Are you feeling calm?

I enjoy reflecting on phrases or “precepts” that come to me through experiencing life and being a witness and companion to the lives of my clients.

My most recent precept[1] is: If I’m not calm, I don’t have the whole story. A lot of people come to me because they don’t feel calm inside. Right now, between the holidays and the political climate, there are a lot of people not feeling calm inside. And therefore, they - more accurately, I will say we - don’t have the whole story. Oftentimes, the part of the story we’re missing is our own true voice.  

When our emotions are strong, they blend with our voice and take over our perspective, leading us to see through a biased lens; perhaps an “anxious” or “resentful” one. We then fail to see the whole picture about others and we fail to  see the whole picture about ourselves. And because we don’t see the whole picture, we can’t tell ourselves the whole story. We inadvertently make it harder to respond wisely and from within to whatever situations we are dealing with - whatever causes us to feel tumult in the first place. It’s a bit of a snake-biting-its-tail problem, and it doesn’t feel good at all.  

That very active narrator in our head - you know the one! - tells a biased story, accompanied by biased emotions. There is nothing wrong with being emotional; we just can’t make wise decisions when our emotions are in the driver’s seat. Ignoring or repressing our feelings and being hyper-rational doesn’t help either, as I am sure you know, and can leave us feeling disconnected from ourselves. I am so clear about this: if we could think our way through our feelings, we would! But we cannot.

We can make wise decisions, however, when we can move among more than one emotion at a time, observing our emotions and allowing them to pass through us. Emotional shape-shifting, I like to call it. In the cosmology of the Plains Indians, the coyote is a shape-shifter, and is associated with the moon[2]. The coyote can offer some insight into how we can emotionally shape-shift, get the whole story of whatever is happening, and respond from a place of calm.

Coyotes are amazingly adaptive. In Native American stories, they are often the trickster - twisting meanings and getting themselves and others both out of and then again into all sorts of tricky situations. Trickster coyote combines wisdom and foolishness to respond to life’s challenges. The coyote reminds us of the wisdom of paradox, and the power of duality. Staying calm and centered in discomfort of contradicting truths. We can tap into this power by developing an internal dual awareness: both of the distressing thoughts and feelings, and of an attitude of compassion and appreciation for what we can learn from them. This attitude gives space to both our rational mind and our emotions: our wise mind.

I want to teach you how to cultivate this dual awareness - both of your tumultuous thoughts and emotions, and of the grounded, calm center inside of you that is accessible at any time, by connecting with and following your breath. Specifically, by breathing through your heart.

Here’s how to do it. It takes less than 5 minutes[3]:

  • Breathe in through the heart and out through the gut, to have a nice loop of breath energy flowing. Imagine that your in-breath is in the middle of your chest, and your out-breath is just below your diaphragm. Think of this as “priming the pump” of the heart - the emotional heart - to receive these difficult emotions.

  • Do this priming by actively bringing up an attitude of compassion and appreciation for someone or something that you care about. It could be as simple as feeling grateful for your dog, or that supermoon; or appreciation for particular supportive relationships in your life, or for your job, etc. Prime your heart pump a minute or two.

  • While continuing to breathe through your heart, notice any physical sensations that are present, and follow those sensations to any thoughts and feelings that arise.

  • Maintain awareness of the charged feelings or issue, and hold it as you continue to breathe through your heart. This is the emotional shape-shifting I was talking about.

  • Let the compassionate energy from your heart space help to dissolve the charge of these difficult or uncomfortable emotions. Imagine that this is someone else’s problem, and take a bit of a detached - but not compartmentalized - stance toward whatever is causing you to feel not-calm.

  • If you get hijacked by strong emotions or loud thoughts, that’s okay - just come back to breathing through the heart. Notice any shifts in the charged feelings or issue.

  • If it feels right, see if there is a new perspective or guidance about how to move forward. This may be subtle. It is the intuitive wise mind, and it can be shy. Just listen.

As always, if you're feeling truly overwhelmed by the feelings coming up for you and need help to process them, my team at Four Corners is here to help.

TL;DR: When you are not feeling calm and don’t have the whole story, practice the skill of breathing through the heart on a regular basis and priming the pump with curiosity, appreciation, and gratitude. Then bring in those not-calm feelings, whatever they may be (anxiety, anger, shame, angst, mental obsessing, and impulsivity, to name a few). Be aware and  compassionate towards the thoughts and feelings, and observe them without judgment or resistance. Continue to breathe for a few minutes, until you notice an internal shift. Finally, ask for guidance from your heart. Experiment with this; it works!