How does one find peace of mind when the issues of the day are so – unruly? Natural catastrophes, political discord, -isms up the wazoo? Or on a more personal level, perhaps there are health issues, economic difficulties, dysfunctional relationships?
Four bits of advice, in order: Find what you can be grateful for. Breathe deeply. Figure out what you can do. And do it.
Find what you can be grateful for. For some, it comes naturally. For others, they need to begin framing their approach to life differently. Two years ago, my father shared an op-ed by David Brooks in the New York Times called The Structure of Gratitude on Facebook. To say it resonated with me is an understatement. (Please read it!) I think I have what the writer defines as dispositional gratitude; so do my parents, so do my children. We know; no one owes you anything and anything you get is a treasure. But beyond that, gratitude can be the glue that makes societies and communities successful. “[Gratitude] reminds us that a society isn’t just a contract based on mutual benefit, but an organic connection based on natural sympathy — connections that are nurtured not by self-interest but by loyalty and service,” says Brooks, and like I wrote a few weeks ago, that “when you have that sense of belonging to something bigger than any single one of us….you know you are all in the same boat and what raises up one raises up all.”
So, the sky may be falling, but it’s not falling on us alone. Find whatever blessings you can in the situation and count them. End each day being grateful for whatever you can find that ties you to others, rather than for what splits you apart. If you need a notebook to write down what you are thankful for, get one. It is important to change how you see the world. In Hebrew, we talk about “tfeesa,” perception. The root of the word is also used in the word “tofesset,” catch, a game with a ball. The way we catch the world is how we frame it and everything in it. It’s important to catch it in sunlight, no matter the circumstances.
Breathe deeply. Sounds like something you wouldn’t need to think twice about. But it’s not. It’s not always easy to make room for calming thoughts when your mind is full and turning in on itself. If that’s the case for you, perhaps take a walk, meditate or visualize something, all worth exploring. At the very minimum, stop and count to ten. Or see if this can help you reset your breathing.
I grew up in New York, on Long Island; maybe it’s a generalization, but seemed to me that overthinking was almost a geographical requirement. Later on, when I lived in Israel as a new mother, I took to heart what I saw and learned around me – not to sweat the small stuff. In a country where, for decades, survival was the bigger question, it was made clear to me just how much really is small stuff. Putting things in proportion is tremendously liberating. And really, it virtually eliminated any reason I would’ve had to need to think about breathing deeply. To this day, I pretty much roll with the punches, look forwards and not backwards, am calm.
Figure out what you can do. As Reinhold Niebuhr‘s Serenity Prayer so eloquently points out, some things we truly have no control over. I would, though, advise to use care in delineating which things fall into that category. Disease? No. you cannot control when it strikes or its characteristics. But the underlying conditions that make it more likely that a particular disease might strike? A different story. Someone else’s abusive behavior? No, you cannot control that. But how often and under what circumstances you subject yourself to his or her presence? Hmmm…. On a larger scale, can you control what a politician says or the stance an organization takes? No. But if public opinion plays a part in shaping either, then you can formulate a plan of action.
And do it. Get organized. Come up with a list of possible steps to take, groups to join, information to research. And chip away. Even if you cannot change your parent’s health, your boss’s behavior, your country’s issues, you can find concrete steps to take which will allow you to contribute to the solutions. And will give you control over some part of the situation.
And by finding what you can be thankful for, by letting go of those parts you cannot change, by coming up with a plan of action for those things you can – you will find peace of mind, even in this turbulent world, when peace is hard to find. You will. I promise.