How to Stay Calm and Present Regardless of What Life Throws At You

Photo by Robert Wnuk on Unsplash

Engaging life challenges us to be fully present and actively involved in our moment-to-moment experience, without clinging to joy and without resisting sorrow.

~ Toni Bernhard

Equanimity.

The act of greeting whatever confronts us with an even temper and steady reaction.

Cultivating this state is how we stay calm regardless of whatever confronts us rather than adding on top of our suffering with the emotions that come from clinging to joy and resisting sorrow.

When we face particularly difficult emotions or situations, without any training, it can be very easy to pile suffering on top of our experiences without realising it.

Toni Bernhard says:

Grasping at what is pleasant sets us up for impermanence dukkha because change is inevitable.

Resisting what is unpleasant serves only to add stress to what is already a difficult situation.


When I was first told by my doctor that there wasn’t much to do about my pain, I came home and was so angry I kicked a hole in my door.

During a summer, I had a few days when I didn’t experience any pain and it was so strange but I became extremely happy thinking that my pain had solved itself.

In both of these situations, I didn’t treat them with an evenness of temper. Rather, I allowed myself to become overly consumed with them which led to suffering later down the road.

 

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Photo by Jon Flobrant on Unsplash

 

Calm in the pleasant

Please don’t mistake what I’m saying to mean “evenness of temper means to kill hope”. It does not. As Martin Luther King Jr says:

We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.

Rather, it means that we allow ourselves to fully experience the good times but not to expect it to last forever. When we remember that pleasant moments don’t last forever and they’re simply one of the ten thousand joys we’ll experience, it gives us the opportunity to savour the present more!

If anything, it’s simply a reminder of the truth. However, it’s not a depressing one when we come to understand that when one joy ends, it means another will come again! If I worry that the happiness is leaving, then I’m only adding to the extra sadness that I’m going to experience. It’s a funny little paradox.

“I’ll enjoy this experience while it lasts, knowing that, like all phenomena, it will pass and another experience will take its place”

Calm in the unpleasant

Now, this is more difficult.

Tough emotions tend to bring out sadness, fear or anger. All of these emotions have the uncanny ability to pull us into the darkness they create and keep us there. While we remember that these emotions will change and leave, it still seems hard to keep ourselves out of its gravitational pull.

However, in order to explore your emotions, you will first need to have some kind of calm and the ability to look inwards.

The main thing to realize is that the emotion won’t going to last forever. It never does.

How to stay Calm during pleasant and unpleasant experiences

This is tough stuff. To start our practice, we can begin with meditation and a few personal sayings. (Click here if you want a short beginners guide to meditation.)

  1. Meditate

Sit down with some alertness. If it’s more comfortable, lie down.

Asking yourself “what emotions am I experiencing right now?”

Then describe it neutrally. If you’re angry, try saying “Anger is present”. If you’re sad, try saying “sadness is being experienced”. If you’re happy, try “Happiness is in the air”.

Whatever it is, your aim while meditating isn’t to solve anything.

While we meditate, we want to acknowledge how we’re feeling and simply experience it. If you find your mind running away again (because that’s what minds do), calmly bring yourself back to the moment and see what happens.

If we go in with no expectations, then it’s going to make the entire process smoother. If we go in with expectations that we’re going to screw up or that we’re going to come out an enlightened person, we’ll only be disappointed.

This releases us from the burden of trying to keep sadness from ever infiltrating our lives and from straining our best to keep happiness from leaving. They both leave. They’ll both return at some point.

2. Utilise Positive Self-talk

Meditation is like practising before kick-off. What about when we become angry or sad, what do we do then?

  1. Describe emotions neutrally.

Like mentioned above: Take yourself out of the equation and just describe the emotion. This removes the force that personal attachment has when thinking about how we feel.

“I am sad” -> “sadness is happening”

“I am in pain” -> “pain is present”

“I’m really happy” -> “happiness is in the air”

2. Acknowledge ups and downs come and go.

A common theme recently – emotions come and go. To remind us of this, we can say the following:

  • “May we accept with grace both our successes and disappointments”
  • “This is only one of the ten thousand joys and ten thousand sorrows”
  • “We can experience things without needing to fix them”
  • “Let’s not get lost in this moment but engage with it meaningfully”

Talking in terms of “we” rather than “I” helps reinforce the idea that I can talk to myself as though I am my friend. It’s worthwhile.

