Tag Archives: calm

Not seeking calm

There are times when being calm is good – most especially when trying to go to sleep! Otherwise, I find it a state of questionable value. It has some value around meditation, but it’s not a very meaningful state to be in.

I find I am generally at my most calm when I’m depressed. It’s a state of disinterest, and unfeeling response to the living world around me. It’s not a state of wanting to move towards anything, nor one of wanting to let anything in. I see a lot of content online preaching about the desirability of calm, and I find I disagree.

There are states of being that I want to cultivate in myself. These are ways of being in the world that enrich my life and that open me to good things. Existing in a state of gentle curiosity is good. That opens me to experiences, to the alternative perspectives of other people and to investing care and attention in whatever is around me. 

I find it helps to cultivate a state of openness-to-joy. That’s not a toxic positivity that denies a whole array of feelings and experiences. It’s about being open to the small joys and beauties that can be overlooked if I’m not careful. Actively seeking that kind of joy definitely helps.

I’m also trying to cultivate compassion and tenderness. This will make me open to pain and distress whenever I encounter suffering. I do not want to ignore the distress and suffering of other beings, and I want to meet that with the best I can bring. A tender state means I will experience pain, but I can respond to it in useful ways.

I think part of the problem here is that we’re being offered a binary – stress or calm. The idea that being calm is the right response to everything only makes sense when that state is set up in opposition to stress. Calm isn’t the only state you can start from. A gentle, open, engaged response to the world can be full of feeling, it can bubble with the potential for excitement, and delight, and at the same time be open to facing the difficult things.

Quietening the inner chatter

It’s one of the most reliable assumptions in meditation – that inner chat is a bad thing and we must make it shut up in order to do the good and worthwhile spiritual stuff. It’s an approach that I bought into myself, and it is there in my Druidry and Meditation book. (On the whole, I still think it’s a decent book and worth your while, but there’s so much I’ve learned since I wrote it. Perhaps one day, a sequel…)

What is that inner chatter? I’ve started listening to it when I sit or lie down to contemplate. It isn’t empty noise. It is things I’m trying to figure out, worries, things I am keeping track of, stuff I must remember to do. It’s fragments of observation and making sense of things, feelings and memories. The noise in my head is my life. Sometimes there isn’t so much noise – this is the case when I’m on top of things, and have done my processing and got to grips with everything. A long walk will often enable me to achieve such a state.

That noise does get in the way of meditation and spiritual work. However, I’m increasingly convinced that methods for shutting it up aren’t the right way to go. This isn’t irrelevant or nonsense. This is the stuff of day to day existence. Squashing it just leaves it undealt with, festering, bubbling away in the background. Some practices encourage you to notice and let go, but this also treats the thoughts as not so useful or relevant.

What I’ve been doing for some time now is sitting with my thoughts, noticing them, letting them run and finding out what they are. Often it’s just the case that I need time to work a few things through. There are feelings I need to digest, experiences I need to make sense of. Once I’ve got that, the brain noise eases naturally and I can move on to something else if I need to.

Dealing with what’s in my head improves my mental health. Ignoring and suppressing my thoughts increases my overall stress. Taking my thoughts seriously improves my self esteem and listening to my own thinking enables me to take better care of myself. Acknowledging problems and dealing with them is better for my spiritual work as well because it frees up more brain space and energy.

I do have an obsessive mind, and I can run round in anxious circles. I can become focused on worry about the future and grief about the past in all the ways meditation is supposed to free us from. However, my present moment experience is shaped by the past, and informed by where I think I’m going, and to deny either seems ill advised, to me. I have a relationship with time that is not purely linear, and where any moment of experience is held in relation to other moments, past and future. I’ve found it is more useful to recognise this and work within it. I do not calm obsessive thinking by trying to suppress it, I am more able to scale it down by entering it deliberately, making time and space for it, and finding out what I need.

