program that starts by explaining stress, its devastating effects, and progresses through a series of six lessons (Part I through Part VI). It begins with relaxation and culminates in conscious control of physiological and psychological responses to daily life without the risks associated with pharmaceuticals: Medimaginosis. Skills instead of pills.
We start with the breath and progress on to psychophysiological functions that have long been deemed autonomic. It’s about realizing that we are not victims of heredity or controlled by outside forces and circumstances, that we can take control and then learn to operate the controls effectively. If we cannot find the circumstances we need, we make them.
Our thirty-year quest to find the path and evolve from stress to gratitude and harmony involved hundreds of books, experts, courses and seminars, three trips to the Orient, and thousands of research and study hours. It could have been accomplished in a matter of a few weeks if this book had been available to us. This book brings together recent scientific data and documented ancient wisdom to focus awareness on a latent but innate capacity. The physical body will respond to the human mind, and this is the manual.
With the recent discoveries in quantum physics, psychoneuroimmunology, and epigenetics, science is beginning to reconcile with spirituality and turn Newtonian physics on its ear. We have condensed and integrated these studies into a practical path of stress management and harmony that leads to a clear understanding of How to Evolve from Stress to Gratitude and sustain Perfect Health, Happiness, Vitality, Longevity, and Harmony. We explore the reality of adversity, its cause and cure, Dr. Herbert Bensons Relaxation Response and the Faith Factor, a progression of breath and meditation skills, the parasympathetic nervous system, a defined ‘Worthy Purpose’ in life, a written mission statement, the Seven Principles of Harmony, cognitive reframing, and redefine POSSIBLE.
The Imagine Harmony program expands perceptions, develops conscious control, and promotes harmony in thought, feeling, and behavior; emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually; in mind, body, and soul. We discuss the relationship between science and spirituality, how they actually support one another, and how both are used to begin our evolution. We show how the mind, body, and soul work together and how they handle thoughts and use wisdom. The program integrates the uniquely human gifts of conscious awareness, reason, imagination, and the power of belief to create a synergistic response that seems as miraculous as safely flying to the moon and back would have been a hundred years ago. With adaptation, imagination, and belief, all things are possible.
The journey from an unhealthy, stressed mind and body to gratitude, happiness, peace of mind, and control over the mind/body and gene expression is truly a major advance in our evolution. However, taken one step at a time, it is simple, easy, and enjoyable. It is a bit like walking through a beautiful six level garden to get home after being lost in the desert. When we get to the top level of Harmony and look back, we wonder why we didn’t see it before. From the bottom level, however, the ultimate objective cannot be seen or even easily imagined, like not being able to see the beautiful meadow and sweet water brook beyond the great forest. Imagine Harmony points the direction so all we need to do is take it one step at a time and as we get closer, the view will become clearer.
Spiders and snakes and killer bees…oh my! Beyond the Garden of Eden, there was disease, conflict, anger, fear, and pain that we call stress.
Stress is any change that requires adaptation and is inextricably linked to our health (both mental and physical), happiness, vitality, and longevity. Everyone experiences stress and pain, from the most desperate and underprivileged to the most privileged human beings. It’s a common bond we all share. Humans experience stress or perceive things as threatening when they do not believe that their resources for coping are enough for what the circumstances demand. When we think the demands being placed on us exceed our ability to cope, we feel strain and pressure.
Some stress is beneficial in that it keeps us on our toes and presents challenges and opportunities but to the extent that we are unable to adapt, harmony is lost. Positive stress helps improve athletic performance and is a factor in motivation, adaptation, and reaction to the environment. Excessive stress, however, is toxic and impels us to engage in negative actions that lead to even greater problems. Stress is like salt or vitamins in that we need it in moderate amounts but too much of a good thing becomes toxic and possibly fatal. When stress begins to overwhelm our ability to adapt, it becomes a great evil dragon lowering our level of consciousness and the control we have over our mind/body and daily life.
Stress comes in many forms including an awareness of incompleteness and insufficiency, the fear of losing control, the anxiety of trying to hold on to things that are constantly changing, and a sense that things never measure up to our expectations or standards. We fear getting what we do not want, and we fear not getting what we do want. Anger, fear, guilt, worry, sadness, shame, and other harmful thoughts can overwhelm the mind destroying our peace and happiness. The fear and uncertainty of the threat of terrorist attacks, global warming, and toxic chemicals on the news can cause stress especially because we feel like we have no control over those events. Fears can also hit closer to home; such as being worried about failure to finish a project at work or not having enough money to pay the bills this month.
