Staying calm

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As with water, our storms are only local, and when they are over, there is calm.  Photo by Harli Marten on Unsplash

Sometimes it seems as though the world is provoking you.

You resolve to stay calm, but in the next few minutes the phone rings, and it’s a problem.  Then a letter comes through the door, and it’s another problem.  You arrive at work, and there’s another problem.

Meditation can help you make great leaps and bounds towards a calmer life, but there is always the time between meditations, when you cannot control your environment so easily.

EXCESSIVE SELF-CHERISHING

It can be argued that problems arise from our self-cherishing.  Put another way, something is only a problem when viewed from the point of view of personal defensiveness.

I have spent years observing individuals, and how they do or do not cope with life.  And I think it goes like this… If you are allergic to your own suffering, then anything that threatens you with suffering will be viewed as a problem to be got rid of as soon as possible.  Since a huge amount of life involves some degree of suffering, you will always be fighting, and losing, from dawn till dusk.  You will be forever disappointed from this perspective, not least because death will eventually sweep away all your bodily advantages.

On the contrary, if you are accepting of your own suffering, and do not consider it much of an issue… then you can play a different strategy.  You can still choose to mitigate your suffering when it affects your ability to help others.  But you are not stuck on an endless round of fighting.  Life will not be so disappointing, because you have found balance.

PLAYING STORIES TO YOURSELF

Another thing that contributes to lack of calm is our brain’s tendency to tell itself stories, constantly.  Just try sitting still and frocusing on one thing.  Other things will immediately try to come into your mind and take over.  It is as though our minds are full of personal newspaper journalists crying out stories to us.

This, too, has a relationship with self-cherishing.  The stories we tell ourselves are often ways of fighting a battle against the world in our own mind.  We may daydream about success to regain a sense of personal power.  We may run arguments in our heads because we fear confrontation in real life.  In this way, our minds become our own tabloid press, indulging in gossip and hyperbole, all attempts to serve our own interests.

If we can lose the need to justify ourselves, our minds can go quiet, since there is not that same need for a battle.

AN EXERCISE

Just for today, try to take the edge off your self-cherishing.

  • When you witness a problem, try to remember that it is only a problem because of your personal perspective.  In the general scheme of things, it’s a blip.
  • When you find yourself running stories in your head, try to remind yourself that it is only you trying to justify your existence.  But you exist anyway, without the need for such imaginitive self-justifications.
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SUMMARY

Calmness is difficult to achieve.

Two things you can do to calm yourself, always, are:

  1. Accept your own suffering.  Alleviate some of it, but not all.
  2. Remember that you do not need self-justification.  All the stories are empty.  You exist, and that is enough.
These two attitudes are part of the same thing – losing excessive self-cherishing.  Once learned, this art (of moderating your own importance) is a key contributor to personal peace.

It is similar to developing a sense of humour.  Good comedians remind us to smile at the fact that that we all suffer, and that most stories are absurd attempts at self-justification.  That’s why we often feel relief at a good joke.

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