Writing my way through the A-to-Z blogging challenge, I’ll be using manicules (those pointing finger symbols) to direct your attention to something I’m pondering that delights or interests me. Each entry is somehow related to an unusual, obscure, or simply charming to me word.
A is for…
ataraxia – (n) a state of serene calmness and tranquility; freedom from emotional disturbance and anxiety. Borrowed from Middle French and Greek, first known English usage 1881.
I often think I’m one of those persons hardwired for calm. Well, maybe it’s more truthful to say that although I’ve put effort into engaging serenity, I do seem to carry it more easily that some others do. For a while I wondered it’s related to the Ayurveda concept of having a kapha dosha. I think of myself as solid and slow-moving – it takes a lot to push me off course.
It’s not healthy to live in a state of constant or prolonged stress, tension, anxiety, and urgency – it’s taxing for our bodies, our minds, and our spirits. We all know this, and yet we’re not all skilled at implementing strategies to help alleviate the strain. We need to become better at this, and we each need to find things that work for us. There are very few, if any, one-size-fits-all solutions in this world.
Sometimes serious situations call for complete overhauls – big changes in how we navigate our lives. Frankly, I think as a collective we could well use some re-thinking and restructuring of how we live our lives and what we place importance on.
But that consideration aside, often it can be helpful to simply take a few moments to re-set our energies and pull ourselves out of the noisy fray and find our way to some moments of peace. I spent years working a crisis hotline where staying calm is a necessary requirement, and although I wouldn’t choose to do that anymore, there are several strategies that are soothing and that promote a heightened sense of calm and peaceful tranquility.
Slow breathing can be quite helpful. If nothing more, it gives you a chance to pull back into your center, and for those of us highly-sensitive people that’s hugely important. It’s not helpful to be trying to operate outside yourself. So, while any slow breathing helps, the particular breath technique I find most helpful is a deep slow breath to the count of four, holding for a count of two, and exhaling to a count of eight.
Working with essential oils can be quite soothing as well. Lavender is one of the safest oils and most people find it a pleasant scent. It can be used in a diffuser, or a few drops added to a bath, or sniffed directly from the bottle or from a hanky containing a drop of oil. Dressing a candle with a bit of oil and then burning the candle is also a lovely way to enjoy the fragrance and its benefits.
Rhythmic motion is also calming. Anyone who has rocked a crying baby knows this well. So, any slow, repetitive motion can often be helpful, whether it’s sitting in a rocking chair, or swinging slowly, or simply rubbing your hand (or another part of your body) back and forth or in circles. There often comes a point with such motion where your attention becomes so focused and then it suddenly shifts, and you experience a sense of expansion and release.
Meditation is definitely a calming centering practice, and yet not every form of meditation is a good fit for everyone. Mantra-based meditation works for some, emptying the mind for others. paying attention to one’s breath, walking meditation, flame watching – these are just some options to consider. If you’ve tried one thing and it hasn’t worked, consider trying something else.
Similarly, working with Metta, invoking a blessing of lovingkindness for myself and for all others, is something I especially enjoy. This is one I use most often.
Light before me – Light behind me – Light at my left – Light at my right – Light above me – Light below me – Light unto me – Light in my surroundings – Light to all – Light to the Universe and beyond Love before me – Love behind me – Love at my left – Love at my right – Love above me – Love below me – Love unto me – Love in my surroundings – Love to all – Love to the Universe and beyond Peace before me – Peace behind me – Peace at my left – Peace at my right – Peace above me – Peace below me – Peace unto me – Peace in my surroundings – Peace to all – Peace to the Universe and beyond
By the time I get through the rounds of light, love, and peace for myself I almost always feel a shift, and then inviting the blessings for others feels centered, open-hearted, and in vibrational integrity.
Soothing music is helpful to turn to as well. There’s a difference between calming music and uplifting music, and while your ultimate goal may be to shift your mood to an uplifted one, it’s often easier to first move into soothed and calm and from that state move into uplifted. Slow, steady, small steps are often much easier to manage than big leaps.
Consciously de-tensing your body is also a helpful strategy. You can try alternately tensing and relaxing body parts accompanied by slow, deep breathing; reflexology; having relaxing massage; or perhaps a salt water bath. Other things can be added to therapeutic baths, including flower essences, essential oils, various botanicals, and even water-safe stones if you’re so inspired.
