Staying Loose in Times of Crisis

“We have to be able to look deeply into the nature of our suffering—to touch, embrace and hold it—before we can touch peace.”
Claude Thomas

Times of crisis offer opportunities for self-observation. We may think we are very brave, until we face real danger. We may think our hearts are full of love until we encounter evil deeds that reveal our capacity to hate. Conversely, danger and evil may create the opportunity for us to demonstrate unsuspected courage and compassion.

Now is a good time to become more aware of our attachments. When we are attached to things or circumstances that are impermanent (and everything is) we are going to experience suffering. When we can accept the changing nature, the impermanence of things, we gain a degree of equanimity, which is the opposite of anxiety. If you are highly anxious, ask yourself to what you are attached? How are you engaging in craving or aversion?

What about people we love? Shouldn’t we be attached to them? Maybe we should distinguish between attachment and connection, appreciation or loving. We may deeply love a spouse or a child and maintain a position of non-attachment. If we want the best for the loved one and accept that they will change, perhaps grow old, and someday die, as we will, then we are in tune with that reality. If we cannot accept the inevitability of change we will be distressed and out of harmony with nature.

We can enjoy the beauty of a flower knowing that it will eventually wilt and fade. We learn that flowers are impermanent. We don’t love them less. In fact, we love them more for their impermanence. Who wouldn’t rather receive a gift of a real rose than an artificial one that will not fade? Yet what a waste of energy it would be to fret over the rose’s fate. We are not anxious for the rose. We just love it and enjoy it while it exists.

If we are seeking a position of non-attachment, does that mean we don’t do anything to change circumstances that seem dangerous or otherwise undesirable? Not at all. We can nurture, protect and defend against danger, but as we do, we had best be mindful of the effects of our actions. If we respond to danger in ignorance and hate, we will only create negative conditions that will make things worse.

This week, practice mindfulness of your fears. When you feel anxious, take some long slow breaths and try to identify the thoughts that preceded your anxious feelings. You may need to get very quiet to obtain that information, since anxiety and panic can be stirred by thoughts that are not fully conscious. Continue to breathe slowly and calmly. Tell your muscles to relax, and repeat a word that will help calm you, such as “peace,” “love,” or “shalom.” Remind yourself that you are safe right now, and that the condition you fear is, at the moment, merely a mental projection.

Notice your posture. Are you hunched over, tied up in knots? Try lengthening your spine. Sit or stand up straight and you may actually feel a little stronger and braver as your diaphragm relaxes and your chest expands.

Make time to center yourself, meditate, relax or play. Make time to be with people you love. Be a little more attentive to the needs of strangers. If you find yourself getting hung up on your dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, say to yourself, “This too shall pass.” Relax your grasp on wishing things were different, and become more aware of conditions as they are. Relinquish your feelings of hate as unproductive and likely to generate even more misery in the world. Accept the moment in its fullness.

To the Meditation Archive Menu

To the current Meditation of the Week


© 2002 Tom Barrett