Staying quiet of mind in difficult situations

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Medical staff know all about attending to one thing at a time.  We would do well to follow them. Photo by Luis Melendez on Unsplash

Quietness of mind is not the same as dumbness or silence.  It is more the ability to stay peaceful in thought, whatever is going on.  When all the world about you seems to be going mad; when there is urgency or panic; then quietness of mind is at its most useful.

BEING PEACEFUL DOES NOT MEAN WE DON’T CARE

Sometimes we rise into a panic out of misguided ‘caring’.  We equate a raised emotional temperature with caring.  This is a bit of a delusion.  If we truly care about a situation, then we will presumably try to keep a quiet, even, focused mind, so that our judgements are good.  If we get hot under the collar, then usually it confuses things, rather than helping.

WHEN THING ARE URGENT… THAT IS WHEN WE MAY NEED TO BE CALMEST

Watching nursing staff in a hospital, you may be struck by how calm they remain, whatever the situation.  They have learned, over time, that the only way of keeping effective in demanding situations, is to stay peaceful.  This is even true in accident and emergency wards, where calmness is essential, partly to be effective, and partly to transmit a healthy sense of calm to patients.

If this is true of staff who handle the deepest of emergencies, then it can be true for us when we face multiple demands.  We can retain enough peace of mind to handle things one at a time.  Nurses do not generally attend to two patients at once.  When they are with one, they are with one.  When with another, with another.  One thing at a time.  It’s practical, and caring, to live that way.

ATTEND TO ONE THING AT A TIME

If possible, attend to one task at a time.  This makes the best use of our minds, which seem to be built to attend to one thing at once.

If you have a queue of people needing your attention, it is still best, if you can, to attend to one person at once.  If you split your attention, you may find yourself unable to stay calm, because split attention causes irritation to our cognitive faculties, and our natural reaction is to be tempted to bark at others.  So attend to those you care about one at a time.  It will keep you calm, and conserve your energy.

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A MEDITATION

When things ‘kick off’, do I manage to stay peaceful?  Or do I find myself hyper-alert, hyper-reactive, and argumentitive even?  Would my judgement be better if I stayed quiet of mind?

Can I notice when things are seeming urgent?  Can I be like a nurse, attending to things patiently one at a time, listening to others, and doing what is necessary?

Am I able to do one thing at a time?  Perhaps I can test this out.  Perhaps I can give individuals good focus, one at a time.  It will need a bit of planning and skill, but it is better than trying to split my attention many ways, which would only upset me.

When things are difficult, can I use the single-pointed focus I develop in meditation, in order to care for others well, without losing energy or getting distracted?

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