Equanimity is a small practice on the face of it but also remarkably difficult. It’s not something I have down completely but I can thank myself for the small times when I do manage to get it done because it helps me enjoy happier moments and not add suffering to the times I’m in a lot of pain or remarkably tired.


Some days it’ll go well, some days it’ll suck. Other days we’ll forget about it completely. We don’t hate ourselves for these fluctuations in progress. We treat these realizations with calm then move on. With time and practice, it becomes easier.

We’ll appreciate more that we’re simply a working draft with flaws, mistakes, sorrows, and joys.


As always, thank you for reading!

My question for you is:

How do you remain calm during difficult times? 

Comment down below :)

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4 Actual Reasons Why We Should Live In The Present

Live in the present – be mindful – meditate – be grateful  and so on.

It’s great that “mindfulness” had enjoyed an explosion in popularity. You can now find colouring books and apps that will help you stay grounded in the present moment.

But with this rise in popularity comes over-saturation. We’re told to live in the present moment to reduce anxiety. To appreciate the world more.

Does this still hold much weight when we’re all told the same thing over and over again?

Mindfulness isn’t a cure – it’s a practice

Given the way it’s marketed, mindfulness practice can be seen as a cure.

Meditation, colouring books and the like are no silver bullet. It can be wonderful the first time we make a deliberate effort to calm down but there’s often little use in that if we do it once and move on the exact same why we were before hand.

There are many reasons to be stressed and rarely does it all come down to a lack of mindfulness. Job insecurity, long hours at work, lack of autonomy are all reasons. It’s difficult to say all you need to do is breathe for these problems to have little impact on your well being.

So this is why being mindful and grounding ourselves in the present moment need to be practiced regularly if the stresses of life are also regular. It won’t cure everything but it might make things a bit easier.

But why practice living in the present at all?

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Maybe she’s living in the present – Photo by Delaney Dawson on Unsplash

 

  1. We stop living in explanation

One of the main themes in The Obstacle is the Way is to take action.

Worry less, act more.

It is easy, when faced with a mundane problem, to spend the majority of your time thinking about what to do and all of the possible outcomes in the future.

Of course, there might be tens or hundreds of possible outcomes (if you think for long enough, I suppose) which all seem equally likely and catastrophic. Yes, we need to think about future consequences before acting. Doing otherwise would be foolish.

However, if that’s all we do then our minds become a theatre for worry rather than measured consideration of the future.

Indecisiveness is an easy way to never do what you enjoy.

When we live in the present with purpose, it’s easier to understand the challenges that we’re impacted by right now. From there, it’s easier to take intentional steps forward to making a solid decision.

We reduce the stress of feeling as though we have control over nothing by realising we can control the something in the present. No matter how small it is.

2. We stop thinking about whether “it’s fair”. 

Holiday writes:

“We aren’t content to deal with things as they happen. We have to dive endlessly into what everything “means”, whether something is “fair” or not, what’s “behind” this or that, and what everyone else is doing.

Then we wonder why we don’t have the energy to actually deal with our problems. Or we get ourselves so worked up and intimidated because of the overthinking, that if we’d just gotten to work we’d probably be done already”.

Maybe I’m hypocritical for talking about this because I have a bad habit of thinking about the fairness of my pain. It took me a year to agree with Nietzsche when he says people hate meaningless suffering more than suffering alone.

However, most problems aren’t existential. Even so, I’ve noticed that in the moments I’ve stopped thinking about whether it’s fair for me to be in pain, I’ve found a bit more peace. Maybe it just doesn’t matter but a problem to be dealt with.

Fairness does matter. However, when that’s all we think about while doing nothing but worrying about it, perhaps we’re causing more suffering than we need to.

So we bring ourselves to the present moment. How can we get past this obstacle and use it to become better?

3. We become better friends with ourselves

Practicing mindfulness and meditation regularly for the past four years or so has taught me a few things. The most important one is that thoughts pass and emotional states leave.

Emotions and thoughts are best thought of as “phases” rather than permanent states of being. Even in the large overall states of being like depression, personally, I’ve noticed that emotions aren’t constant. Even if I’m a bit less sad than a few hours ago – that’s a change. To me, it demonstrates that change is possible.

