Learning to be calm

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To be calm, find your habitual resting state, and return there often.  Photo by Faye Cornish on Unsplash

It would be unrealistic to be calm one hundred per cent of the time, but perhaps one could apply an 80:20 rule.  Maybe to be calm 80 per cent of the time is reasonable, with the rest of the time dedicated to activities with an inherent pressure of some kind.

If you are finding that your life is spent 80:20 the other way, only reaching an entirely calm state 20 per cent of the time, then it may be time to revise how you are living.

YOUR HOME MENTAL STATE

One thing that meditation can help us achieve, is a kind of ‘home mental state’.  What I mean by that, is a state of mind and body in which we are quietly focused, at rest, with little tension.

Many meditators apply a timetable to their day, with sessions happening between four and six times a day.  One idea behind this is that, if you return to meditation regularly, your mind and body get used to recognising a regular and reliable ‘reset’ time.

Even meditating once, at the same time each day, can help with this.  But the more you perform the ritual, the more your body will learn to reset itself.  Eventually, after a lot of practice, you may find that your body recognises the state so well that it can return to it at will.  Then, all that is necessary is to remember the ‘home mental state’, and the mind and body will go there.

RESPONDING TO STRESSFUL EVENTS

Even so, there will be times in your day when triggers happen.  Typical triggers include:

  • You are exposed to a person or situation that you fear
  • You find your smooth path blocked by a person or situation, and it annoys you
  • You are faced with a loss, and it throws you out of balance
Fear, anger and loss are key psychological stressors.  Whatever our life situation, we will still experience things that appear to attack us, disturb us, or throw us off balance.

In responding to these stresses, no one is asking you to be completely unresponsive.  That would be strange, especially as you are descended from a long line of humans who evolved that way.  Furthermore, noticing, and responding to, attack, disturbance or imbalance is an important skill.

But, if you want to be calm most of the time, I suggest you put a time buffer between the event and your direct emotional response.  You will return to calm quicker if you can impose a time delay, and break the direct chain reaction.

DELAYING YOUR RESPONSE

Here are a few sample cases where I have witnessed individuals teaching their mind to delay the stress response:

  • An experienced meditator, when he finds himself pressed for time, stops and doubles his meditation session.  He finds that when he is short of time, is exactly when he needs to behave as if there is plenty of time, and meditate for longer.
  • An client learned to say, whenever asked to do something, ‘I’ll get back to you’.  This avoided the usual panic she felt at being confronted with a requirement.  She then diarised when she would respond to the request, meaning that she could now forget the request and get on with her day.
  • An old friend used to leave a gap of at least a second after everything the other person said in a conversation.  When I asked her about it, she said it helped her to focus, and also helped her to give the other person time to finish their comment uninterrupted.
You can create your own ways of delaying the stress response.  What you are doing, in all cases, is teaching your body and mind not to be dominated by the delusion that unwelcome events need to dominate your life.  You have a right to lead your life in peace, and this is what these tactics help you to do.

AN EXERCISE

Just for today, try to do two things:

  1. At several preselected times, try to meditate, relax or rest, away from your usual busy-ness.
  2. When stressed by a situation or event, find a way of delaying your usual stress reaction until later.
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SUMMARY

Try to balance your life to that you are calm at least 80 per cent of the time.  If you meditate at regular intervals, this can accustom your mind and body to a habitual peaceful state.  Also, whenever you are exposed to the inevitable stresses of life, try to delay your immediate stress response until later.  This will speed your return to calm, and stop you spiralling out of control.  If in doubt, simply listen and observe, then diarise your next action, then go and meditate, or do something calming, for a short while.  Your aim is to break the chain of reaction.

Good luck.

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