While I always enjoy Kevin Schoeninger’s articles on Spiritual Growth Monthly, this week his message seemed to be exactly what I needed, at a moment when my mental, physical and spiritual batteries all seemed tapped out. As if all we have to do during the holidays wasn’t enough, I had taken on some extra projects, and left myself feeling exhausted and overwhelmed, instead of the joyful caring person I would want to be this time of year.
“Tis the season to be jolly,” the carol says. So we further stretch our overly packed agendas with shopping, decorating, cooking, traveling and fighting winter storms. We want to be generous and happy, but deep down, we may realize that what we really need is a “silent night,” before we crash and burn.
Women in particular, I think, tend to view holidays as a time when we are expected to prove our domestic skills. Just last week I heard a friend complain that she couldn’t eat healthy right now because there was all that holiday baking “we have to do.” Luckily for me, I dropped baking from my agenda years ago, but I haven’t found time to put up a tree, or wrap any presents yet this year, and I am writing this on Christmas Eve.
If I could just get things under control, I tell myself, I could relax. I could survey my no longer chaotic surroundings with pride, and find tranquility in my soul. But the odds don’t look good. It just seems the more we do, the more there is to do. So, what I really want for Christmas is to stop having to be in control. I want a vacation from my responsibilities. I want to sleep until…sometime next year.
Happily, Kevin brought me a little vacation, which demonstrates exactly what his article this week is all about. Finding moments of tranquility amidst the to-do lists which have no end. I usually listen to the audio Kevin provides on SGM first, before taking more time with the written text. So I sat my frazzled self down, closed my eyes and the just allowed the message to get through. What Kevin reminded me was that tranquility does not happen after we have everything under control. It happens when we set it all down, and let go.
Kevin asks at one point if we sometimes feel a little guilty “having the thought of just stopping, doing nothing, and letting go of figuring it all out?” I certainly do. And I fall into the trap of doing some mindless activity to try and relax, instead of doing the one thing I already know would really make me feel better…taking time to be still.
All spiritual traditions teach the value of stillness. “Be still and know” applies everywhere. Without the stillness, we cannot hear the songs of the universe. We can’t hear the silence because of the noise going on in our brains. And the more we focus on thinking, the less we can simply feel.
When it comes down to it, tranquility is a feeling. Just like joy, good will, and love. And like other feelings, it cannot be trapped and hung on to. It has to be experienced freely, and allowed its own ebb and flow. But like a loving relationship, tranquility can be nurtured. Kevin uses a lovely image of nurturing a tree, which when grown provides shade and comfort. Trees don’t grow up over night. They can’t be forced by pulling them up from the top. They require patience, care and feeding, and then they grow without any other help from us. The same can be said for the tranquil soul.
We don’t have to wait until our to-do list is finished. We don’t have to hold off until our retirement when we think we’ll have the time. We can practice little bits of tranquility anywhere, and at any time. We just have to make it a priority.
I once read a comment from Hugh Jackman when asked how he finds time to meditate. He said something to the effect that you’d never say you can’t find time to brush your teeth. You just do it. Every day. Even if it is not some kind of formal meditation, all of us can find time to cherish something beautiful we see, a take a moment to simply give thanks. And we can stop, breathe, and just be still.
To look deeper at the happiness that comes from tranquility, this month Kevin has been exploring the book A Unified Theory of Happiness, by Andrea F. Polard, PsyD. Dr. Polard describes tranquility as coming from a different type of awareness. By opening up our awareness beyond ourselves, and our own thoughts, and trusting in a unifying force behind the universe, she says, we can attain tranquil moments which she calls a “Supreme Mode of Happiness.” From that happiness, we become recharged, renewed and ready to face the world once more.
In our busy world, we all like to have plans and take action. So Kevin gives us three steps to help us become more trusting and learn to nurture more tranquility in our lives. We may think of stillness as a sort of passive state, but we may need to take real action to clean out the clutter of our houses and our minds, before we can truly relax and be still.
Kevin’s article contains far more than I have touched on here, and it will certainly be worth re-reading long after the holidays are done. Perhaps we can give ourselves a tiny gift of tranquility now, which will grow and allow us to be more joyful throughout the months ahead.
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