A crisis stressor is unforeseen and unpredictable and is completely out of the control of the individual. Catastrophic natural disasters, violence, war and accidents are rare but typically cause a great deal of stress. Ambient or environmental stressors like pollution, toxic chemicals and pharmaceuticals, noise, crowding, and traffic can negatively impact us without conscious awareness. Even common events like marriage, going off to college, the death of a loved one, or the birth of a child require adaptation and can be stressful enough to cause illness especially when they come in clusters. The most common stressors are daily annoyances and minor hassles that test our ability to adapt. They include making decisions, meeting deadlines at work or school, traffic jams, encounters with irritating personalities, and conflicts with other people. We can stress ourselves out just by worrying about things.
Stress is a product of our own thought process. It is what we think and how often we have certain thoughts, and a vast majority of these thoughts are related to or focused on the past or the future. Any significant life change can be perceived as stressful, even a happy event like a wedding. More unpleasant events, such as a divorce, a major financial setback, or a death in the family can be significant sources of stress. It boils down to individual perceptions or the way one thinks and their ability to cope. One individual might be too happy to have a lot of spare time at work, while the other might complain about the same situation and fret about becoming bored. Some people are stressed because they have too much to do, while others would look at it as an opportunity to show their abilities. A rich man can be miserable living in the lap of luxury while a poor man can be happy living in an igloo.
The two main classifications of stress are acute and chronic. Acute stress is normal in modern life, while chronic stress can be quite dangerous. Short term acute stress will not last longer than the work day, and may actually benefit health. However, if life feels like one continuous emergency every day of the week, it becomes long-term chronic stress and is dangerous to both physical and mental health. Stressors are more likely to affect our health when they are chronic, highly disruptive, or perceived as uncontrollable. Big stressors tend to include financial troubles, job issues, health, relationship conflicts, and major life changes. Smaller stressors such as long daily commutes, rushed morning routines, and personal conflicts with colleagues can add up and be just as bad for one’s health as chronic stress. When these events or experiences are perceived as threats, they make us more prone to both physical and psychological problems. The stressful effect of most stressors depends on our perception and ability to adapt.
Both acute and chronic stress can lead to changes in behavior and in physiology. Behavioral changes can be smoking, eating habits, and physical activity. Physiological changes can be overstimulation of the sympathetic nervous system and the shutting down of immunological function leaving the body vulnerable to disease and infection. Daily chronic stressors have a greater negative impact on individuals’ health than do more acute, traumatic stressors that generally have a start and an end point. For example, daily stressors like dealing with traffic, finishing homework assignments, etc., cause more harm to one’s health in the long run than do stressors such as a death in the family or an earthquake. Other chronic stress can result from stressful events that persist over a relatively long period of time, such as caring for a spouse with dementia, or frequently reliving brief but emotional events that continue to be overwhelming long after they are over, such as experiencing a physical assault.
The acute stress that results from a fire alarm or almost being hit by a car is not the kind of stress that has damaging effects. This kind of stress mobilizes our emergency responses and capabilities, but chronic stress is a different story. Researchers have found that our well-being actually improves as stress increases to an optimum level and then drops rapidly to illness and death as the perceived stress becomes chronic or overwhelming. Stress can be a catalyst for progress and inspire us to develop our abilities as we attempt to face it. A world without stressful situations would be as insipid as a life without goals. We seek an optimum amount of stress (because it is nearly impossible, and undesirable, to eliminate all stress) and to create the environment we need, preferably with fewer and less dangerous events. As the world continually throws up challenges and obstacles in our path, our objective is to eliminate the harmful effects of stress while enhancing life’s quality and vitality.
When humans are under chronic stress, unhealthy changes in their physiological, emotional, and behavioral responses are most likely to occur. Hyperactivity of neurons begins to physically change the brain and have severe damaging effects on mental health. A decline in neuroplasticity will occur, and the brain will lose the ability to form new connections and process new sensory information. Studies have also shown that perceived chronic stress and the hostility associated with Type-A personalities are often associated with much higher risks of cardiovascular disease and contribute to the initiation, growth, and metastasis of select tumors. Chronic stress is a sneaky, insidious killer that reconfigures gene expression to favor negative functions, inhibits our natural healing and immune systems, distorts mental cognition, and disrupts hormonal balance.
