A Practical Guide to a Calmer Spirit

Thirteen Strategies for Serenity in a Maddening World

By Simcha Gottlieb & Frumma Rosenberg-Gottlieb

We live in challenging times. We are anxious over economic uncertainty, dismayed by disappearing social mores, stunned by soaring divorce rates. School tuitions are through the roof, yet we still feel the pressure of mundane materialism.

That cutting-edge electronic device or that new Louis Vuitton purse calls to us, while we’re struggling to cover the basics. We want to look like 20 when we’re 60, be buff when we’re hard-pressed to find time for a workout. Even time itself has become a despot, measured by digital clocks that make us accountable by the minute, managed by smart phones that have made office hours obsolete and keep us constantly on call. It wasn’t long ago that we’d find a handful of letters in the daily mailbox challenging enough to deal with; today e-mails arrive by the hundreds. Not to mention the ever more disconcerting news of the day—a polarized society, global tensions, a world trembling on the brink of . . . what?

Strategies for Calm
Breathing Exercises
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Guided Imagery
Creative Visualization
Friendship and Community
Personal Care and Affection
Positive Speech
Tracht Gut (Think Well)
Journaling, and Keeping a Gratitude Notebook
Learning Daily and Attending Torah Classes

To cultivate equanimity and focus in our lives, to establish a calmer spirit and effectively face the challenges of external environment, we need a toolbox full of tension tamers. Here is a sample set of thirteen methods. Some are simple, some more sophisticated. Some begin from the physical body; others are more focused on our emotions or intellect. While some of these exercises have more advanced forms that require some training, we’ve tried to keep it simple and easily accessible here. Each of these techniques, in its own way, leverages the ability of the human mind to let go of distracting, disturbing or distressing thinking patterns and the negative feelings they generate.

Where, then, is the opportunity for calm composure, for achieving peace of mind?

The story is told of a woodcutter, hacking away ineffectually at a very large pile of wood with a dull, blunt-edged axe. A well-meaning stranger comes along, notices the situation, and suggests that he sharpen his blade. “I haven’t got time!” exclaims the woodcutter impatiently. “Can’t you see all the work I have ahead of me?” Silly woodcutter! Obviously he’d be far more successful if he were to take the time to sharpen his axe. But we often deceive ourselves the same way. We barrel through our days burdened with unnecessary tension. An unrelenting sense of urgency interferes with our good mood, clouds our judgment and impedes our efficiency, convincing us that we haven’t got the time to slow down, calm down and focus. We would be wise to sharpen our axe.

At the root of our delusion lies the assumption that we can’t control what we think. The mind is an unceasing torrent, and the stream tends to flow in well-worn ruts. We think somewhere between 60,000 and 75,000 thoughts a day, neurologists estimate, and it is the quality of those thoughts that establishes the tone in our nervous systems. Positive, optimistic thoughts set us up for success; a habitual pattern of negative thinking perpetuates failure. Although most of us are willing, in theory, to accept responsibility for the results we get in life, in practice we often resign ourselves to the predictable pathways of our old attitudes and expectations.

In fact, we can choose our thoughts like we choose tomatoes: this one is too green; this one is too soft; this one is just right! We can weed out thoughts that are toxic and counterproductive—like the harsh self-accusations of our inner critic, or the blame and condemnations heaped upon others, or the energy-draining worry over events that are beyond our control. We can replace a negative thought with a better one, one that brightens the way we see the world. Ultimately, who we are and what we accomplish is determined by our perception and where it takes us. The eminent 20th-century psychologist Viktor Frankl said, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

This article is a authorized repost from www.chabad.org. To read the complete series on “A Practical Guide to a Calmer Spirit”: CLICK HERE

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