Finding Calm in Times of Change

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It’s easy to feel the undertow of overwhelm and upheaval, especially in moments of great change.

I began this post as the government changed hands, hoping to offer some advice as our national conversation became a shouting match, and midway through the writing, I found myself caught in my own swirling change, much closer to home (more on that next time).

So whatever wrecking ball you may be experiencing, at the national or neighborhood level, may these two tips help you find peace, either by focusing on the moment you are in or on the infinite that you are part of.

1. Rest in the peace of this moment

There is a parable of a student asking a master, “Teacher, there are two wolves inside me, one filled with rage and hate and fear, the other filled with love and compassion. They are fighting desperately to take control. Which one will win?” The master says, “The one you feed.

We choose the moments, thoughts, and emotions that we feed in a thousand, seemingly insignificant ways. I spend 20 minutes telling my husband about the rude guy in front of me in line but only 2 minutes saying thank you for cleaning the kitchen. (More here on the science of how experience and attention shape and reshape our neural networks.)

And the irony is that most moments that could be filled with rumination or anxiety could instead be used to shine light on the fact that in this moment you are alive, you are safe, you are loved and loving.

To be fair to ourselves and to offer a broader perspective, in some ways, our brain was made to be Teflon for the good and Velcro for the bad. This is how we learn what to avoid and how to survive. Way back in cave people time, we survived longer by being vigilant, cautious, and expecting the worse – jump away from that stick that looks like a snake? Wonderful, no harm done.

Rose colored glasses about that cute little slithering creature could lead to death. But as we grow in a world where mortality is no longer in daily question, we have the opportunity to nudge against our preferential attention to the negative, and instead focus on and feed the moments we want to savor.

So what does that mean right now, for you, today?

My suggestion is to pause and savor.

Watch for the moments, thoughts, emotions, experiences you love. A loved one’s peal of laughter. The sun warm on your head. The cool taste of water in the morning. The slow rumble of your cat’s purr, the solid thunk of your dog’s tail on the floor. Each of these small moments have the potential to be visible, lengthened, and savored, but only if you choose to pause.

2. Connect with your larger truth

I don’t know what your larger truth is but I will offer mine in the hope that the personal can also be the universal.

In Robert Hardies’ beautiful sermon (the whole piece is full of good advice and well worth your 5 minutes), he says

“We need to get our heads out of our smartphones and lift our eyes to the hills. We need to enlarge our perspective. We do that through spiritual practice. Your practice might literally be taking yourself out to the hills for a hike. Or it might be a mindfulness mediation that radically grounds you in the present. Or maybe you study and pray on scripture, anchoring your life in another worldview. There are lots of practices. What they all have in common is that they add a little eternity to the relentless temporality of our lives.”

So how do you do this now?

You begin by finding, remembering, or reinvigorating the ways that you look to the hills (or, should I say, our lovely mountains). In times of turmoil, what reminds you that you are grounded on this Earth, that in this moment you are safe, that you are connected to a larger web of life? For me, it is staring at the yawning echo of the stars.

Listening to the soft beat of my daughter’s heart, whose drum will likely pound long after I’m gone. It is repeating a line from my favorite poem Desiderata by Max Ehrmann

“You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.”

Dear readers, may you find peace in the instant and infinite, as we travel together on our short run around the sun. Wishing you well till we meet again.

Dr. Kerry