Tag Archives: peace

Overwhelmed and Under Water

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Overwhelmed and Under Water

A little earlier today, I experienced a moment – really, it was no longer than a minute – during which I thought of about 15 things that I need to do sooner rather than later. That unbidden to-do list was followed by a wave of despair: “How would I ever get all of it done? I just can handle it all. Maybe I should just quit.”

And just like a snap of the fingers, it was gone. But the damage was done. I was feeling panicked – it felt like my neck was on fire, I was nauseated, and the seat felt unsteady below me. The specific symptoms we experience when anxious or panicky may vary but most of us are familiar with that underlying dread that our situation is hopeless.

The rest of my day – during which I had intended to get a lot done, like finishing grading papers and making more progress on my tax returns – was imperiled. I had thought about quitting. Quitting what, exactly? My job, paying taxes, living? Thinking about that made me laugh a little too loudly for someone sitting at a corner table at Starbucks.

So, what did I do? I focused first and foremost on getting my breathing under control. At this point, the entire episode had lasted just a few minutes, but I was close to hyperventilating the whole time. I closed my eyes, rested my hands in my lap and unclenched them, and slowed my breathing bit by bit. Inhaling more slowly and deeply, exhaling more slowly and completely. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Until it felt natural.

That freak-out of a to-do list was waiting for me but I had the benefit of some semblance of calm to consider it more rationally. It was a long list, to be certain, full of things that need to be done sooner rather than later. But not right this minute, not in this moment, not all of them, not even all of one of them. 

Taking a mindful approach to life, living in each successive moment, we can observe a daunting task and recognize without judgment that it will take a while to accomplish, that we cannot bite it all off in one chew, and that that does not make us insufficient or incapable. The task is what it is, and we are what we are.

I personally find that a task performed mindfully finishes more quickly than expected. Or that the time spent did not seem as long. It doesn’t really matter which. The likely outcome is better than if it had been achieved with much angst and drama. Certainly, we feel better afterward, and in suitable condition to move onto the next task, if need be.

Of course, the other thing I did to cope with that moment of panic was to blog about it. (For better or worse, this post is the product. Hope it’s better.) Blogging is not necessary, but it’s important to pause and look at what we just experienced in those moments of anxiety. Our impulse is to move along as quickly as possible and leave the wreckage in the rearview mirror, but that doesn’t really benefit us in any way. It is insufficient to deal with the present moment’s disturbance, and doesn’t help us to cope with future incidents.

We should take a moment, once our breath has returned to normal, to think about what just happened and why. What triggered it? Why did that list scroll through my brain at that particular moment? I’m not certain, even after having taken the time to write this post. But I’m open to finding out, so I can move on for now without knowing the answer, because I feel like I can handle it when it arrives and I don’t need to dwell on it in the interim.

Thanks for hanging with my while I re-centered myself and reestablished balance and mindfulness.

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Thinking about Syria

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What am I to think about the developments in the U.S. regarding Syria? We appear to be slouching closer to some type of military action and I am personally distraught at the thought.

I abhor violence, plain and simple. I cannot condone any action that the U.S. may take in regard to Syria that involves violence. But…

How can I turn a blind eye to the plight of the Syrian people? More than 100,000 Syrians have died in this civil war. If a similar proportion of Americans died, we’d be talking about almost 1.5 million deaths. Think of the effect that losing 3,000 Americans on September 11, 2001, has had on this country: What would happen to America if 500 times that many people died? That is what is happening in Syria.

Over 2 million Syrians have fled their homeland and are living as refugees in neighboring countries. That’s 9 percent of Syria’s total population, the proportional equivalent of nearly 30 million Americans. How can I stay deaf to the cries of these victims? My heart is troubled to the point of breaking for the Syrian people and compassion is pouring forth from my heart in torrents. It is a tragedy of epic scale and – even if peace broke out today – a calamity that the country will have a very difficult time recovering from.

I believe that the U.S. and other countries should do something, but is violence the best answer? The Dalai Lama has said that there is such a thing as a justifiable war, but that one cannot know if it was justified until afterwards. “War is violence and violence is unpredictable. Therefore, it is better to avoid it if possible, and never to presume that we know beforehand whether the outcome of a particular war will be beneficial or not.” He has also said, “Now the concept of violence, the concept of war, is outdated…Violence never seems now to produce positive results.”

That is where my heart lies, with the path of peace. But peace does not appear to be making sufficient headway to end the crisis in Syria. Is it possible to be more “forcibly peacful” without crossing a boundary into a realm of non-peace? I fear it is not. A violent reaction from the U.S. appears more and more likely, and I am heartbroken at the prospect.

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