Thursday, September 24, 2020

How to Calm DOWN When You Are Riled UP

The answer is right there in the terms we use to describe ourselves when we are upset or at ease. It is a matter of direction. 

A few days ago I had an appointment with someone who was coming to my house. The person didn’t arrive on time, and as the minutes ticked by, I became irritated. I texted her and didn’t receive an immediate response which irritated me even more. I kept going to the window to see if she had arrived and checking my phone to see if she had texted. My mind was spinning stories – judging her for being late, worried that it was I who had made a mistake about the time, and so on. I felt agitated and restless. My heart rate was up a bit. I felt disappointed and angry. 

I tried to think my way out of my distress. Maybe she was stuck somewhere and couldn’t get in touch. Even if she forgot, I have done the same on more than one occasion. Nothing terrible was happening. It would all sort itself out. That helped a little, but I was still unable to relax. I reflected on this a bit.

When we are upset or angry or agitated, our energy rises. Our breathing is shallow. Our weight shifts forward and upward. Our attention is in our heads. Our thoughts run amok, shouting stories about whatever has initiated our distress. We fuel the stories with fiery emotions. Or perhaps we try to douse the fire with other thoughts, which still keep us in our heads. 

So many terms identify this upward direction of energy. We get riled up, churned up, revved up, for example. Tempers rise. 

Other terms suggest a way to restore our inner equilibrium – calm down, settle down, slow down. The direction away from distress is downward. So how do we do that? Because we rely so much on our brains, our first instinct is to think our way out of a problem. However, thinking often is the problem. Our distress is in our thoughts. And while it is possible to think ourselves back into balance, a more direct way is to move out of our heads and down into our bodies.

So I did a simple exercise to bring my energy down. I inhaled and stood on my toes, raising my arms away from my body. I paused there a moment, then suddenly released my weight as I exhaled and dropped into my feet, letting my arms fall at the same time. I kept my knees relaxed so that when my heels hit the ground, there was a soft bounce, like I was shaking all the tension loose and letting it sink into the earth. 

On the third repetition, I felt an internal release and everything immediately relaxed. My body felt calm, my mind stopped chattering, my emotions settled. Equanimity was restored. Just like that. Only a few seconds. Not complicated. Simple. Effective. 

As I was marveling at the wisdom of my body, my friend texted. Indeed we had miscommunicated about the time. I’m not even sure which one of us was at fault, or indeed if there had been any fault at all. At that point it no longer mattered to me. We got together and had a good visit. 

At a time when many of us are feeling so much stress and anxiety, and other “up” emotions, this is a great exercise to help us stay balanced and grounded. Try it. I hope it’s helpful. 

Get yourself grounded and you can navigate even the stormiest roads in peace. ~Steve Goodier

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Embracing Yin

Summer is the season of pure yang energy. Its element is fire. Its organ is the heart. Yang energy is active, hot, rising, powerful. When someone is wildly successful, driving forward, dominating the competition, unstoppable, we might say, “Wow, she’s on fire!” 

Our western culture highly values yang energy. Idle hands do the devil’s work, make the most of every minute, increase productivity, we can rest when we’re dead, time is money, move up or move out – these are just a few familiar sayings that reflect this preference.

There is nothing inherently wrong with yang energy. On the contrary, it is a necessary and natural aspect of life’s rhythm and harmony. It is the manifesting energy of all creation. But it is not the only energy. Its complementary energy is yin. 

Yin is still, receptive, dark, nurturing. It is the womb from which creation emerges. It is the fertile earth. It is the energy of gathering, returning to the source, the energy of harvest. Its season is fall. 

This year in my area of the world, wildfires are racing across the land. Nature’s expression of yang energy is exploding with the hot dryness of a rainless summer, ignited in unstoppable fires scattered up and down the west coast. Smoke hangs thick over my house, keeping me inside, while friends not far away have had to abandon their homes to take refuge from the inferno.

We sometimes describe such fires as raging. I can’t help but wonder if these fires in particular, and global warming in general, aren’t reflections back to us of the imbalance we have created by such a devoted enslavement to yang energy. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the yin organ of fall is the lungs, the organ most directly vulnerable to the fire and smoke.

Nature seeks balance. First the pandemic kept us home, and now the smoke keeps us inside.*  Growing still, turning inward, where yin energy welcomes us, and encourages us to rest, to contemplate, to listen, to receive. The fires won’t last forever. Hopefully, neither will the pandemic. When we emerge on the “other side” of all this, may we find a more sustainable balance in our lives and in our world. 

*I write this post as one who has the luxury of sheltering in place, in a safe home with plenty of food and water, and lots of time to sit and wonder about the questions I raise here. This is not true for everyone. The circumstances that give me this opportunity for reflection call firefighters to the flame, risking their lives, and cause others to flee to safety, while volunteers step up to serve. Heroes of all kinds abound in crises such as the ones faced this year with the pandemic and the fires. I am not one of them, and I am humbly grateful to those who are.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 74

If people are not afraid of death                                                            How can death be used to threaten them

These opening lines remind me of the story of the monk who was threatened by a marauding soldier with a sword. When the monk sat there calmly, the solder yelled, “Aren’t you afraid? Don’t you know I can run you through with this sword without blinking an eye?” 

The monk replied, “Don’t you know I can be run through with your sword without blinking an eye?” At the point, so the story goes, the soldier released his sword and dropped to his knees, begging to be the monk’s disciple.

The chapter goes on to say that if people are afraid of death, they act out of fear. To put it another way, they are no longer in alignment with the natural flow of energy in the universe. They are no longer acting in harmony with all of creation. Acts of fear are often attempts to control our circumstances or other people. They are often met with resistance as fearful people vie for the upper hand, the classic power struggle. 

The chapter finishes by observing that those with the upper hand then use their power to force others into compliance. This is not the way of nature. It is like trying to usurp nature’s power, or, to put it in other terms, it is like playing God. 

And, as many of us have learned in our lives, such attempts often backfire, bringing more harm than good to all concerned. 

Whenever I find myself in an anxious or fearful state, my first impulse is to try to control something or someone in order to relieve my own distress. I can usually find some justification, for example, thinking that circumstances or someone left me no choice. I can usually find some pure motivation, for example, thinking that I am improving the situation or helping someone. But really, if I’m honest, I’m trying to make myself feel better or safer or happier. 

And how does that work for me? Hmm, usually not so great because I’m basing my sense of well being on things I can’t really control, like circumstances and other people. So even if I get relief in the immediate situation, the underlying impermanence of, well, everything, leaves me on some level still unsettled. 

What if, instead, I addressed the underlying root of all my unease – fear. What if I made my peace with the fluid movement of all creation, always changing, always manifesting and returning in cyclic rhythm. What if I found this natural energy wondrously magnificent instead of scary and threatening. What if I allowed it to move freely in me and through me, and gave up the exhausting and futile quest to be in charge of everything and everyone. 

Might be worth exploring....

A moment of Radical Acceptance is a moment of genuine freedom. ~Tara Brach

PS -- As an example, I continue to struggle with the new Blogger interface. I just spent 20 minutes trying to get things spaced the way I wanted. Hmm, perhaps I need to practice some radical acceptance....

Friday, September 4, 2020

Entering the In Between


Arising in darkness

As summer's light fades

Entering the in between

Where mystery beckons