Water rained through the ceiling, causing a small lake on the kitchen floor.
The guest room toilet broke.
My car battery died.
A key workshop leader canceled due to illness.
Yikes!!! Chaos!!! All within 24 hours, JUST as I prepared to welcome, host, and lead 27 women for a spiritual renewal weekend in Cape May, New Jersey. The weekend theme was timely: “Balance for the Autumn Equinox Through Mind, Body, and Spirit.” Balance needed, please!
The most important thing about being a leader of people, families, and organizations, I’ve learned, is being inwardly prepared. If you can stay calm, you can respond thoughtfully rather than react erratically. Calm and chaos are both contagious. I wanted calm. Read on to discover tools for you to remain calm and balanced in the face of stress.
Back to the turmoil that threatened to overwhelm me.
Breathing in, I said these words: Beneath the chaos, there is a calm, loving center. Breathing out, I repeated them…again, again, again.
Gradually, I relaxed. It was going to be okay.
Going into the weekend, I had felt off my game. My foot was still painful from a nasty sprain a few weeks earlier, and I was wearing a clunky walking boot that slowed me down, especially as I navigated the many stairs. Let’s add that to the above list of stressors. With all there was to do, it was excruciating to move so slowly.
The forced slowness turned into a blessing, however. Needing to pace myself and take breaks, I spent more time in quiet meditation and prayer than is typical. I sought to tap into the loving, calm core that exists within me, and indeed, exists in each of us. I wrote these words in my journal: Beneath the chaos, there is a calm, loving center.
When the barrage of tiny disasters occurred, I felt bombarded. But at the same time, I remained calm and centered, and I sensed a loving presence sustaining me. It was quite remarkable! I was smiling and joyful too!
Every day, the chaos of unexpected events threatens to overwhelm us. It doesn’t need to win. We have choices.
Science reveals a practice that can bring us calm in the storm: the relaxation response. In his now-famous studies at Harvard Medical School in the early 1970s, Dr. Herbert Benson demonstrated that you can reduce stress throughout your body by breathing slowly and repeating a word, phrase, or prayer that gives you a sense of comfort. His landmark findings have been expanded and incorporated into medicine, business, psychotherapy, and thankfully, every day living. Practiced over time, this simple practice can produce healing of mind, body, and spirit. Check out Dr. Benson’s findings in his classic book, The Relaxation Response, or his more recent one, Relaxation Revolution, or do a five-minute exercise https://www.mass.gov/video/relaxation-response-dr-herbert-benson-teaches-you-the-basics
Through breathing slowly and centering on a key phrase, I was able to stay in the present moment, think clearly, and calmly navigate each challenge. A talented, compassionate leader replaced our ill colleague. Gerry, the handyman, swiftly repaired the plumbing. Jerry, the auto mechanic, replaced my car battery within the hour. The retreat went beautifully; women were renewed and uplifted. All was well!
Filled with gratitude, I wonder why I don’t use these tools all the time! Note to self.
When you struggle with unfortunate events overwhelming you, try some simple but powerful steps:
- Breathe slowly.
- Choose a word or phrase that is of comfort to you (Peace, Calm, God, om, All is well, etc.).
- Repeat it again and again.
And remember: Beneath the chaos, there is a calm, loving center.
Great post, Mabeth. I was lucky enough to witness your reactions to all of this turmoil. And when you were calm, all of us around you became calm. So, not only is it a good practice for the person in the chaos, it’s a gift for all in their presence when they find that center of calm. Ah, b-r-e-a-t-h-e.
Thank you, Mags! Your presence helped me tap into the calm too!