Hi There!

Welcome to my island of sanity and serenity. I'm Sandra Pawula - writer, mindfulness teacher and advocate of ease. I help deep thinking, heart-centered people find greater ease — emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Curious? Read On!

How to Reclaim Your Calm When Life Feels Chaotic

How to Reclaim Your Calm When Life Feels Chaotic

Do you long for equanimity? I do, but these days I find calm hard to come by.  The world around me, right now, teems with anxiety, anger, and fear, which understandably stirs me up too.

For example, I embroiled myself in a contentious debate on the internet yesterday morning.  An hour later, my acupuncturist told me my liver meridian, the one associated with anger, displayed signs of imbalance — partially acute, partially chronic.

The body doesn’t lie, does it?  While you might charge forward to your next activity, unless processed, anger can penetrate and accumulate in your physical being.

My acupuncturist also inserted needles into lung points to help me recover from a lingering cold.  When he left the room for a short time, tears streamed from the corners of my eyes.  The lungs relate to grief.  On the surface, I felt sad to have wasted time in angry affairs on the internet. From underneath, a deeper grief that’s been haunting me for a good part of the year released itself as well.

Almost 24 hours later, the time it takes for the “chi,” life force energy, to circulate through all your meridians, invisible energetic pathways in the body, an unbounded joy pervaded my being.  I delighted in the wide open sensations that came along with it.

All this reminded me of the indivisible connection between mind, body, and feelings, and how it might not be easy to uproot emotions that have taken up residence in one’s being.

But I don’t want to constantly bounce around from anger to grief to joy to whatever other emotion wants to capture me on any particular day.  So I wonder, “Is it possible to find a more lasting equanimity?”

What Is Equanimity?

Equanimity means the ability to stay calm, composed, and centered, especially when people or circumstances around you prove difficult.  Thich Nhat Hanh says you’re not disturbed inside when you’re “silent,” another way to define calm:

Silence is something that comes from your heart, not from outside.  Silence doesn’t mean not talking and not doing things; it means that you are not disturbed inside.  If you’re truly silent, then no matter what situation you find yourself in your can enjoy the silence.

This is precisely what I want.  But I know this quote describes a person who has dedicated many years to spiritual practice.  To be realistic, I think it best to aim for “more” equanimity rather than set an unrealistic expectation for unending calm.

6 Ways to Reclaim Your Calm

To achieve greater equanimity, I need to recalibrate my life.  These are some of the adjustments I might make.

Soothe strong emotions, reduce the stress they bring + reclaim your inner calm. #calm #keepcalm #calmdown #innerpeace #mindfulness

1. Avoid people and situations that trigger you.

Why enter into contentious situations again and again?  If you cannot agree with someone else, agree to disagree and disengage.  Remove yourself from combative situations when possible.

Once you’ve developed a firmer sense of equanimity, you may be able to remain unperturbed in difficult situations.  You may even be able to bring humor, spaciousness, and harmony into a conflict.

If you enter into conflictual situations prematurely, however, you’ll just re-trigger and reinforce negative emotions again and again, making them grow stronger instead of weakening them.

Know yourself and your capacity, and adjust your life accordingly.  For now, I’m spending less time in contentious online groups.  I don’t jump onto the internet first thing in the morning.  Instead, I focus on practices that strengthen my equanimity.

Although avoidance helps to a certain degree, I don’t recommend trying to create a permanent “happy bubble” by removing all difficult people from your life.  That’s impossible anyway, annoying people tend to filter back in, and you wouldn’t necessarily grow without any provocation whatsoever.

In this piece, I look at "difficult people" from a different perspective:  Difficult People:  Love Them, Don't Reject Them.  It's not that one approach is right and the other is wrong.  It's a matter of knowing and respecting you're own capacity.

2.  Harmonize your mind and body.

I can’t go to acupuncture everyday, but I can “hold my fingers.”

According to the ancient art of Jin Shin Jyutsu, you can harmonize your emotions and nourish your body by holding each of your fingers in sequence.  This is a subtle yet powerful self-help approach I’ve personally used to great effect for many years.

Each finger is associated with an attitude or emotion - worry, fear, anger, sadness, or trying to (pretense) - which can imbalance a corresponding function and organ system via the subtle energy channels that invisibly course through your body.  And vice-versa, when a particular organ system functions at less than optimal, the corresponding emotion can be heightened.

You can find greater balance and thus more calm by holding each finger for a few minutes in succession each day.  The entire practice takes about 10-15 minutes.  I find this practice incredibly relaxing so it can serve as a good antidote to stress too.

You can also hold a finger whenever a troubled emotion arises.  When anger, worry, or any other emotion appears, wherever you might be, hold the corresponding finger and breathe.

Learn the practice here:  A Simple Way to Balance Your Emotions and Revitalize Your Body.  Try it out and let me know how it works for you.

3.  Calm your restless mind.

This busy modern world agitates our minds.  So many people encounter restlessness in their body or mind when they try to sit quietly or meditate.  Your mind races, you can’t get comfortable, or you feel compelled to jump up and get back into action.

Generally, the remedy for restlessness in meditation is discipline. Instead of reacting to restlessness by leaping up, you simply notice it.  By doing this, again and again, at least for some of us, restlessness loses its power.

But the practice of discipline doesn’t work for everyone. That’s because, for many of us, both the physical and the subtle body are disturbed in a fundamental way, which creates an agitated mind that just won’t relax.

