I’m learning a new definition of what it means to keep calm.
I’ve always got more than one book on the go at a time. One of those books we’re covering in my book club is Dr Bessel van der Kolk’s “The Body Keeps the Score“. While we read “The Polyvagal Theory in Therapy” by Deb Dana, I found it more intriguing to see the case studies presented by van der Kolk.
How often I’ve mistaken shutdown and dissociation for being calm blows me away.
Look at me: I’m calm. Do you see me overreacting?
Hell, no. Nothing can affect me.
Stoic. That’s me.
Numb is more like it!
I feel nothing.
The issue is that, like an ostrich, I stick my head in the sand until it all blows over. Of course, problems don’t magically disappear, and you have to take action to deal with them. Freezing and shutting down might allow me to survive, but it certainly doesn’t help me thrive.
Today I was thinking about a challenge I am facing. I’ve been avoiding it. Seriously avoiding it.
Choosing an empowered response
My first thought was that I could choose a different response, “I don’t want to run away, so I should fight this!”
I immediately realised that while I want changes to my habitual responses and stand up and fight this situation, I don’t want to do this from a place of fear and anger. Going into fight or flight mode is no more empowering than freezing.
What I want is conscious decision-making power followed by action.
This is the power of the pause: it opens up the power of changing my focus. I want to discover my inner wisdom by practising being calm.
Can I respond calmly under pressure by creating safety and security within? Yes, I want to stand up for myself and do something differently: but not from fear! I actually want to create a solution.
This requires calm wisdom.
Wisdom requires inner alignment, which you can only access when calm
The difference between today and previous years is that I am aware that I have choices. This self-awareness allows me to notice my stress response and face the feelings.
I still carry the same fears:
- fear of failure and fear of success;
- fear that nothing will change and also a fear that everything will change;
- and everything in between.
But I am learning mindfulness to gently hold these emotions and feelings rather than being overpowered by them. More importantly, I am learning to tap into these emotions as a source of empowerment and motivation.
The litmus test: calm or dissociated?
One of my friends shared with me a great litmus test for knowing whether she’s genuinely calm or whether she is dissociated:
Can I laugh and see the humour?
If my kid is joking around and I’m irritated by it, I’m not genuinely calm and at peace. I’m dissociated and attempting to simply shut down. I don’t want any interaction.
I find it very similar to emotions like joy or happiness. If I cannot access the feeling while remembering a time or situation in which I was happy, I can recognise that I am numb rather than calm.
To build inner strength, I need to practice mindfulness by creating safety.
Calm wisdom: finding the place of peace
The point isn’t to be numb-calm. It is to be present and calm.
Wisdom comes when I am fully connected to myself, the situation and the people around me. I might be anxious, scared, angry, happy or sad – or perhaps even feeling all these emotions simultaneously!
Emotional intelligence is being able to reclaim your power despite the challenges life throws at you.
The first step is practising safety: I need to feel safe to discover inner peace. Am I physically safe? Am I emotionally safe?
- So, what is stressing me out and making me tense? I might choose to sit and tense and relax muscles, working my way around my body.
- Other times, I choose simply to sit with the emotion – even the fear. When have I felt this way before? What does it feel like? Where do I feel it? What memories arise around this sensation and feeling?
What I am discovering is that the best way is through. Facing it, rather than avoiding the feelings. Most of the time, the feeling dissipates when you allow yourself to feel it.
I will say it again and again: wellbeing is an inside job!
I use mindfulness because it helps reduce stress. More importantly, it allows me to move into action, despite my emotions.
This is where growth and change happen: choosing a new response to the same situation.
Starting today: a new book club on Radical Forgiveness, as we look at how we can find inner peace despite any situation or events.