A Source of Strength

I want to share an essay that has helped me develop a much greater sense of inner peace. I first stumbled upon it on artofmanliness.com during my senior year of college, and I like to reread it whenever I find myself feeling overwhelmed by life. It’s called “The Majesty of Calmness.”

I really hope you can get some value from it.


“The Majesty of Calmness”
From Self Control, Its Kingship and Majesty, 1905 
By William George Jordan

Calmness is the rarest quality in human life. It is the poise of a great nature, in harmony with itself and its ideals. It is the moral atmosphere of a life self-reliant and self-controlled. Calmness is singleness of purpose, absolute confidence, and conscious power—ready to be focused in an instant to meet any crisis. The Sphinx is not a true type of calmness—petrifaction is not calmness; it is death, the silencing of all the energies; while no one lives his life more fully, more intensely and more consciously than the man who is calm.The Fatalist is not calm. He is the coward slave of his environment, hopelessly surrendering to his present condition, recklessly indifferent to his future. He accepts his life as a rudderless ship, drifting on the ocean of time. He has no compass, no chart, no known port to which he is sailing. His self-confessed inferiority to all nature is shown in his existence of constant surrender. It is not—calmness.The man who is calm has his course in life clearly marked on his chart. His hand is ever on the helm. Storm, fog, night, tempest, danger, hidden reefs— he is ever prepared and ready for them. He is made calm and serene by the realization that in these crises of his voyage he needs a clear mind and a cool head; that he has naught to do but to do each day the best he can by the light he has; that he will never flinch nor falter for a moment; that, though he may have to tack and leave his course for a time, he will never drift, he will get back into the true channel, he will keep ever headed toward his harbor. When he will reach it, how he will reach it matters not to him. He rests in calmness, knowing he has done his best. If his best seem to be overthrown or over-ruled, then he must still bow his head—in calmness. To no man is permitted to know the future of his life, the finality. God commits to man ever only new beginnings, new wisdom, and new days to use to the best of his knowledge.

Calmness comes ever from within. It is the peace and restfulness of the depths of our nature. The fury of storm and of wind agitate only the surface of the sea; they can penetrate only two or three hundred feet—below that is the calm, unruffled deep. To be ready for the great crises of life we must learn serenity in our daily living. Calmness is the crown of self-control.

When the worries and cares of the day fret you, and begin to wear upon you, and you chafe under the friction—be calm. Stop, rest for a moment, and let calmness and peace assert themselves. If you let these irritating outside influences get the better of you, you are confessing your inferiority to them, by permitting them to dominate you. Study the disturbing elements, each by itself, bring all the will-power of your nature to bear upon them, and you will find that they will, one by one, melt into nothingness, like vapors fading before the sun. The glow of calmness that will then pervade your mind, the tingling sensation of an inflow of new strength, may be to you the beginning of the revelation of the supreme calmness that is possible for you. Then, in some great hour of your life, when you stand face to face with some awful trial, when the structure of your ambition and life-work crumbles in a moment, you will be brave. You can then fold your arms calmly, look out undismayed and undaunted upon the ashes of your hope, upon the wreck of what you have faithfully built, and with brave heart and unfaltering voice you may say: “So let it be—I will build again.”

When the tongue of malice and slander, the persecution of inferiority, tempts you for just a moment to retaliate, when for an instant you forget yourself so far as to hunger for revenge—be calm. When the grey heron is pursued by its enemy, the eagle, it does not run to escape; it remains calm, takes a dignified stand, and waits quietly, facing the enemy unmoved. With the terrific force with which the eagle makes its attack, the boasted king of birds is often impaled and run through on the quiet, lance-like bill of the heron. The means that man takes to kill another’s character becomes suicide of his own

When man has developed the spirit of Calmness until it becomes so absolutely part of him that his very presence radiates it, he has made great progress in life. Calmness cannot be acquired of itself and by itself; it must come as the culmination of a series of virtues. What the world needs and what individuals need is a higher standard of living, a great realizing sense of the privilege and dignity of life, a higher and nobler conception of individuality.

With this great sense of calmness permeating an individual, man becomes able to retire more into himself, away from the noise, the confusion and strife of the world, which come to his ears only as faint, far-off rumblings, or as the tumult of the life of a city heard only as a buzzing hum by the man in a balloon.

The man who is calm does not selfishly isolate himself from the world, for he is intensely interested in all that concerns the welfare of humanity. His calmness is but a Holy of Holies into which he can retire from the world to get strength to live in the world. He realizes that the full glory of individuality, the crowning of his self-control is—the majesty of calmness.

 

January’s Mindfulness Method – Abdominal Breathing

Photo: Amorebieta, Spain (Basque Country)
Photo: Amorebieta, Spain (Basque Country)

“Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again.”

– Thich Nhat Hanh

Since discovering mindfulness back in 2013, I’ve experienced many of the benefits it has to offer. These include more peace of mind, increased self-awareness, and a greater ability to connect with others.

Despite these benefits, however, consistently practicing mindfulness remains a challenge for me. Even when meditation is a daily habit, I have a hard time remembering to stay mindful throughout the day.

In order to make practicing mindfulness as simple as possible this year, I’m going to focus on one specific “mindfulness method” each month. These methods will simply be different ways of bringing my attention to the present moment.

My method for January is abdominal breathing.

What is Abdominal Breathing?

Breathing deeply into the abdominals, or lower stomach area.

Why Abdominal Breathing?

Concentrating on the breath is a core component in most mindfulness and meditation practices. I first discovered the presence-bringing power of observing my breath after reading “The Power of Now.” Since then, it has been the mindfulness method that I come back to the most.

However, there is a difference between abdominal breathing and just paying attention to your breath; abdominal breathing is more intentional. It’s not just observing, but consciously directing the breath. I chose this more intentional method because of the benefits it offers outside of mindfulness.

I actually stumbled upon it a couple of months ago while searching for ways to reduce stress and anxiety.  A few sources recommended abdominal breathing because of it’s calming effect on the mind and body. I tested it out for a couple of days and was quickly sold on it. It wasn’t a cure-all, but I did notice a greater sense of calm after breathing deeply into my abdomen for even a few seconds.

My Progress So Far…

As of writing this, I’ve been trying to consistently use this method for four days. So far it has still been a struggle to remain mindful, but that might be because my holiday travels have left me feeling a little more frazzled than usual. However, it has been nice having a single focus to come back to when I find myself getting caught up in my thoughts.

I’ll probably post an update in a week or two. It could be interesting to see what my practice looks like once I’m in a more consistent routine.

 

Wisdom from a Vacuum Cleaner

Today I sat down to meditate and…

The dog next door started howling.

Someone turned on a very loud vacuum.

Two of neighbors started screaming at each other.

My initial reaction to these distractions was frustration: How dare these neighbors interrupt my meditation practice with their bickering (at 7 in the morning, no less). Doesn’t that dog know I’m trying to find enlightenment? And really, who the hell vacuums this early????

My meditation station for the past three months.
My meditation station for the past three months.

Before getting caught up in the current of these disgruntled thoughts, I stopped and asked myself what I was trying to get out of this morning’s meditation. Was it inner peace? Self-realization? The opportunity to brag about how “zen” I am? Everything that came to mind didn’t align with what I know meditation is truly about: simply being in the present moment, regardless of what it holds.

So I reminded myself to just “be,” not judging the noises coming through my window, or seeking a specific feeling. I allowed the howling to wash over me. I breathed deeply into the hum of the vacuum. I listened to my arguing neighbors as though hearing a foreign language, not trying to interpret their words but noticing the ups and downs in each person’s tone.

It wasn’t perfect. Over and over I felt the frustration rise inside me. Over and over I brought my attention back to the source. Eventually, all of the noises stopped, and I was left with the peace and quiet I originally desired.

When my timer went off I felt rejuvenated. Like alchemy, my frustration had been transformed into peace, and I realized those distractions were just lessons in disguise.

 

Random Musings

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Few things bring me a greater sense of peace than going to the beach at night. The constant lullaby of crashing waves. The way the light from distant cities colors the water. The feeling of smallness that comes from looking out into the pitch black ocean. It never loses its charm.

As I get ready to move to Sevilla, a city more than an hour away from the coast, I have to pause and consider just how lucky I’ve been to live so close to the beach my whole life. Whether I was growing up in Long Beach, or spending the last year in San Sebastian, that constant source of peace was never more than a short drive away.

So I’m writing here to express my gratitude; for the countless nights spent gazing at the ocean, and the knowledge that more await me when I get back.

Stillness

To the mind that is still,the whole universe surrenders.

I’ve always loved the analogy of the mind being like an ocean. The surface – our everyday stream of consciousness – is often rocky and unpredictable. Our thoughts, emotions, and desires are continuously buffeted along by strong winds. These winds are the external forces in our lives – things like our jobs, our family situations, social conditioning.

But what lies beneath the surface? Is there a deeper level to our minds, an equivalent to the dark and mysterious depths of the ocean? This is a question I’ve spent a lot of time trying to answer when it comes to my own mind. And what I’ve found, in those rare moments when I’ve been able to calm the mental storm in my head, is that there is an incredible stillness to be found beneath the surface.

At first that stillness was detectable only in my most peaceful moments. I recall my almost nightly drives to Seal Beach during the summer of 2013, my first conscious attempts to escape all of the noise in my head. I would walk out to the edge of the pier and just stare at the ocean for an hour or so, letting the sounds of the waves and the surrounding darkness calm me.

After a while I would feel a shift inside. It was like all of my worries and superficial desires would just float away. My mind was finally just…still. It was in those moments that my desire for a life filled with adventure and beauty started to come to the surface.

For the first time in my life I could see that I wanted so much more for my life than the textbook version of success I had been chasing. It was clear that  typical things like finding a nice job, chasing after money, and searching for comfort and security just weren’t for me. It was as if the call of my heart was finally louder than the chatter in my brain.

To this day the contents of my brain are just as scattered as they were three years ago. When I wake up in the morning, seeking out the beauty in my life is the last thing on my mind. When someone is rude to me or I make a stupid mistake at work, I don’t think about adventure and romance, I just get pissed off. I wrestle with a myriad of fears, anxieties, and petty emotions every single day.

Yet the knowledge of what I’ve felt in those moments of stillness has stayed with me. I know that the tumultuousness of my thoughts and emotions only represents the very surface of who I am and what I want. I know that deep inside me, at the very core of my soul, exists a vision for my life that is so much greater than my everyday concerns and superficial desires.

Knowing all of this, when I feel myself getting caught up in life’s frenzied current, all I can do is pause and get in touch with that stillness. It’s in that state that I’m able to see clearly what I want out of life. It’s in the stillness that I derive my energy. And it’s in the stillness that I’m fully consumed by an appetite for beauty.