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3 Steps to Keeping Calm in Chaos

Does it happen to you? Chaos busts in the front door and calm disappears out the back?

All of those good intentions to “Stay calm and… ” drown in a flood of adrenaline that should fuel your productivity, but…

Overwhelm chaos can shut you down and leave you  spinning your wheels at high RPMs–going nowhere in an ever deepening rut.

It can also morph you into control freak, dangerously red on the irritability scale.

I know that place all to well AND I’m getting the hang of know what it feels like to find calm and carry it inside. Here’s what’s working for me right now–  

Three steps to staying calm–from the inside out: 

 #1 Identify Your Calm Zone

Where is your peaceful place?  I’m talking about that place where your body lets go,  your soul comes up for air, and you’re guaranteed a moment of R&R.

We are looking for the spaces, physical places or experiences, where  feelings of calm and goodwill emerge–bubble up naturally.   

 Where does that happen for you?

A car-turned-sanctuary when a song reaches out from the radio, right into your heart?  Unexpectedly you are weeping, and afterwards, it feels a bit like a summer rainstorm balm for blistering day. 

Is it the big screen–with the magic that pulls you right into a story line of hope? It’s amazing how a lifetime can be so satisfyingly fit into a 90 minute window of time.  You walk away with a little more courage/hope/strength/heart to believe everything’s gonna be alright–and you can do that hard thing. 

How about the scent of a loved one’s perfume? Fresh baked cinnamon rolls? Peppermint?  There’s a reason essential oils have a cult following. 

My go to place is nature. Just looking at a star studded sky can clear up my self doubts and assure me that I belong.

Anne Frank described the nature effect in the diary she kept while hiding for her life in Nazi occupied Amsterdam.

“The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely, or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature and God… I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles.”  Anne Frank

She penned those words while cooped up in a crowded annex apartment with only a memory of the outside world.

So, where is it for you?  (Watch for our our guide to Finding Your Calm Zone coming soon). 

After you’ve identified at least one personal calm zone, get to know it–intimately:

#2 Get Familiar With Your Calm Zone

There are two burial sites for Jesus in Jerusalem.  Yes, two.  The Holy Sepulcher and The Garden Tomb. I wish I could tell you that the garden tomb was The Place–give me nature over fancy buildings any day–but tradition and archaeological evidence convincingly favor the Holy Sepulcher.

This elaborate complex is controlled by different denominations through somewhat complicated (and not always agreeable) arrangements.

Over three million tourists and pilgrims pass through every year and it isn’t surprising that it feels commercialized in places.

The Garden Tomb, on the other hand, is a secluded refuge tucked inside stone walls just outside the Old City. It is a relief to step away from the traffic and dust into the coolness of its shaded grounds. You follow a winding path through lush vegetation and colorful flowers, past quiet corners for personal prayer or small group worship gatherings.

Finally, you descend stone steps to an open area facing a limestone cliff.  The door covering the tomb reads:

HE IS NOT HERE FOR HE IS RISEN.

Visitors speak in quiet tones and the peace is palpable.

 

Years ago, I did a spring semester in the Middle East.  As it turned out, my university’s study center was within walking distance of The Garden Tomb and I frequented it often. 

It was never crowded until the day I most wanted a quiet place to study for a final exam–a line of tourist buses had unloaded their passengers and a programmed gathering was underway.   

Leaving, I let my feet walk me wherever, keeping an eye out for a quiet corner.  Traffic picked and I joined the sea of pedestrians crossing over the moat into the Old City. 

Before I knew it, I was passing the gate to the Holy Sepulcher complex. 

Instinctively, I turned in and approached the arched opening. To right, a stone staircase hugged the wall of a small stone building. The door was closed above, but there was a slice of shade over the stoop. 

Feeling adventurous, I climbed up and scooted into the shade as far as I could.  It was not the perfect study spot, hot and rather in the open, but it felt adventurous to be there.

I was up high enough to see what was going on below without anyone noticing me.

A crowd of tourists streamed past, lining up at the entrance.  This group was followed by another and then another until the stone pavement below had disappeared under a sea of bodies.

A tour operator waved a sign in Russian and shouted for people to move towards him. 

Another called out in Italian. 

Just below me, a young woman fashioned a bath towel into a garment that would both cover her bikini top and reach below her knees. No entrance without modest coverings.

The growing discomfort and impatience was tangible.

“This place is nothing like Jesus,” I protested inwardly.

I thought of the gold and glitter inside, the religious disagreements that unevenly divided up the site; I thought of the armed soldiers stationed along the Via Dolorosa and the Western Wall next to the Dome of the Rock… and the unlikelihood of peace in the Middle East.  

I considered the beauty and simplicity of The Garden Tomb and was totally unprepared for the epiphany that came in two thoughts, as gentle as a whisper. 

First– “This is real life.  The Holy Sepulcher and its surrounding represent the world Jesus lived in.  Big crowds, mixed motivations, political oppression, religious division, conflict, corruption, dust, heat…”

Second–“And The Garden Tomb is a reflection of Jesus’ internal world, a perfect representation of his heart. The beauty inside created that reality for those outside wherever he went. 

We need our peaceful places–not just because they offer us calm, but because they teach us what calm feels like.  With intentionality and practice, we can learn to carry those places inside of us.

#3  Memorize Your Calm Zone

Jesus spent time in nature.  In fact, he prepared for his ultimate sacrifice in a garden.  It was in that same garden in which he was betrayed.

Anne Frank carried the beauty in her heart.  She penned these words not long before dying of typhus in the died of typhus in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

“I’ve found that there is always some beauty left–in nature, sunshine, freedom, in yourself; these can all help you.  Look at these things, then you will find yourself again, and God, and then you regain your balance.  A person who’s happy will make others happy; a person who has courage and faith will never die in misery!” Anne Frank  

Where is your peaceful place–that place where you feel peace and calm, where you can breathe?

 Go there. 

Take it into your heart, mind, imagination.  

Practice remembering those feelings, what they look like, smell like, feel like. 

Then, remember them when chaos hits. Find your calm inside and live from there.

Here are three fun ways I’ve connected with the calm zone recently.  

I imagine the mound of unfolded laundry on my bed as Mount Rainier. Suddenly, I am on the Wonderland Trail breathing in the stunning vistas. Forgotten is the sheer agony of putting one foot in front of the other to reach the top. All is still under the azure ocean of cloudless sky. I can breath. Life is beautiful.

The alarm goes off, and I imagine it is possible to leap 12 times zones forward, to wake up in Thailand. The breeze is gentle atop my favorite boulder at Hin Chang Si–the one with a view so still that the fishing boats and emerald green rice paddies far below look like a painting. It reminds me that I am here and this is now. I’m glad to be alive with the strength to get out of bed.

And what a lovely escape to feel the cool water flowing from our garden hose and imagine it a tributary of the St. Joseph River that runs along the back field. I forget about parched ground and caterpillar invasions and kayak all the way to Lake Michigan–lingering offshore where the merry sounds on Silver Beach lie just out of earshot. I doze in a dreamy, sun drenched silence, lulled by gentle waves. My garden is a sanctuary.

Sometimes it isn’t fun at all and I want to toss out the whole idea–usually when there’s a disagreement or I have to navigate paperwork in the current pandemic.

What do you think?  What works for you?

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