I have this great little wooden sign on the windowsill of my office that says “Create Your Own Calm”. It can be hard sometimes to feel calm during times of turmoil. Most of us go around juggling a certain number of balls, but then life can throw you a curve ball out of the blue that threatens to bring them all crashing down on your head! Or at least it feels that way. For me, there is a certain amount of bandwidth that is taken up by the day-to-day responsibilities, and when I am forced to allocate my energy to additional situations, it can feel like my attention is all over the place, giving me a feeling of unsettled chaos. Whether that attention is on corona virus, or other major life events, like a move, the loss of a job, an unexpected illness of a friend or family member, it can leave you swirling in a cloud of mental chaos. When we’re not in control, the brain has a tendency to race ahead, playing out all sorts of scenarios and “what ifs”. This can happen to me too, but I’ve found some tricks that really help to reign it in when the storm clouds like to gather in my mind.
Trick #1: Tap Into Your Senses.
One terrific grounding exercise to focus the attention on the here and now, is to engage the five senses. I often do this while taking a walk. It gives me a chance to breathe in the cool fresh air, feel the breeze on my face, and absorb the warm rays of sun on my skin. I use the power of sight to notice the little things around me: the buds on the trees, the blades of grass, and the colors around me. I listen to music to lift my mood, or sometimes, just listen to the sounds of the birds around me. Occasionally, there may even be a scent in the air. Perhaps I catch a hint of a burning wood from a nearby chimney. Focusing attention on the physical environment around us is a powerful mindfulness technique that helps calms the mind and stop the swirling thoughts.
Trick# 2: Let the Thoughts Go
In the meditation world, there is an emphasis on clearing the mind and letting the thoughts just pass on by. They are, after all, just thoughts. It’s a way for our mind to make sense of the world around us. But, remember this: our thoughts can affect our feelings and actions, and we can control our thoughts. We can choose to think different thoughts. We can choose to take a step back and let our thoughts float on by without becoming attached to them.
Here’s an example of an exercise I did today while on my walk: I visualized my thoughts being attached to a little card. I then tied the card to a balloon and let it float away. As each new thought entered my mind, I tied it to a balloon and released it. As each one floated away, so did the heaviness in my mind.
Trick #3: Gratitude
Despite the risk of sounding cliche there is a role for gratitude in the battle against overwhelm. As we master the previous trick of controlling our thoughts, we can choose to think thoughts of “what if” or thoughts of “I’m so grateful that…”
This morning as I pounded the pavement and took time to fill my lungs rhythmically with the clean, fresh air, I reminded myself of how glad I was to have a sunny day. That it was warm enough to walk. That I could get out of my house. That I wasn’t feeling ill. That none of my family was feeling ill. That my legs were strong and able to carry me. That my shoes were comfortable. And so on. The more I thought about what was going well, the less I thought about “what if”.
“What if” falls under that big umbrella of Worry. I once heard a phrase that stuck with me that said, “Worrying is like praying for something you don’t want to happen”. So if that is true, let’s focus on what we do want, and be grateful for what we have and are doing right so far.
Trick #4: Peaceful Mantras
I’m a big fan of listening to guided meditations. Especially 10 minute meditations. I love the variety of what I might listen to: from breathing exercises, to guided visualizations, to mantras, sleep meditations, and so on. A mantra, was explained to me as a word or phrase that you repeat in your mind to help you focus.
The other morning, I was listening to a guided Peloton meditation by Aditi Shah. (By the way, some of the best meditations I have ever done are available on the Peloton app). During this particular meditation, Aditi repeated this same phrase over and over and it gave me such peace that I’d like to share it with you:
May you be safe from inner and outer harm.
May you always remember your infinite power to heal.
May you be strong in mind, body and spirit.
May you always remember we belong to one another.
That is my wish for you, my friend. As we all have times of turmoil in our lives, let us remember that peace is found from within. You can create your own calm. You get to choose what you focus your attention on. Go in peace.
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