You can calm this restless mind by using a method called “vase breathing.”  If you find it impossible to sit quietly or meditation seems out of reach, you may need to take this step first.

Learn the practice here:  How to Overcome Restlessness in Meditation and in Life.

4.  Try mindfulness meditation

Mindfulness meditation brings greater calm.  In fact, traditionally, mindfulness meditation is called “peacefully remaining”  or “calm abiding.”

When you start to learn mindfulness meditation, it can seem like you have more thoughts than ever before.  But that’s just because you’re paying attention for the first time.

The purpose of mindfulness meditation isn’t to eliminate thoughts or emotions altogether, but simply to notice them without following up with more thoughts or drama.  Some good things happen when you quietly observe your mind in meditation without reacting to every passing thought:

  • Gradually, the thoughts and emotions slow down.

  • You notice there’s more space between you and the thoughts and emotions.

  • You begin to see the transitory nature of thoughts and emotions.

  • You realize you have the ability to sit still and watch, as the emotions pass and lose their power.

  • You feel less disturbed by your thoughts and emotions.

  • You feel less compelled to act on thoughts and emotions.

That is equanimity, isn't it?

In time, the strength you develop watching your own mind begins to transfer to everyday situations.  Instead of reacting to other peoples’ opinions, stories, or dramas, you gradually learn to stay centered in yourself.  In the beginning, of course you get caught in emotions and stories again and again.  But slowly, you have one success, then another, then another, until equanimity becomes the norm rather than the exception.

While mindfulness, once developed, can bring calm for long stretches at a time, it’s not a 100% cure.  If you have a glass of muddy water and leave it alone, the mud will settle to the bottom of the glass.  But once you stir it, the mud will disperse throughout the water once again.

That's how mindfulness works.  It calms the mind and can help heal some of our reactive patterns. But it doesn’t eradicate all of them.  We might be calmer than ever, but as soon as someone or something hits certain triggers, emotions can rise again.

Mindfulness is the first step in meditation, but you need to go further if you want to uproot your emotional tendencies altogether.

Here are my best tips of mindfulness meditation:  21 Meditation Tips You Need to Know As a Beginner

5. Find calm through insight.

Insight has a particular and profound meaning in meditation that’s beyond the scope of this piece.  We can however consider how ordinary insight can help us transform unhealthy patterns and thus find greater equanimity.

When someone ticks you off, instead of focusing on that person, look at your own tendencies instead.

  • What are you feeling?

  • Why are you feeling this way?

  • Are your thoughts about this making you happy or causing you suffering?

  • Does how you feel relate to an early experience in your life?

  • Do you feel threatened? Why is that?

  • Is this a repeating pattern in your relationships?

  • Is your shadow side reacting?

To find a more lasting equanimity, you need to systematically erase the imprints from the past that dictate your emotional responses and keep you small and limited.  These imprints arose from moments of humiliation, abandonment, rejection and similar shocks as a child.

In response to these emotional traumas, children begin to conform to external expectations, losing their self, their center, and their spontaneity.  A child typically responds in one of three ways:  through obedience, rebellion, or indifference.  Which one resonates for you?

The spiritual teacher Sri Prem Baba explains,

For one can only find freedom when one frees oneself form the dependence created by having to please the other. By freeing ourselves from this dependence, we develop equanimity.  We will then remain unshakable in the face of whatever may happen externally.  We remain the same, not because we are numb or indifferent to our circumstances, but because we have found our center.  We turned inwards and discovered our own being:  we found the source of consciousness.

We need to go beyond obedience, rebellion, and indifferent, and begin to listen to and follow our own heart.

6. Listen to spiritual teachings.

The modern world does not encourage a spiritual view.  Instead, you’re pressured to buy more, secure your personal position, and defend yourself.

Spiritual teachings, on the other hand, urge us to cultivate peace, compassion and wisdom.  They remind us of the bigger perspective.  This life goes by in the blink of an eye, doesn't it.   Will we spend it quarreling or will we choose equanimity and an open heart?

To help me stay centered in a spiritual perspective amidst all the turbulence, I regularly read or listen to spiritual teachings. Rigpa now I'm reading to From Suffering to Joy, The Path of the Heart and A Mind At Home With Itself, How Asking the Four Question Can Free Your Mind, Open Your Heart, and Turn Your World Around. {affiliate links}

The Desire for Calm Isn't Selfish

When you strengthen your equanimity, you will naturally be averse to harming others and more easily act out of compassion.  It’s not selfish to cultivate equanimity, it’s a win-win for everyone.  But it does require dedicated practice.

Take a moment now and consider what you would be willing to do to function with a greater evenness of mind.  Look through the six practices I’ve shared and see which ones resonate for you.  You can’t necessarily do them all without overwhelming yourself, but you can begin or recommit with one step.  Which will you choose?

Does equanimity come easily for you?  What’s one step you would like to take to cultivate greater equanimity.  I would love to hear in the comments.

Thank you for your presence, I know your time is precious!  Don’t forget to  sign up for Wild Arisings, my twice monthly letters from my heart filled with insights, inspiration, and ideas to help you connect with and live from your truest self. May you be happy, well, and safe – always.  With love, Sandra

17 Powerful Byron Katie Quotes That Will Nourish Your Soul

17 Powerful Byron Katie Quotes That Will Nourish Your Soul

33 Powerful Morning Mantras That Will Transform Your Day

33 Powerful Morning Mantras That Will Transform Your Day