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.