If you prefer to watch a video, here is an earlier and more rambling version of the blog. It's a talk given during one of the online sangha meetings.
The word calm has a beautiful vibration if you take a moment to let it resonate in you. We all want to feel calm because it feels good, and it’s relaxing. So how do we reach a calm state?
Most people, when asked, will tell you what they DO to feel calm: go for a walk, have a nice bath or massage, talk to a friend or loved one about what’s troubling them, use essential oils or herbs, or even medication or drugs.
But when we do things to be calm, we’re not leaving the realm of what changes, what goes up and down. What goes down – gets calm – invariably will go up again. We’re forever oscillating between tension and relaxation, the nervous system being activated or not, speed or slowness of thoughts, intensity or quietness of emotions. All of these inner states and movements change over time.
Most of us are busy trying to influence or control them so we feel ok. It’s a losing battle, because invariably calmness will turn into agitation the moment something happens that we don’t like, are afraid of, or angry or sad about. So most people live their lives in varying states of agitation and stress, forever trying to do things to be less agitated, and ultimately forever failing.
True calm cannot be found in the world of change.
You ARE this space, this calm, but to begin with, you can think of it as a space in you, or a part of you, that is calm and at peace no matter what. The good news is that it’s not difficult to find.
There are two ways of discovering it: through awareness, and through the heart.
Using awareness, you can ask yourself: who is perceiving that I am agitated? Or: what is perceiving this? In doing so, you move the focus of your attention away from the agitation towards that part or space in you which perceives it. And you’ll find out that that part is not agitated. It’s neutral. This is also called the witness.
Using your heart, you can ask yourself: can I open my heart to this agitation, or to the ‘me’ that got agitated? Can I be friendly and kind with this, with myself? If you do find kindness or heart opening in yourself, again you can check: is the part of me that feels kind, or the open heart, is that agitated? Is it touched by the agitation? Again you will find that there’s an open quality, usually tinged with friendliness or kindness, or a simple openness. A willingness to welcome whatever arises. This openness is not affected by any disturbance.
Both awareness and the heart are bridges that lead you from the ever changeful to the changeless. To that which is calm in the face of whatever states arise. Both are like gateways. Truth – and true calm – can be found by using either or both of them.
So to come back to where we started: the first impulse when we want to be calm is usually to try and control the agitation. But true calm is not about controlling, it’s about finding that in you which is not agitated. Either through the heart or through awareness.
And sometimes, when the disturbance is very strong, there is an intermediate step that can be helpful. It’s often used in trauma therapy. You can start by looking around and noticing things in your physical environment that are not moving: walls, ceiling, floor, furniture. Noticing the chair you’re sitting on that’s holding your body. So even as there is agitation in you, there are also things that are not moving, not agitated. In taking this in, you can let that calm your nervous system.
This can be an intermediate step for those moments when your nervous system is just too agitated. In those moments, looking for what isn’t agitated can be like a big jump. So using your environment as a bridge that allows the nervous system to calm down can be useful – just as other calming techniques can be useful – until you feel ready to turn the question towards yourself and towards finding what isn’t agitated in you.
So that’s how you find the deeper calm. The calm that doesn’t disappear with agitation. That doesn’t need the nervous system to calm down for it to be calm. If you’ve looked enough times, and you’re starting to trust that this calm is always here, you don’t need agitation to stop. You can start resting in this calm. Even if there is some disturbance, as the agitation is received by calm, it calms down quite easily by itself. You don’t need to do anything other than let yourself land on what is already calm, what has not been touched by the agitation.
This is very real. The calm is very real in its soothing effects on the nervous system. And it’s very possible to find that. It’s there in all of us, just waiting to be discovered. And may you discover it for yourself, for your own wellbeing, and for the sake of those whose lives are touched by you.