The goal is not to be calm.
How do you feel when you read that sentence? I was both surprised and relieved when I heard it – on two separate occasions from two different people last week. It got my attention the first time and I really took notice when the message was repeated. Clearly it was something I needed to hear.
If calm isn’t the goal then what is?
According to Lisa Dion, founder of Synergetic Play Therapy, the goal is to be regulated. To be aware of how we’re feeling moment to moment and take direct action to bring ourselves back into a state of homeostasis. Taking direct action means activating the vagus nerve, which is part of the parasympathetic nervous system, and modulates our emotional state – among many, many other functions.
When we’re scared it’s often because we are looking to exterior things to create a sense of stability or safety. In other words, we orient outside of ourselves. In a time where there are very few certainties this is a practice that will most likely lead us away from the comfort we seek rather than toward it. The real pathway to feeling safe is to orient inward, or to pay close attention to what is happening inside our bodies – the thoughts and feelings that are constantly arising.
Have you ever been around a person who radiates such a sense of wellbeing that you find yourself relaxed and at ease in their presence? Or conversely is there someone you know who is perpetually agitated and you feel instantly stressed when you’re together. That’s called mirroring, or resonance, or “borrowing each other’s nervous systems” as Lisa Dion says. Danielle LaPorte calls this “mass responsiveness” and says “Fear can move like wildfire through a social system. But so can love and ingenuity – and it changes everything for the better along the way”.
In fact, you can intentionally be what’s known as an “external regulator” when you continuously make the effort to maintain your equilibrium. People will begin to orient to your nervous system, and you’ll be the one radiating wellbeing. And remember; calm is not the goal. You can be regulated and still aware of feeling fear, anxiety or sadness. Making a conscious effort to do this is an act of service during this very uncertain time. It’s something we can all make a choice to do and we can have a profoundly positive effect on the people around us.
Much of the information in this message was borrowed from this video from Lisa Dion. It’s an hour’s worth of easy to understand science about the vagus nerve and ways to stimulate it. Highly recommended if you can find the time!
a one-minute meditation
Be slow and know that you are Love
Be slow and know that you Are
Be slow and Know
*breathe-in slowly, through the nose, before reciting each line
THE SACRED BREATH
Most of the contemplative traditions use the “sacred breath” — you breathe in slowly through the nose, and breathe out slowly through the mouth.
This type of breath triggers the parasympathetic nervous system, which leads to calming and a lessening of anxiety. Add the words above, and you’ve got a way to meditate anywhere, any time.
One minute here or there really adds up!