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.
Last month my roommates reintroduced me to Dragon Ball Z, a show I enjoyed as a kid but hadn’t watched in more than a decade. Feeling nostalgic, I decided to take a trip down memory lane and watch the series from the beginning. I’m already 75 episodes in (please don’t judge) and it’s clear that 24-year old me is an even bigger fan of the show than 10-year-old me was.
One of the main things I love about it is its core theme of good vs. evil. I know that’s a theme in most stories, but there’s something about the way Dragon Ball Z portrays it that really resonates with me.
Goku, the protagonist of the show, is one of the most pure-hearted characters I’ve ever seen. He faces every treacherous villain with an underlying attitude of compassion, mercy, and optimism. And despite being one of the strongest people on the planet and a natural born warrior, he always seems reluctant to fight.
Watching Goku in action got me thinking about the battle between good and evil that goes on inside all of us. I don’t mean good and evil in the moralistic sense, but more in terms of our happiness. There are certain thoughts that encourage well-being and those that promote the opposite. In each moment we have to choose which ones we will let control our emotions and actions.
It’s fear, anger, hatred, selfishness, narcissism, insecurity, envy, and jealousy versus….love, empathy, compassion, gratitude, altruism, genuine confidence, patience, peace, and joy. You could say it’s the battle between our egos and our higher-selves. The worst of us against the best of us.
For most of my early life, my ego won those internal battles decisively. Honestly, they were hardly even battles most of the time. My ego was in complete control and negativity seemed to be my natural state. I had no idea there was any other way to live.
Things have changed in the last few years. Through mindfulness and meditation, I’ve become more aware of my ego and its negative tendencies. It no longer automatically controls my every action like it once did. But that increased awareness hasn’t eliminated my ego and its negative effects from my life. If anything, it has made the “good vs. evil” metaphor all the more accurate for me.
Every day my ego struggles to take back control. It wants to find fault in every situation. It wants to indulge in anger and fear. It wants to win arguments at the cost of relationships. My ego hardly ever wins when I’m at my best. I can observe those negative thoughts inside my head and simply push them aside. But when I’m at my worst, well, it often gets the upper hand.
Some might say that viewing the ego as an enemy to be defeated isn’t very healthy, and there’s definitely some truth to that. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past few years, it’s that awareness and compassion are the best antidotes for the ego’s negativity. “Attacking” the ego in an aggressive way can only serve to strengthen it.
However, there is something inspirational in the concept of good battling evil, the light overpowering the darkness. That kind of imagery reminds me that we have a choice to make in every moment: we can let our egos run the show or give the power to our higher selves. But making the right choice requires discipline. The ego will fight back like the most ferocious enemy we’ve ever encountered. That’s why it can seem like a battle at times.
I think this applies to our external lives as well. All around the world we are seeing a rise in ego-driven behaviors. There is so much fear and hatred getting thrown around that it can often feel like a hopeless situation. But it doesn’t have to be. We can view ourselves almost as warriors, choosing daily to fight back against all the negativity. This doesn’t necessarily mean fighting in a physical sense, but fighting back with our attitudes. It means looking at all the fear and hatred and rising above it, showing compassion for others, and, as Gary Vaynerchuk puts it, making positivity louder.
Of course, it all starts with the battle within ourselves.
I know personally it seems unwinnable at times. The ego is an incredibly persistent foe. But I won’t give up. I won’t let myself slide back into a world of negativity. I’ll keep fighting, and letting even silly things like a cartoon character inspire me to try even harder. I know my efforts will eventually pay off.
I think this ancient poet’s words, while simple, contain three powerful lessons about achieving success:
- Begin – Like a lot of people, I have dreams and goals but don’t know exactly how to accomplish them. I’m learning that the only way to learn is to just get started.
- Be Bold – Beginning takes a lot of courage. So does continuing when things get tough. When I read about anyone who has achieved their definition of success, boldness in the face of challenges is one thing they all have in common.
- Venture to be Wise – I put emphasis on “venture” because wisdom seems to come from realizing you don’t have it all figured out. So this part of the quote might be interpreted as, “embrace each day as a learning experience.” And the best way to learn is to start taking action.
In my last post, I mentioned some of my doubts about being able to handle my workload this year. In the two days since writing that I picked up a third private English lesson and a fourth is in the works. This extra work hasn’t eased those doubts, but my determination to crush it this year remains strong.
If I’m being honest, my newfound motivation is a little shocking to me. This time last year I was doing my best to avoid hard work, and finding any kind of lasting motivation seemed like a battle I was destined to lose. Yet now I’m filled with a burning desire to make the most out of my life.
How did I get to this point?
Starting this blog last April was the spark that lit the fuse. Since then, my motivation and ambitions have both grown exponentially. To get more specific, though, here are two different focuses that have fueled this change.
- A focus on doing
- A focus on giving
A Focus on Doing
“Personal power is the ability to take action.”
– Tony Robbins
I’ve been a thinker for most of my life. I like to think about all the things I want to accomplish and how I might accomplish them. I make plans and imagine different scenarios. I think, and I think, and I think.
For years I wondered why I could never create any lasting change in my life. I had so many great plans and even more theories on how to accomplish them. But the plans always seemed to stay plans, never coming to fruition.
It’s obvious now, but my problem was that I never acted on those plans.
Thinking about what I wanted to accomplish was easier than actually trying to accomplish it. There was no risk of discomfort or failure. Plus, indulging in all that mental masturbation was like a dopamine hit for my brain. I could take pleasure in my potential without having to work to fulfill it.
If taking action was so difficult for me, then how did I even start this blog?
I guess I had a momentary convergence of inspiration and motivation. I was also extremely dissatisfied with my life at the time, and taking action seemed to be the only way out of that negative space. Either way, I’m really grateful that I was able to take that initial step.
Since starting this blog I’ve experienced the rewards that taking action can offer. I’d like to write a more in-depth post about them, so I’ll just talk about the biggest one for now: momentum. The most amazing thing about taking action – even if it’s something small like choosing a WordPress theme for your new blog – is that it provides the fuel for even more action.
It’s a matter of inertia. An object at rest isn’t going to move unless something makes it. But when something is moving, it’s not going to stop unless something forces it too. So now that I’m taking action on a daily basis, I can hardly imagine stopping. Each action fills me with inspiration and motivation to take even more action.
This doesn’t mean each day has to be filled to the brim with activity, though. Some days I only get one or two important things done. But just a little bit of action on a daily basis helps me maintain my forward momentum. Plus, as the momentum builds, the amount and intensity of my actions also increase.
P.s. – Watching this video also helps get me in the “doing” mindset.
A Focus On Giving
“Strive constantly to serve the welfare of the world; by devotion to selfless work one attains the supreme goal of life. Do your work with the welfare of others always in your mind.”
– Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 3, Verse 19)
For all my talk about doing, staying motivated can still be a struggle at times. I experience this most when it comes to teaching English, probably because I’m not as passionate about teaching as I am about writing and creating. Still, it’s something I’ve committed to doing (and it gives me a paycheck), so staying motivated in this area is really important to me.
This is where a focus on giving comes into play.
I first discovered this powerful idea when I read the Bhagavad Gita, an ancient Hindu spiritual text. The Bhagavad Gita talks about selfless service, which means acting for the benefit of others without the expectation of any reward.
It’s not so much about being the next Mother Teresa or even making sure all your actions directly help someone. What it’s really about is the mindset you have while taking action.
I’ll use teaching English as an example. There are two ways I could look at it:
- I’m teaching because I want the opportunity to live abroad and make money while doing it, or…
- I’m teaching because I want to help students learn and improve their English. I want to have a positive impact on as many students as possible.
Both of these statements contain some truth. Teaching is by no means my greatest passion, and I mainly decided to do because it was the easiest way to move my life abroad. At the same time, I do genuinely want to help my students, even if I don’t feel overly qualified to do so.
My natural tendency is to approach my work with the first mindset. This means viewing each day of work as a necessary duty so that I can live in Spain. As you can imagine, this makes work feel like a chore, which then makes me less likely to stay motivated.
Things become a lot easier when I approach my job with the second mindset. Instead of viewing work as a chore, I look at it as an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of students. This has been like finding a hidden stockpile of energy. I can now bring the same amount of passion to my teaching as I do to my more creative endeavors.
It takes discipline, but I’ve found there’s always a way to think about an activity in terms of benefiting others. Take working out consistently for example. By being in great physical shape you’ll have more energy to help others, you’ll be in a better mood which will rub off on others, and you can set a positive example for the people closest to you. This is a really basic example but you get the idea.
Note: I don’t want to give the impression that I’ve got this motivation thing all figured out. What I’ve written here is just what has helped me on my journey so far, and I hope it can help you with any motivational struggles you might be facing as well. Thanks for reading!