How to Find Peace in The Midst of Chaos (and why your future self will thank you)
If you stir muddy water, it will become murky and dark.
But if you allow the water to settle, the debris will eventually sink and you’ll be able to see more clearly.
The same is true of each of us.
There’s a lot to be stirred up about right now. And perhaps that’s why it’s more important than ever for us to find our calm.
Though our current Covid-19 response is leading us to drive less and stay home more, many of us are having difficulty finding places of peace and stillness. You might feel like you’re working more than ever, now that the lines between work and home are completely blurred.
Throw a kid or two into the mix whose routines (and lives) have been completely upended and you have a perfect mix for chaos.
And of course, there is the ever-present temptation to grab your phone or iPad or fire up the television to tune into the latest news or binge watch those shows on Netflix you’ve been wanting to see.
In addition to our external distractions there is the internal commotion of our never-ending thoughts, worries, and preoccupations.
It’s enough to make your head spin.
But perhaps there is hope amidst the chaos…
I recently read that for the first time in thirty years, the Himalayas are visible from northern India. Air quality has improved in several areas of the world, including right here in the United States. These improvements are said to largely be a product of the coronavirus response that has led to fewer emissions.
What if in addition to cleaning up our air we could find a way to clear our heads as well?
What if our future depended on it?
In such an unpredictable time as this, one thing is fairly certain: there is no more “business as usual”. Even after our social distancing and stay at home mandates have been lifted, things are likely to be different moving forward than they’ve ever been in the past.
Out of necessity, much of life as we’ve known it has had to change – often for the better. Many of the ways we have always done things will likely no longer be effective (or even relevant).
We have the opportunity to reinvent ways of working and being that weren’t serving us all that well and chart a new course into our future.
Now more than ever, we must cultivate the insight necessary to know what we need to do next.
And insight is a product of slowing down, quieting our minds and tuning in to ourselves and each other. It requires us to cut through the noise and create space for new ideas to land.
The best way to do that is to practice presence.
What exactly is presence?
The word present derives from the Latin past participle praesse meaning “to be before one”, from the roots pra – pre + esse – to be.
Presence is a state of being that’s achieved when we are truly in the moment, allowing it to unfold without judging it, labeling it, or getting lost in our thoughts about what it means or what we believe should be happening.
Presence allows us to cut through the clamor of our preoccupations, worries and fears so that our true selves can emerge. It is a gateway through which our intuition and inner wisdom enters and expresses itself.
A moment of presence is a state of grace that can produce great insights that help us to truly learn from our experiences, make the most of our opportunities and rise to our challenges in creative ways.
In moments of presence, we know who we really are and what we are truly capable of.
Have you ever noticed that people tend to match each other’s intensity and tone when they are together?
Comments about trivial matters are often matched with similar banter. Expressions of fear or dread often elicit responses that are equally charged, and expressions of anger have a way of provoking reactions that people later regret.
In a similar manner, moments of presence when shared with others can evoke powerful responses that can be revealing and transformational.
This is because when you are truly present with another human being you create a space that allows that person’s true self to come out as well.
This is why the best leaders have learned to become comfortable with silence. They listen more than they talk, and to allow themselves to become instruments that help others to recognize their own greatness – not necessarily through anything that say or do, but rather through moments of presence that are created and shared with others.
So how does one cultivate a moment of presence?
It is really rather simple, though far easier said than done.
1) The first step is to be still.
That’s right. Sit still. I know it goes against everything you were probably taught about getting things done and being useful. But do it anyway.
You can practice now, while you read this. Become aware of your breathing, of the space you are sitting in, of the weight of your body and how it feels in this moment. Feel the life inside you and trace it to each part of your body. Listen to the sounds around you. Take a deep breath. Let it out slowly.
2) Become aware of your thoughts.
Observe the activity of your mind as it continues to process whatever is there – thoughts like, “this is silly, really – I have way too much to do to be sitting here, doing this…” and “I have to remember to call so and so back today,” and “What did my [boss, colleague, friend, etc.] mean when he/she said…”.
Recognize that you are not your thoughts, but rather the thinker of your thoughts. Simply watch them parade around, without getting sucked into them. Feel how much bigger you are than all of that. Continue to breathe it in.
3) There really is no step three.
Simply continue to repeat steps one and two, immersing yourself more deeply into the experience with each breath.
You don’t need to do this for an extended period of time, unless you want to. Often even a couple of minutes are sufficient to bring you to a more intense state of awareness and aliveness.
In these moments of presence, you will experience things on a different level – one that allows you to respond from a deeper, wiser part of yourself. And when you are with others, you will bring out that deeper, wiser part of them as well.
The wonderful thing about practicing presence is that it creates a fertile landing place for creativity and new ideas. The more often you do, the more frequently you may find yourself receiving inklings (often when you least expect them) about solutions to even the most confounding of problems.
Presence is incredibly powerful to practice with others as well, and a wonderful thing to engage in with the family members in your home (who you are likely seeing more of than ever before). The process is the same, except that you expand your awareness to take in the other person as well.
First, put your phone down. Turn off your IPad, computer, television and/or any other device that could potentially steal your attention and focus.
Then, look into the eyes of the person in front of you, and listen to what they are saying. But listen to what they are not saying as well.
Presence is more about being than doing. So, allow yourself to truly BE with another, devoid of judgments, labels, and agendas. When you listen from this place, you are like water to a thirsty plant, allowing others to open up and soak in needed nutrients.
And in this space, they may just find the answers they seek as well – not because you are giving them, but because you have created a space that is illuminating for everyone.
For more on practicing presence, cultivating insight, and reinventing the way you live and lead, check out The Pinocchio Principle Unleashed: The Real Leader’s Guide to Accessing the Freedom & Flow of Your Authentic Genius. Registration for the fall session will open soon (and if you join the waiting list, you’ll have first dibs on the limited seats that will become available).
Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay.