The following meditation arose during a book group I and a colleague led discussing Brené Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection. In her chapter on cultivating calm and stillness, she defined calm as “creating perspective and mindfulness while managing emotional reactivity.” We thought it would be helpful to include an experiential exercise, and so I developed the following meditation.
As with many things, I think we often misunderstand concepts like calm, peace, stillness, and serenity as the absence of trouble. Instead, I think of all these things as emerging when we cultivate presence amidst our troubles.
Practicing calm and finding spaciousness is empowering and allows us to see possibilities where we might have only seen our worst fears. This practice helps us to be more pragmatic.
Some important caveats:
- This is harder for some of us than others, and the difficulty is particularly contingent on whether we have any sense of safety or stability in life. Find it, wherever that might be, and build upon it.
- At no point does this practice require dismissing the importance and reality of your troubles.
Calm is a surprisingly loaded word, as it is one often said to others as an order. “Calm down!” This is rarely helpful, often expressed in a way that’s dismissive. It is exceptionally unhelpful when what one really means is “I feel uncomfortable when you do or say that and I want you to stop.”
When we feel distressed, angry, or panicking, we instinctively want to pull others into our crisis and sometimes react very poorly to people who are able to keep themselves out of it and show calm. Yet we need that so much. It is a model and inspiration that helps us to disconnect from the panic and re-examine the conditions on the ground.
Emotions are contagious, and as a highly anxious person can stimulate anxiety around them, so too can a calm person help bring more calm to a situation, as Brown notes in the same chapter. When you feel a need to tell others to calm down, I invite you to practice calming yourself first.