Tension or Calm?

“He clung to the thought and found that it floated.” ­ - Diana Gabaldon.

I was honored to attend a meeting a while back where the discussion centered around a highly emotional and complex issue. There was a mediator and several others in the room, all with individual views of what was being discussed.

After about an hour, when all viewpoints had been “put on the table,” a resolution to the challenging issue began to appear. The foundation of the decision was not made up of one or even two viewpoints, rather it was woven of many facts, enlightening words of grace, and surprising moments of head-turning realizations.

What has stayed with me is the feeling of tension that permeated the room when I first entered, and the feeling of calm that was palpable as the meeting ended. An atmosphere of conflict had transformed into one where each party was heard, acknowledged, and considered, where perspectives and viewpoints that had weighed each person down in a tension of judgment were changed by conversation and respectful listening, finally culminating in a solution. A solution that allowed all involved to float out of the room.

Our thoughts can sink us, or buoy us up. Whether to sink or float is always a choice—a choosing that is often difficult, and at the same time undeniably worth the effort.

Photograph by Barry Shapiro

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Calming Practice: Four Illuminating Questions

Here are four questions from Rick Hanson, Ph.D.* that can help discern what thoughts will keep you afloat and calm, and which ones will sink you into judgment or blame. While keeping a troubling or confusing situation in mind, ask each question and listen to, feel, and intuit what thoughts are dissolving, and which ones are flashing like welcoming beacons, signaling to you.

1. What's really true?

2. What matters most?

3. What's out of my hands?

4. What are the most important things to do, and be?

It's helpful to have pen and paper handy to take notes—breaking the habit of hanging onto heavy thoughts can be daunting, and having a record of this practice to refer to is a valuable reminder that you have chosen to float above disempowering thought patterns at least once (if not many times before). There is now in your brain a neural connection that will choose calm and new perspectives. Practice will make this new connection vibrant and strong, while the old habit will weaken over time.

* from Rick Hanson's newsletter "Just One Thing," posted 10/16/15.