Strength in the storm
It’s been a tough couple of months in my house. My wife developed a sudden hearing loss, dizziness or vertigo, and a loud continual sound in her ear (tinnitus, a topic for another day). It’s been a challenge for her, and as her primary support person, for me too.
On a quiet Sunday morning, I was reflecting on my wife’s current struggles, and I happened on a book on the shelf that I hadn’t looked at for some years—“Strength in the Storm: Creating calm in difficult times” by Eknath Easwaran. A friend recommended the book to me several years ago after she had gone through a very difficult time in her life---a period of alcohol dependency that wreaked havoc on her life. The book spoke to her. Eswaran was a spiritual teacher during the early and mid 20th century.
Easwaran noted— “Steadiness of mind is one of the most practical of skills. Nothing is more vital than learning to face turmoil with courage, confidence, and compassion”. He goes on to say—“We can’t control life, but we can control how we respond to life’s challenges. The answer lies in stabilizing the mind”.
Of course, it’s easy to be calm, relaxed, and steady when it’s a beautiful sunny day in your life. But when a good old Northwestern winter storm comes up in your life, with high winds and pouring rain, it is far more challenging to keep your mind in balance.
When our minds are calm we can see clearly what course will help us navigate rough seas. We can forge a coherent response to our circumstances rather than simply react and be tossed around like a cork on the water.
This is easier said than done. Easwaran recommended a practice that helps us find that steadiness.
He suggested that each person finds a “mantra” or a “prayer word or phrase” that inspires confidence and calm, preferably with some kind of religious or spiritual significance. He recommended that the individual repeats the word or phrase to themselves during difficult times. He saw this practice as “a handrail for the mind. It gives you something to hold on to so that you can steady yourself in confusing circumstances until your thoughts become clear.
This practice can help us remember the feeling of calm that we associate with our word or phrase when we need it. But, he notes, it’s important to practice repeating the word or phrase in calm weather so that it can be easily recalled when times get tough.
Whatever methods we use to cultivate steadiness of mind, whether it be meditation, prayer, exercise, walks in nature, yoga, reading inspirational books, or deep breathing, it is important to establish those skills and practice them when times are good. It is difficult to start these practices when the going gets rough. But if you have developed these skills, they come in handy when you really need them.
Keeping your perspective in rough times helps steady your mind too. When we are going through hard times, we look at everything through a microscope—small things appear very large. When we look back into the past, we peer through a telescope—only the very large events are visible.
Finally, Easwaran observes that the most important lesson to learn from crises is to find your center of strength within. Every one of us has capacities inside us that we have never even dreamed of, which we can learn to draw on in our daily lives. That is our legacy as human beings.