I was on holiday in the French Vendėe looking for peace and calm. The family had caught the ferry and located the camp site. And now on a lovely day without a cloud in the sky, I shouldn’t have had a care in the world. My daughter passed by and said “Oh Dad, you look relaxed”.
Outwardly I probably did – she’s not used to seeing me lazing in shorts and tee shirt. But inwardly, I was still bothered about not finding the best shady spot away from the hot sun. I was focusing on other minor inconveniences, such as sand in the tent, the grandchildren squabbling in the background, and not immediately finding that wretched bottle opener for a refreshing bottle of beer.
I know that finding inner calm should be less difficult when you are on holiday. But how do we achieve this in ordinary life at home and at work? How does one find peace and calm in times of bother and responsibility?
Mindfulness and calm
Therapists, as well as spiritual teachers, all say to experience a state of emotional calm one must be in a receptive state and this means learning a little self-discipline. So I try to take an attitude of mindfulness: focusing my awareness on the present moment, while calmly observing my feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. This discipline enables one to take an emotional step back from what is going on around oneself.
For me it also means trying to be receptive to what I believe to be an available in-flowing spirit of calm and contentment. I’ve discovered that this level of consciousness replaces thoughts that dwell on minor irritants, it raises the mind above whims that would otherwise comes flitting into the head, and it prevents falling for each sense of frustration.
Calm and the Divine-within
I happen to believe that quietening the mind to all the things of self and the world can be hard. A higher awareness is easy to miss when I am preoccupied with the things of the material side of life and self-centred cares.
I find it helpful to direct my thought to what I’ve learned to term ‘the Divine within’, and to listen carefully to its inner voice.
I’m reminded of the Old Testament story of the child Samuel who was lying down at night in the Temple. He heard a voice calling his name. The narrator tells us that the boy, not knowing God, mistakenly supposed it was Eli the priest who had spoken. Only when he was told to direct his thoughts to the Lord did Samuel respond:
“Speak, for your servant is listening”. (1 Samuel 3:3-10)
Listening to this inner voice might be said to amount to prayer. Yet, when doing so, to all appearances, one is merely in a reflective mood quietly going about one’s business. This prayerful state of mind is allowing the universal spirit of love as the ‘Divine within’ to lift one from an ego level of mind to a spiritual one.
A human picture of the Divine
Everyone has some sort of idea of God. Mine came from when I was a boy. Then, every night my mother would tuck me in, and say the Lord’s Prayer with me, before kissing me good night and turning off the light. And, as a teenager and later, I would silently rehearse those few sentences alone when going to sleep. And as a consequence feeling the peaceful presence of my idea of the Lord Jesus Christ.
This was and is an impression of a very personal deity. Not just a cosmic powerhouse but an essentially humane entity. Not a punitive harsh idea of God but rather a compassionate figure – who I see as the true source of humane love. One with whom I can take my troubles and feel comfort, encouragement, and guidance. This is a personal image of the Divine with whom one can have a relationship.
Conclusion about finding calm
Many years later I find that I do lose my way and sometimes forget to keep up the inner conversation. But I have learned that when I re-direct my attention away from immediate concerns and focus on this Christ-within – a spirit who is present within me but at the same time coming from beyond myself – I can directly experience calm.
I would say that to really know this Divine presence is not just to possess a memory about it. Nor is it to just have some level of enlightened thought. Neither is it to simply have a strong spiritual belief. I feel to truly know the ‘Divine within’ means to base one’ life on this presence and be transformed.
Copyright 2016 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems