A Peaceful Place In The Storm – How To Stay Calm When Life Isn’t
No matter what is happening in the world around us, it is never necessary to become stuck in depression, fear or other negativity. We are not the victims of the world we see, but have the ability to mobilize ourselves and create a positive, life giving response. There are simple steps to take and truths to know, which when absorbed and practiced easily turn our state of mind around – and can effect the world outside as well.
Depression and fear can easily become addictive. The longer we stay in those states of mind, the more difficult it can become to leave them. Our world grows smaller, our focus constricts, and we begin to develop catastrophic expectations which seem inevitable. In this process we lose touch with the power of our own true nature to choose, decide, renew, and to take actions which counteract the negativity that has been presented to us. In fact, it is the responsibility of every mature adult, to take the reins of his/her life back in her hands and steer it in the direction of her own choosing. This takes courage and practice, but with the tools of Centering it is easy to do. The more we do it, the stronger we grow, and the more we can see negativity for what it is, a shadow of our real selves, with no intrinsic power of its own, other than that which we give it.
The practice of Centering is ancient and has many forms and components. All exercise, martial arts and forms of meditation and prayer are ways to achieve centering and balance in the truth of who we are. They are ways of tapping into the fundamental strength and wisdom all individuals are endowed with. In Zen they say, “Open the treasure house within.” This reminds us that we are endowed with gifts which are far greater than we currently realize or employ. When we integrate Centering with psychological practice, we develop an entirely different way of working with the pain, confusion and difficult relationships that most individuals find themselves in. In this article, two Centering practices will be offered. While both are simple, they are very powerful. When either of them is taken on and practiced daily, changes will soon be seen.
We are what we think about. Morita, a Japanese psychiatrist, the founder of Morita Therapy, states that all neurosis comes from frozen attention that has gotten stuck and fixed upon recurring negative thoughts. In the West we call this obsession. In the world of Zen, this condition is described as being in the grip of one’s ego, pre-occupied by self centered thoughts. The more we give attention to that which is destructive, the more strength it has to rule our lives. This can be counteracted rather easily.
Take back your attention.
Do not let it be absorbed by all that is presented to it. The power of focus is the power of life. Spend time each day developing focus and concentration. This is also called meditation. Withdraw yourself from the chaotic external world for a period of time each day, and pull your attention back within. Sit with a straight back, do not move and concentrate upon your breath. Let random thoughts come and go. Do not suppress them, but do not let them grab your attention away. (At first you may be besieged by many surprising thoughts and feelings, but if you simply notice them and then return your attention to your breathing, these will soon die down).
Count your breath from one to ten, then all over again. Do this for at least ten to fifteen minutes without moving. By not moving we are stopping what is called the monkey mind, the mind which jumps from one thing to the next, fears, demands, grabs and sabotages our lives. It is the monkey mind which causes our sorrow and fear. But it is only a part of us, it cannot take over our lives, when we take our attention back. By doing this daily, we are strengthening new parts of ourselves which can guide and lead us in a new direction, one of meaning, and well being.
When concentration grows, do this practice for a little longer. Soon we will not be able to be without this time in the silence. From the silence comes all kinds of treasures, including healing of our minds and hearts.
This wonderful time spent with oneself is a simple way to attain perspective, become able to see clearly and be planted in the larger truth. We do not become so carried away by momentary problems or feel as vulnerable anymore. This time becomes a fortification against many storms which naturally besiege us. We develop a place within ourelves to which we can always return, for wisdom, strength and comfort. When we allow the external world to consume us, we are simply giving our natural treasures away.
Centering is different than conventional models of treating psychological problems. Here we focus upon the strengths, not the weaknesses. We find the health of the individual and encourage that to grow. Little by little the illness and fear is no longer needed and drops away by itself. This model by-passes the illusions that grip us. It gives them no credence at all. Rather than struggle to analyze and undo our patterns, we work directly with our attention. The question before us always is: What am I focussing on this moment? Am I present to the breathing, or lost somewhere in a dream, dwelling upon the pains and wrongs I think have others have done me, or the terrible things that can happen someday?
Reality continually renews and confronts us with new tasks, challenges, opportunities and solutions, day after day. Are we in touch with this ever flowing reality? Are we asking ourselves what is available now, what gifts we are receiving and what we can give to others, or are we dwelling upon how wronged, threatened or deprived we’ve always been? By taking our attention off our toxic inner dialogue, and focusing upon what is before us, right now, we directly interfere with the habitual patterns that are the primary cause of our suffering.
As we do this faithfully, the second step of Centering appears. At a certain moment we become aware that depression and gratitude, or the willingness to be of service, cannot co-exist in the same person at the same time. When we are totally absorbed with our own safety, security or well being, our natural life force and ability to live fulfilling lives becomes blocked When our focus and life are primarily self absorbed, revolving around self centered dreams, what we are needing and what others are thinking of us, we live in a prison without bars. Any insult, real or imagined, can become the cause of great pain, resulting in withdrawal and retreat into fantasies. Underlying feelings of worthlessness emerge, producing additional depression, hostility and stress.
In Centering we change our focus to all that we are receiving, what others need, what we can give, what has to be done, moment by moment, person by person. And then we do it. We take action. We do not hesitate. When our focus is put upon simple daily actions, and upon doing “deeds of service,” the monkey mind is dismantled and passing emotions do not take center stage.
As we Center we learn to do each action with full attention, (no matter how small or large). We do not dwell upon the outcome. Our joy and satisfaction comes from acting with a whole heart and mind. Results and consequences are secondary, and take care of themselves. When we are not absorbed by concern for outcomes, how much anxiety can we ever have?
The medicine Centering offers is simple and direct. It has no negative side effects and the more one takes it the sweeter it tastes. As we learn to do each task wholeheartedly, we then naturally evolve into doing “deeds of worth”.
The most powerful antidote to psychological suffering is an individual’s sense of self worth. This does not come about through artificially boosting self esteem, but as a result of living a life worthy of respect. Each individual must make a personal alignment between their daily actions and their highest values. In this way, each one learns to build a life that ennobles them, and is of natural service to others as well.
As we become more and more available to the present moment, we become occupied with that which is valuable, and life giving. Not only does our resourcefulness increase, but our responses become fitting and appropriate to whatever it is that is needed. In this manner we can best handle any difficult situation and give what is needed to all. Not only does life feel like a gift we are constantly receiving, but we become a gift to life as well.