5 Things You Can Do to Remain Calm
It’s been a little weird out there lately, I know. And not just the panic arising from the Chinese flu or the ever-present, low hum of PC servility that runs like a current through every human interaction in the Western World. Now we’re in the midst of another election cycle at the tail end of Winter, and taxes will soon be due. Over time you just get numb, but that’s not the way you want to go through life, filled as it is with the myriad miracles and moments of sparkling clarity. Our very existence itself an expression of the divine and we are tuned into it from our birth, and if we try hard enough during the years that lead up to our departure from this mortal coil, we are able to ride on its never-ending wave, like a surfer.
Every one of us will encounter setbacks and heartbreak, it’s part of the human experience; loss, death, sickness and want. For most people, these obstacles and misfortunes present a roadblock to the future. They dwell on what is past and will never be again while missing out on the opportunities that await us further on.
Our family has endured its fair share of setbacks and losses these past few years but we have never given in to despair or depression, in large part because of our love and support for one another, and in other ways because of our lifestyle that keeps us occupied and busy. Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop, they say, but a mind focused on sadness and disillusionment is altogether worse. Lately, there has been a spate of suicides among the peer groups of our children and of drug addictions among those of the older members of the community that has led to deaths by overdose long after their lives were already ruined by addictions. We discuss these tragedies as a family openly because it helps us to recognize our own weaknesses and failings and to always be on the lookout for any signs of trouble before they become problems, but also to reinforce our faith in each other and our decision to reinvent our lives for the express purpose of living purposefully. Time is always shorter than you think it is and in the words of Ferris Bueller, Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.
Here are five simple tips to help you refocus your energy and get right with God in these times of turmoil and confusion without spending a dime.
Do something small
Every home or workshop is filled with innumerable tasks that you know you must attend to but would prefer to put off until you need to do them. Imagine how satisfying it is to reach for an item you need and to find it exactly where you put it and to discover it is in perfect condition for use without having to spend an extra moment getting it ready. This requires a certain discipline and intent and takes time- usually at the end of a chore or use- to be effective. I sharpen my knives while I am working, for example, but I always take time to sharpen them when I am finished using them. I like the sound the blade makes against the steel or stone I am using, the methodical stroke of each pass, the rhythm you build when you feel the edge become keen. It isn’t something you do casually, knives are sharp, the space and handling close, but once you’ve done it a thousand times muscle memory takes over and you enter an almost trance-like state as you deftly angle the cutting edge against the surface of the stone for a perfect edge. I also know that whenever anyone picks up a knife in our home for whatever task it’s going to be used, it will cut cleanly and without resistance. It’s a tiny task that takes very little time, but it reminds us that even the smallest effort reaps great rewards if done properly.
Always sweep the corners
Cleaning a home or maintaining a property is one of those Sisyphean efforts that never seem to end. Scrub the bathtub to a bright sparkle and one day in the not too distant future, do it again. Wash your clothes and dry and fold them and the next thing you know you’re picking them up off the bathroom floor and heading back to the laundry room to do it again. The endless nature of household chores is something that can be viewed either as drudgery or as a form of prayerful submission. Before I went into the Army my mother did the laundry, swept the floors, washed the dishes and cleaned the house. I was tasked with mowing lawns, weeding gardens, splitting firewood, bringing in the groceries and taking out the trash. Once I was an enlisted man I became responsible for every form of toilet bowl scrubbing and potato peeling imaginable. It was monitored and inspected and you were either rewarded or punished based on the effort you put into each duty. I learned fairly quickly how to buff a tile floor, polish a sink and scrub a pot until they glowed and I have carried that discipline throughout my entire life, not because I was told to, but because I came to take pride in my work. The idea is not half-ass any job no matter how distasteful it might appear, from scrubbing the inside of a dirty commode to pulling out an appliance and cleaning up the debris beneath it. A job worth doing is worth doing well and there is no shame in doing something dirty if the object is to make something clean. Nothing is more repugnant to a guest than to drink from a dirty glass or to have to use a filthy bathroom and few things are less complicated than in keeping them in good order and sparkling with attention and care.
Care for a plant
We spend countless billions of dollars in taxpayer funds trying to discover life in the depths of space. When the possibility of single-celled organisms being found on Mars was announced NASA made it sound like the greatest breakthrough in human history. Meanwhile, 100 million species of living creatures fill every nook and cranny of our planet and we don’t even know exactly how many we have discovered. Plants make up a huge portion of all living things, yet their inscrutable nature, their inability to communicate or to show appreciation make them something of a backdrop to our existence. By planting a seed, or purchasing a seedling in a pot we open ourselves up to the ability to do something purely for the sake of the plant. To care for a living thing, to tend to it, water it, see that it gets the proper light and is kept healthy takes us out of ourselves and in doing so opens up our better nature. Altruism is often a concealed version of self-serving behavior simply to promote our social standing. Famous actors who live in palatial Hollywood mansions lecturing the rabble on how to be one with nature and love cows would be construed as a form of comedy in a sane world. If you wish to make the world a better place, a plant is a great start. Once you’ve mastered the proper care of a single one and watch as it rewards us with fruit or flowers, it’s not much of a leap to raising a garden full of sustenance and in enjoying the experience completely.
Just Be Nice
My favorite niche during my comedy career was to M.C. Usually, openers are the least experienced performers in comedy clubs and everyone loves moving up to the feature slot and the bigger money that comes with being a headliner, but every show is built upon the foundation constructed by the Master of Ceremonies. The difference between an average show and a great show is the expectations set by the emcee; if it’s done right, it’s always a great show. When our youngest went to visit his grandparents last Summer they took the train to Manhattan and spent the day going to the museums, to the top of the Empire State Building, and to a spectacular dinner at one of their favorite restaurants. Later, when he was back home telling us about his trip we asked what his most memorable experience in NYC was, he responded that all over the city, wherever they went, he saw people living on the street, sleeping on the sidewalk and that no one even bothered to look at them. He observed that it was as if they were- to everyone but him- invisible. It made him sad, he told us, that all these well-dressed people were deliberately ignoring what he couldn’t help but notice and when his grandparents weren’t looking, he’d quietly passed out his money to them whenever he got a chance. I tried to explain to him some of the conditions that lead to homelessness, the drugs, the mental illness, the deliberate choice to live outside of the conventions of society while feeding off of its detritus, but these were the kinds of explanations that did not suit him and he explained to me that no matter what the reasons, it was no reason for people not to be nice.
Find Something In Everything
We become the product of everything we ever do, everyone we ever meet, every place we ever go. These experiences and exchanges cling to us like barnacles, each moment is a coral unto itself and all of them become the reef of our life. Nothing we experience is unimportant or immaterial, nothing without value. The trick, of course, is how to discover the utility within the moments and to realize that our presence in each (one) is as essential to everything else as everything else has been for us. Whatever we touch, whatever we do offers us an opportunity to add something to our life experience that makes us not only unique but useful in a way that we cannot imagine when we go about our lives with blinders on. Back when I was working in an office and commuting I spent countless hours simply driving back and forth between two points, three hours every day that could either have passed in a blur or as I learned over time, could be turned into an advanced education by listening to books on tape- an antique version of podcasts for the younger reader. This can be applied to every moment if we consciously try to apply our time to improving our lives.
This list is by no means definitive, nor does it scratch the surface of the kinds of things that others have discovered to make these days something more than an anxiety-producing sabbatical where people put their lives on hold waiting for it to begin again when the government tells you it’s time to get back to work. It is simply a set of observations we’ve made as we’ve found our way out of a lifestyle into a life worth living, every minute or every day.
Please add your own and share them with everyone you know.