Always Well Within

Calm Your Mind, Ease Your Heart, Embrace Your Inner Wisdom

How to Reclaim Your Calm When Life Feels Chaotic

Reclaim Your Inner Calm

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 my e-letter and get access to all the free self-development resources (e-books, mini-guides + worksheets) in the Always Well Within Library. May you be happy, well, and safe – always.  With love, Sandra

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16 Comments

  1. Your visit to the acupuncturist was such an interesting read. I also find it synchronistic that I have also just posted on how emotional pain could be related to physical symptoms. Nice! Yes I like the idea of maintaining a state of balanced awareness. Tip #5 is a great one!

    • I’m glad you enjoyed my musings on the acupuncture visit. I think there’s a lot there, actually, in consider the subtle levels we’re working with. I love synchronicity too.

  2. With all that is going on in the world these days, we need tools more than ever, to help us stay calm and centered. “Why enter into contentious situations again and again?” is a great question to ask ourselves no matter what the situation. Trying new approaches and ways to soothe ourselves can help change your life for the better. Thanks Sandra for this uplifting post.

    • You’re welcome, Cathy. I’m glad you enjoyed it. The world is quite crazy right now, isn’t it. We definitely need to bring ourselves back to center again and again as it’s so easy to get swept away.

  3. Interesting you should be writing about contentious situations Sandra…I’m pretty good at ignoring things on the internet, but and it’s a big but…I find if I spend too much time focusing on the challenges the world and the country face I have contentious inner conversations!

    I caught myself doing this today and realised once again I was immersing myself in things that definitely don’t lead to equanimity!

    The good news are two words I pay a lot of attention to. Awareness and Practice. I’m grateful for the awareness of what isn’t giving peace and happiness and then I can follow a practice that leads me out of the weeds into a sunnier happier place.

    I definitely will be choosing one of your practices to add to my own. I’m grateful you wrote about this today. It’s a good reminder for me. 🙂

    • Interesting, Elle. So good you are seeing this. Our inner dialogue influences us so strongly, doesn’t it. Awareness is the key, isn’t it. And when we remember it’s a practice, it takes the stress and expectations off.

  4. I try not to even engage in discussions about anything pertinent on the internet. I find it just drains my time and is pointless. Sorry, you got sucked in. It happens to all of us.

    I love your list of adjustments. I meditate daily. Don’t think I could survive without it. I find that avoiding triggers is an effective preventative strategy. When I find myself triggered by something, insight, working with my thoughts, judgments, and beliefs always helps.

    • Hi Debbie,

      This is a conversation with friends, and it’s an unsettling experience for us. I think it would be much easier for me to remove myself from other types of conversations on the internet! But still, even with friends (or former friends), I need to draw the line somewhere. You have a good trilogy of practices there!

  5. Oh Sandra this is amazing how when we step away from “calm” the body steps in to compensate.
    No one resintes for me and something I consciously do these days even on the net xxx

  6. What a great list. Every method of regaining calm is a lifetime practice in itself. This morning, two stood out to me.

    1. Removing triggers. I go through periods of watching too much news. (Sometimes any news is too much news!) Even though I am aware of how toxic this is for me, I still do it. When I’m at my cabin and unable to connect by phone or internet, I never miss it. I feel my spirit cleansed and refreshed by the pure nature all around me.

    5. Insight. I spent the day yesterday participating in interviews for a new executive director for a nonprofit. One applicant stood out to me by saying that when he was dealing with a difficult person, he paused to ask himself why he reacted to the person in that way. He looked inside himself for insight about his own perspective and how he might change his approach with the person to facilitate better understanding and communication. I was impressed!

    All good suggestions, Sandra. I’m going to go practice some meditation right now!

    • Dear Galen,

      Your cabin is a God-send, isn’t it! Plus, you have the courage to actually go there and take space. I admire you for that.

      That person is an amazing inspiration. I hope to follow his example, pause, and look within more myself.

  7. Great list! 🙂

  8. Very Nice Blog…Thanks for sharing this information with us. Here am
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  9. Dear Sandra

    I just found your blog and wanted to say how much I’m enjoying reading your posts. Thanks for banging the drum for happiness — it really matters!

    Cheers

    Adam

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