We evolved over thousands of years as hunter-gatherers where survival meant hunting, gathering food, and protecting ourselves from wild animals. The stress was tangible and produced concrete fight-or-flight responses involving physical exertion. In a relatively short period of time, these ingrained responses have become inappropriate. The struggles for survival were replaced with unfriendly co-workers, fears of losing a job, loss of computer data, or needing to complete a task in a hurry. We cannot attack or run away because of social conventions, instead we internalize the stress where it causes bigger problems. The biochemical process that occurred in the Stone Age still occurs today. Our bodies are programmed to respond to stress physically, and when repressed, cumulative damage results and in our modern society they are unnecessarily more frequent, intense, and severe than they were in times past. As population density increases, so does crime, mental illness, suicide, and a host of other lifestyle related stressors. We seem to be in high gear and on high alert all the time. How many people are stressed to the screaming edge, living in quiet desperation, where they work long, hard hours at jobs they hate, to enable them to buy things they don’t need, to impress people they don’t like.
Like all other living things, our cells need to eat, breathe, poop, grow, repair, reproduce, and stay healthy, just on a smaller scale. They are either in a “defense mode” or an “evolve, renew, and repair mode” depending on the signals they receive from the brain. When they are in the “evolve, renew, and repair mode” they do what they were programmed to do; absorbing oxygen and vital nutrients from the blood and excreting waste and toxins, having a wonderful time doing what they do best. Some are immune cells, some are kidney cells, and some are brain cells harmoniously cooperating and doing their respective jobs. Then a vicious man-eating tiger jumps out from behind a tree, and everyone goes into “defense mode.” They tense up and contract like a clenched fist preparing for battle and possible injury. It is much more important to live through the threat than to eat or poop at this point, so these functions are shut down. If we don’t live through the threat, there will be no need for nutrition or digestion, excepting the tiger perhaps. When stress strikes, our Conscious mind is often turned off, and the Subconscious takes over because it is far faster (reacts with preprogrammed impulses instead of responding with the slower but more aware conscious logic, reason, superior judgment, decision-making, and willpower).
With repeated or continuous alarms from perceived threats, the cells brace for danger and, in our modern stressful world, many people get stuck in this chronic state. Everything is perceived as an emergency. Hypertension and continuous stress (over stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system) results in a chronic state of cellular contraction draining the life force energy of the cells. When the cells are contracted, and braced for danger, they are unable to absorb enough nutrition or excrete waste, resulting in starvation and a buildup of toxins. If it is not reversed and the cells are constricted too long, they become vulnerable to disease, the waste buildup becomes toxic, aging is accelerated, and they die.
According to the concept of homeostasis, after a stressor is eliminated, the cells seek to return to their equilibrium state, or the normal level of stress resistance. When they are allowed to expand or open, they virtually always self-repair. A cell in a relaxed state is able to efficiently absorb oxygen and nutrients and release toxins. It is in an “evolve, renew, and repair mode” creating greater health for itself and its body of more than 55 trillion other cells. Chronic stress inhibits this process and causes us to get stuck in high alert or “defense mode” even though there is no immediate threat.
During the alarm phase, the body mobilizes the sympathetic nervous system to meet the immediate threat. The body reacts by releasing adrenal hormones that produce a boost in energy, tensing muscles, reducing sensitivity to pain, dilating pupils, shutting down digestion, increasing heart and respiration rates, constricting veins, and raising blood pressure. This high level of arousal is often unnecessary to adequately cope with micro-stressors and daily hassles, yet this is the response pattern seen in humans which often leads to health issues. Even after a threat has passed, its emotional memory keeps popping up and contracting the cells in obscure unrelated places. Commonly, the back and neck tense up, contract the cells, restrict blood flow, and result in oxygen deprivations, cell starvation, and toxic buildup. Stress and its effects are known to be causative, cumulative, precipitating, and aggravating factors in most illnesses.
In recent years our knowledge of modern technology has increased considerably, and as a result, we have witnessed remarkable material progress, but there has not been a corresponding increase in human happiness. There is no less stress in the world today, and there are no fewer problems, in fact, there are more problems and greater dangers than ever before. Stressors have simply changed from smallpox to AIDS, and from lion and grizzly bear attacks to cyber-attacks, oil spills, suicide bombers, and environmental pollution. Like the grizzly bear, stress is cute and playful when it is small but becomes a killer when it grows up.
The evil dragons of stress are being addressed only superficially by both the medical and psychological communities. The medical community tends to focus mainly on the physical, such as stimulants, toxins, trans fats, sugar, and dehydration. The psychological community tends to focus on other people as the cause, for example, difficult children, demanding bosses, or inconsiderate co-workers. This allows us to remain in the position of victim, resisting circumnutates. Stress is not in the situation, circumstances, or event; it is in the mind!