Being out in nature is another practice that can shift things profoundly. Grounding practices, slow walks, quiet observation – all these things bring quiet into your body and your fields.
And sometimes the best re-set is a nap and a conscious decision to call a do-over. Start again. Begin anew.
There are myriads of ways we can bring ourselves back to center, but I really do like this counsel Thich Nhat Hahn offered:
“Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future.”
Just reading that feels calming and soothing to me. But I think he also brought up another important point that contributes to ataraxia – staying in the present moment. To project ourselves and our energy into the future, or to keep it mired in the past is not being in a state of calm and freedom. It robs us of what we actually have available to us.
Perhaps you’d like to join me for a cup of tea – chamomile or valerian root are good calming choices. Add in a few slow, deep, gentle breaths and see if you can bring yourself into a moment of tranquility. I invite you to join me as well as an ambassador of ataraxia and help spread it more widely wherever it is needed.
That’s my take on ataraxia. What about you? Does calmness come easily for you? Or are you more fiery and reactive? How do you find your way to peace in this often crazy, over-stimulating, tension-filled world? Have you any calming tricks you use? Do tell – you know I love to hear.
Calmness doesn’t come easily when I’m upset. Maybe next time I’ll try a cup of tea to try and calm myself down. Let’s hope we don’t rush through April as it does become a tense month. Have Fun. Enjoyed the read!
Thanks for stopping by Jeanne. I’m hoping, too, to be truly present, and with my feet on the joy trail throughout April, even though it does get wildly hectic. I definitely advocate having a stash of calming tea handy. 🙂 Wishing you a fun April!
Loved reading this Deborah thank you. I love the prayer. I will ‘use’ it. All what you say resonates deeply with me. I look forward to your posts – while staying in the present moment. (I’m not doing the A-Z.)
Thanks Susan. While I’m sorry you’re not doing the A-to-Z, I certainly understand. While I find it delightful on many levels, it is a huge committment, and I definitely considered not playing this year. But we’ll see how it goes. In any case, wishing you a wonderful April.
I remember a yoga teacher who’d say the “Light before me – Light behind me” blessing at the end of class. I like the concept of ataraxia and can envision good things by focusing on it.
That’s a lovely way to end a class. I definitely think of you as someone who is familiar with ataraxia. In fact, Ally, I think calmly curious is a great descriptor for you.
Excellent post and exactly what I needed at the moment. I’m not a calm person so the strategies are extremely helpful. I don’t like tea, but coffee with some engaging word games or a book, a walk outside or yard work and simply petting the cat are soothing.
You’ve got some great strategies Margaret. I’m imagining you out walking and taking in your springtime loveliness. April ushered itself in here with a joke – a dusting of snow.
I too usually head for aromatherapy when it comes to stress and anxiety. My favourites are Chamomile or Lavender. I also love petrichor, the smell of the first rain. Loved your piece.
Oh yes, petrichor! Such a magical mixing of earth and sky. Thanks for stopping by Renu.
Please add reading your blog posts to the list of things that are calming.
Thank you for this oasis of calm in my day of activity.
Always grateful for your words.
Thank you Arti for your kind words. And here we are again, in another April. Such a delightful month in my mind, filled with the challenge – but I’m somehow astonished we’re this far into the year already.
Thanks for sharing this. I do think we need to find more calm in our lives, especially after these demanding years.
I have just started to engage in meditation. I have to say, I’m not very good at it, LOL: But I find that even the little I’m doing is helping me.
The Old Shelter – Enter the New Woman
Good for you for taking up meditation, and I’m glad you noticing results. It may be that a different form of meditation would be more engaging, so you might want to play around with that. But I’m convinced no one is perfect at it – that’s why it’s called a meditation practice. 🙂
Calmness does not come easily to me, but our pandemic actually taught me a couple of things (well, more than a couple of things). One, the breathing you describe was in a list of tips for fighting anxiety we were provided by our Employee Assistance Program, and it does help. Being on Zoom calls and seeing myself on a laptop screen also made me realize that I work (sit down job) with my shoulders hunched up. No wonder I have had shoulder and neck problems! I make a conscious effort now to get those shoulders down – at least when I am seeing myself in that camera. By the way, I’m listening to calming harp music right now, from another A to Zers A post.
How perfect about the harp music. And good catch on the hunched up shoulders. Thanks for stopping by Alana, and happy A-to-Z-ing.
