I used to think that finding calmness in the chaos was impossible. I used to think there was a correlation between our physiology and our circumstances. I used to think a peaceful mind was the result of an easy life.
I find more and more that paradoxically the opposite to be true. I find that the people that have the most peace and calmness in their lives are the ones that have had to overcome the most adversity. I find that finding calm in the chaos is the path to resilience, and resilience is like a suit of armor against suffering.
As the ancient Buddhist proverb says, “Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.”
I find the greatest gift we can give ourselves when we are going through a challenge, stressful event, or personal chaos is to get back to the breath. Our breath directly effects our physiology. Typical breathing we do when we are under stress is short and shallow breathing. This breathing activates our sympathetic nervous system and drives us deeper into a state of stress. This detrimental feedback loop continues until we break it. A simple way to break it is to come back to our breath. Take deep and intentional belly breaths. This takes us out of sympathetic dominance and into the parasympathetic zone.
When we get back to our breath, it accomplishes 2 things:
Number one is it takes us out of sympathetic dominance and relaxes our physiology.
Number two is it breaks our focus on the challenge and centers us in a present state. It is impossible to focus on two things at once. When we think we are focusing on two things at once, what we are really doing is bouncing back and forth between the two so quickly it only seems like we are focusing on both at the same time.
For example, right now in your mind, I want you to describe the room you are located in vivid detail. At the same time, I want you to think of your “to do” list for the day.
Next time you’re going through a challenge and think there is no way out, get back to the breath.
As Albert Einstein said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking used when we created them.”
You still have to do the work, but this is a great start.
Dr. Matt Westheimer