Too often we’re sold the practice of meditation based on the idea that we are not good enough and need fixing or improving. This is in-line with how capitalist advertising frightens us and makes us feel insufficient so that we buy more stuff. We need to get this kind of thought-invasion out of our heads and reclaim our minds and lives. So, if how meditation is pitched to you makes you feel inadequate, the problem isn’t you. Meditation is something to enjoy and to feel relaxed about – it should feel spacious, generous, and uplifting. If you have to beat yourself up a bit to do it, you’ve been miss-sold. What you may well need is more time for self care, rather than more discipline.

The quest for peace

I’ve blogged before about my anxiety issues, which have been with me for some considerable period now. However, the last few weeks of my life have brought a new development into the mix. I’m experiencing periods – sometimes hours long – of euphoria and a tremendous sense of inner peace. This, I am tremendously grateful for. However, it is in the nature of me to think about everything, to want to understand what is happening. After all, if I can unravel where this oasis of calm has come from, I might better be able to maintain it.

I think there are a number of strands to this. Firstly is, as previously commented, the strange, amorphous anxiety I live with has everything to do with reasons for fear having become normal in my life. There’s been a huge shift on that score. Emotionally, physically and psychologically I am very much safer these days. Home life is not fraught with tension and arguments, but is instead warm, companionable and supportive. Most days, nothing scary happens. And so by slow degrees fear has become less normal and happiness more so. I think somewhere in the last few weeks the balance tipped. My sense of normal is all about the life I now have, finally. Not being told off, not facing anger, not having to continually justify myself, makes a lot of difference.

I’ve taken up being gentler with myself, too – a deliberate move prompted in part by advice from my counsellor last year. I don’t push continually beyond the boundaries of my exhaustion. It helps a lot that I now have the support to rest when ill, to take it easy when tired and to take time off. And again, feeling more secure makes it easier to give time to myself.

I sleep more – because I give myself the time, because I am relaxed when I go to bed, I have nothing specifically to be anxious about in bed, so sleeping comes easily. If I do wake up in a state of panic – it still happens- there is someone lovely to curl up against. Often I’m the first to wake in the mornings, and when the day’s anxiety rush has passed, I’m overwhelmed by a sense of gratitude, and on some days the decadent pleasure of lying in as late as 8am, in good company.

Being valued by the people around me, has done a lot to ease my anxieties about myself, and to help me build a new sense of who I am, and my place in the world. This in turn contributes to my sense of calm. I do not need to prove anything, so much, these days. I am not short of friendly attention, I’m with someone who enjoys what I do. Pretty much all of it. That makes it far easier for me to enjoy what I do, too. And here again, this process of acceptance makes me feel more able to accept myself. It is not easy to be free from inner conflict when the external world is conflict laden. External peace makes it a lot easier to cultivate inner peace. Of course, inner peace that depend on a calm external reality is a partial sort of thing, and for best effect I need to be able to hold my calm optimism even in face of adversity, but that could well come, in time.

There was a time when I could not imagine feeling whole in myself. A time when I could not imagine being free from fear. That seems a long way behind me now. I got this far in no small part because other people did not give up on me, and did not let me crumble entirely into despair. And also because all the way through, I have dared to hope that maybe there was a possibility things could get better. Sustaining hope can be very hard work indeed.

I am full of gratitude for the small things, the little acts of warmth, compassion and kindness that crop up every day. The smallest beauties, the little moments of good fortune. And I know how to laugh at the setbacks. I’m writing this blog on a train station, because we got stuck behind a funeral, a tractor and a bus, and missed the one we were aiming for. It’s a small set back. A chance to linger longer, and I bought a book. I’m getting better at seeking out the silver linings and life is getting better at presenting them.

I’m going to blog more at some point about the relationship between the experience of slowing down, and the quest for inner peace, because that’s too huge a topic to cover in this round. As I type, the sun has just peeked out from behind the clouds again. The air smells of rain. My child is ambling about doing nothing in particular, my bloke appears to be deep in contemplation. I draw a deep breath. This is my life. My real life. The one I have. It is the life I want, and I’ve been a long time finding it, but ye gods I am glad that I did not give up.