I listen to a meditation every morning as I walk the dog. Helps me to remember to breathe when I’m getting stressed. Ataraxia is a good start.
Oh how perfect Janet. May April be a whole lot more fun than stressful for you.
I love the continuity of the theme of tea in your writing, and comment on my blog!
Spending time visiting challenge blogs and savoring several cups of tea seems like a perfect way to spend some time today.
I love the theme and this post is so full of helpful information. Thanks for sharing. Having just completed my morning yoga I appreciated all the “calm”. 😊
Oh good for you! Morning yoga always feels so spacious to me, as if it helps stretch the day so I can step into it more fully.
I think I’m a pretty calm person. I don’t know that it’s my “default” or particularly “natural” though — I think it’s been a deliberate effort (or role taken?) on my part, because I had to learn young how to succeed despite the chaos and instability of my surroundings.
I do enjoy nature walks (though I’m admittedly a fair-weather walker!) and chamomile tea. 🙂
While I’m sorry your calm was born from challenge, I’m glad you get to claim it. Although I like the occasional walk in the rain, fair-weather is my prefered condition as well. 🙂
You give a lot of good tips for relaxing.
I’d love to see us all become masters at it.
I was not familiar with the word ataraxia until your post today. I’m not a calm person; usually anxious driven with a touch of fear mixed it. I think you brought up excellent helps for those struggling to have a sense of calm. For me, when I went through a really anxious time, I had to focus on Scripture and an when agitated and distressed, I have found praise music is very soothing 🙂
Good luck with the rest of the challenge and thanks for visiting my blog!
It’s so helpful to have a list of things you can turn to when seeking some calm and peace Betty. I’m so glad you found what works for you.
Such great advice, thank you. I love the idea of tea drinking. It’s been very stressful around here over the last few weeks for reasons I shall not go into, and reading this has really helped. I remember using the tense and relax method once at school, during a drama lesson. Our drama mistress had us all lying on the floor and trying it and we all almost fell asleep it was so relaxing.
Tasha’s Thinkings: YouTube – What They Don’t Tell You (and free fiction)
Oh how perfect about the relaxing-almost-into-sleep exercise! I hope things ease and become less stressful Tasha.
As a very high-strung and anxious person, I appreciate this post 🙂 Tea is definitely a great thing. I have lavender-chamomile-valerian-honey tea, it’s basically liquid calm 😀
The Multicolored Diary
Oooh, that sounds like a wonderful tea combo – liquid calm indeed!
Lavender and being out in the nature.. watching the sun set or the clouds or even the stars always calms me down!
Really helpful tips! Great first post
Hopping in from the A-Z community,
I agree about the power of sky watching. There’s something so connecting and expansive about it that really helps me calm down a put things in perspective. Thanks so much for stopping by, and wishing you a fun April.
I’m generally a pretty calm person. I don’t often over react. I’m not a Chicken Little. I do use breathing techniques with my preschoolers. Holding a child who is angry or frustrated or sad and helping them breathe until they calm is soothing for both of us.
That’s perfect Dyanne!
There’s absolutely no doubt there’s far too much stress all around these days. I do have to laugh at the word “ataraxia,” though. I don’t think it *sounds* very calming. Too much like asphyxia, I think!
A is for Anthropophagus
LOL – well, that’s certainly not a good thing!
I’m definitely more fiery and reactive. I’m working on being a calmer person, but it’s a very slow process.
It’s kind of funny (in a curious way, not ha-ha) how there’s a lesson in that it’s slow going. Calm in a sense requires slowing down, and that’s inherently more challenging if you’re more fiery and reactive.
Loved reading this Deborah, thank you!
I’m delighted – thanks!
I’ve only recently developed the ability to calm myself at will. Or discovered it — it kind of felt it was there all along, just waiting for me to notice. Yoga helped — combining both the slow breathing and a way of consciously de-tensing the body (the tense and release method doesn’t work in my body).
The pandemic guided me to a realization of how important solitude is for me.
Ataraxia is a lovely word.
How wonderful, Joy, that you found what works for you! And I hope you’re able to incorporate the solitude you need into your life.
It’s important to take some time out and unwind. I like to garden. That is my anxiety medication. Great list of things to do!
I’m with you on the gardening Cheryl! And thanks for stopping by.