Mining the Chaos

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At times, it seems like my life is teetering on the edge of chaos. I expect that you may feel that way as well, sometimes. While I acknowledge the immense blessings in my life, the day-to-day minutiae often spiral into disorder, courtesy of entropy, that law of physics that drives everything toward degradation.

It’s understandable from the big picture, given that we (and our seven billion relatives) are hurdling through space on a big rock at over 850,000 miles per hour. That would be harrowing enough, and then we can add in the daily dramas of global tensions, political disputes, family challenges, financial stress, all the way down to how fast the server can bring out our food.

Of course, all this may be in my mind, and if I am creating this chaos, I always thought I could also develop a mental sense of peace and calm.

Part of my quest towards this goal has been guided by the concept of stability, a principle I’ve chosen to embody as my 2024 Word and Mantra of the Year. Equanimity champions the pursuit of inner stillness and balance, even amidst life’s craziness. My fascination with this virtue was sparked by tales of extraordinary calm in crises, such as a passenger’s heroic composure during a plane crash, attributed to their dedication to meditation and mindfulness.

As I explored mindfulness and meditation skills, stability became a concept and practice that I began to learn more about, and I wanted to develop more capabilities.

As I’ve adopted more of these ideas this year, I’ve also seen the path strewn with hurdles: health scares among loved ones and friends, demanding projects at work, and lending support to my wife, Sheila, as she prepares to debut her book entitled The Art of Grieving: How the Arts and Artmaking Help Us Grieve and Live Our Best Lives.

I’ve been putting some actions into play to be better at equanimity. Here are a few things I’ve learned.

  1. Practical Mindfulness: In discussing mindfulness with others, I emphasize its applicability to everyday life. While I do daily meditation, I also bring mindfulness into practice while walking in the morning and conversing with a friend. The key is to stay in the present moment and slow down the anxiety about yesterday or worry about tomorrow intruding into my thoughts. I’m not always successful, but my percentage increases as I practice.
  2. Whatever I was worried about…” A key to resilience is that when bad things happen, we don’t assume there will be a recurrence. This is how the negativity bias operates—changing my thinking to recognize that adversities are often one-offs and that good things have just as much, if not more, frequency in my life. Mastering this concept is about learning the impermanence of things in our lives.
  3. Compassion: Maintaining a compassionate mindset means that I can understand myself and others when I feel upset or angry. The other day, Sheila approached me with an issue she wanted to resolve and brought it up for discussion at bedtime.  This timing is challenging for me, and at times, I’ve gotten upset about needing to respond to her. Looking through the lens of compassion and equanimity, I’ve understood her need to unburden. Now, I ask for her understanding and assure her that I will address her concerns first thing in the morning, turning a potential disturbance into a moment of shared understanding.

When I was a small child, Hurricane Donna flew over our house. In a fantastic bit of luck, the eye of the story brought a temporary peace to the wind and rain. My father and I went outside, and he shared one of his many pieces of wisdom—that even in the fiercest storms, tranquility can be found. He may not have known the term “equanimity,” but he instinctively understood life’s complexities and that there is almost always an opening for us to see the blue sky.

“Equanimity is calamity’s medicine.”
Publilius Syrus

Ó Richard Citrin, 2024

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