Helping people find calm is a central part of my work. Finding relief from anxiety and stress, and tolerating the uncertainty of life, are the goals of many of my clients.
Lately, though, I’ve been wondering if calm is overrated.
This thought has been bouncing around my head since reading Irvin Yalom’s “Becoming Myself,” in which he gives voice to this idea. It’s a fabulous memoir by an author and psychiatrist whose work I am very fond of.
Dr Yalom describes his time at a meditation retreat in India in which he explored the experience of being in the present moment during long meditations. At the end of the chapter he summarizes that while meditation was beneficial for many of his peers, he preferred to follow the thoughts of his mind and very much enjoyed where his mind took him. Dr Yalom wondered if he could have produced his work had he not engaged so fully with his mental experiences.
Although I personally benefit from short mindfulness meditations, I agree with Dr Yalom. The full experience of life requires us to think and feel. If it is to be a rich and meaningful life, then we need to be open to the experience of all of the thoughts and feelings, not just the ones we prefer. Aiming to be anxiety or stress-free would require you to cut out many of the experiences in your life. It would be very restrictive because when you live to avoid unpleasant thoughts and feelings, there can be little excitement or spontaneity or other things that make life good and interesting. Perhaps we need the lows to appreciate the highs.
February has certainly been a testing month for me. I’ve had to live alongside a lot of emotions that are unpleasant. I’ve had numerous hassles from the administration side of my business which has forced me to tolerate the anxiety and frustration that comes with handing over the reins of this side of my business to someone else. I’ve also had some aggression directed my way which I chose to push back against. None of these situations set the scene for unwavering calm. I’m ok with that because:
- Sometimes you need to have anger to fight for what’s right
- Sometimes you have to feel the fear
- Sometimes you have to be willing to tolerate things you don’t like in order to get what you do want
- Sometimes you need to feel the pain of loss or betrayal
- Sometimes you need to trust even though it makes you feel vulnerable
- Sometimes you need to feel uncomfortable in order to experience growth
- Sometimes your mind will nag you to within an inch of yourself
Live your life without hiding from your thoughts and feelings. Unshakeable Calm happens when you allow yourself to make contact with all your feelings and thoughts, and by choosing what you respond to, not avoiding them all together.
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