Mental Health Monday: Creating a Clearing
About a month ago I did a post about COURAGE and COMPASSION. I shared some of the wisdom I was gleaning from Brené Brown’s wonderful book, The Gifts of Imperfection. This morning I picked the book up again and continued reading, this time Guidepost #8: “Cultivating Calm and Stillness: Letting Go of Anxiety as a Lifestyle.”
After an intense Holy Week—which included participating in the mercy meal for a friend’s funeral—culminating in a wonderful but busy Pascha (Easter) weekend, my mind is already back in new house mode. As I prepare for more workmen to arrive and work out the kinks in the bells and whistles, I’m anxious to get pictures hung, flowers planted, and get on with the business of living in the house. The business of writing. And being with friends. And I’m also anxious to get into a discipline of regular rest and exercise so that I can better manage my pain. The more I think about all of these things, the easier it is to become anxious.
Brown addresses these issue with her explanations of the differences in two principals. The first is CALM:
I define calm as creating perspective and mindfulness while managing emotional reactivity. When I think about calm people, I think about people who can bring perspective to complicated situations and feel their feelings without reacting to heightened emotions like fear and anger.
At age 63, I think I’ve begun to cultivate some calmness in my life, especially since my car wreck last summer and the months of recovery following it, which I’m still experiencing. But it’s the second principal in this chapter that really grabbed my attention: STILLNESS:
Stillness is not about focusing on nothingness; it’s about creating a clearing. It’s opening up an emotionally clutter-free space and allowing ourselves to feel and think and dream and question.
Creating a clearing. I love this. As I write these words in my new office/sun room, my view is onto a lovely but crowded garden. In the center is a topiary with a short hedge circling it. To the right is a goldfish pond with no fish because the raccoons eat them. A tall hedge encloses the area, providing privacy from the sidewalk and street but also a somewhat claustrophobic feel. Azaleas and other plants fill in the “white space.” As lovely as this is, I want to change it because there is no clearing. There’s barely room to walk, and no place for a barbeque grill, table and chairs. We enjoy cooking and eating outside, and if we want to do so at this new house, we’ll have to create a clearing.
Just like I have to create a clearing in my mind in order to write, to nurture my marriage and friendships, to be disciplined in exercising and mindful eating. I want to do all these things from a center that is both CALM and STILL.
Brown shares ways that she has learned to do this, especially by exercising more and drinking less caffeine. But also by learning not to either overfunction or underfunction in dealing with life’s issues.
On this Bright Monday, when the joyful verses of “Christ is Risen” are still ringing in my ears from the beautiful Pascha services of the weekend, I will purpose to cultivate calm and stillness. And to create clearings.