This is enough to keep slivers of hope around.

Because of this, we can remember that the hatred we have for ourselves based on the past or the future can leave when we return to the present. If the hatred continues in the present, we can try shifting our focus to starve our ego of attention or ride the wave and watch the emotion leave.

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Photo by Joshua Clay on Unsplash

4. It teaches acceptance

The present moment is not always pleasant. The present can suck just as much as thinking about the past can – not every moment grounds you in peace or happiness.

What if you’re in pain? What if all you can hear are sirens in the background while you’re stuck in traffic? There are many ways we can simply dislike where we are no matter how present we try to be.

To me, this is where a big mistake comes from in the marketing of mindfulness – the idea that mindfulness solves all stress.

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Sitting on rocks all the time is uncomfortable anyway – Photo by Daniel Mingook Kim on Unsplash 

I wish we focused more on acceptance. Plenty of the discomfort that comes from uncomfortable experiences is the mental resistance against it. Nancy Colier writes:

[…] as long as we are “checking out” on the moments that we don’t like, we are an extra step away from being able to change them.

We may not be able to change the sirens disturbing us on the drive home but we can begin to accept that it’s difficult to be there. Acceptance does not mean losing the will to change.

Living in the present helps us accept what is may not always be what we want. That can be painful and disappointing. But it’s a worthwhile realisation that will be forgotten and remembered again and again as we continue the practice.

And finally… 

Living in the present moment can be difficult. Sometimes it’s just better to escape into fantasy or light conversation.

But it’s also remarkably helpful. It can reduce stress and anxiety, help us act on problems rather than think about them endlessly.

Most importantly, it can help us practice acceptance. And with that comes more peace, more compassion and more engagement with our everyday lives.


As always, thank you for reading!

My question for you is:

Do you find it easy to live in the present?

You can follow me on Twitter and Facebook for more updates!

The Ten Thousand Joys and Ten Thousand Sorrows

At some point, we will all experience one of the ten thousand joys, and ten thousand sorrows.

Hearing of the “ten thousand joys and ten thousand sorrows” was important to me. It brought me back to one of the biggest aims I have for myself.

To be whole.

To be with emotional experiences rather than avoid them. To appreciate that sometimes, I’ll be sad, other times I’ll be happy. Neither of them will last forever and that’s OK.

We all experience a large variety of emotions. Whether that’s sadness or happiness. Anger or grief. Disappointment or excitement. A lot of the time, we try to resist the negative ones and prolong the positive ones. Underneath these experiences, we might have a small story building in our heads about how “this must end because it’s not fair” or “I wish this will last forever”.

These stories demonstrate a resistance to our emotions rather than an acceptance of them. I’ll demonstrate:

If I’m happy because I’m out with friends, I may begin to think to the future about how this night will have to end or why I don’t do it more often. The effects of this might not be obvious in the moment, but it can easily hit us at the end. We wanted it to last longer.

If I’m sad because I’m in pain, I might begin to grow angry at life. Why must I hurt so much? Why must this happen to me? I want it to hurry up and end. Unfortunately, this eagerness to avoid the emotions I’m currently experiencing prolongs it. I’m adding emotional suffering on top of physical suffering.


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I’ve been forced to be a bit more introspective and live with my thoughts a bit more because pain can leave me bed ridden for hours on end. The world is presenting me a great opportunity to be sad. One that is near impossible to refuse. The door is open and I’m already halfway in.

This is the usual part of the story where one might say that you fight against it and become happy again. The constant desire to be happy makes us more likely to resist more negative emotions rather than accept that they are only one of the ten thousand sorrows. Thankfully, we will also have ten thousand joys.

The constant desire to be happy can result in significant disappointment when it doesn’t happen. Sadness becomes an enemy rather than just an emotions that comes and goes with time. Often, I found that I would miss moments of happiness in fear of it being taken away.

When people go on to say that their life goal is to be happy, I’ve realised that it isn’t something I want to aim for.

I want to be emotionally whole.

It means to accept and acknowledge the wide range of emotions that we have. We’re allowed to be sad, angry, happy, loving, all sorts of things. I do not believe that we should think of these emotions in reference to happiness (And how they’re either not happiness or just an extended form of it) but rather, we can just accept them.

Because we’re going to experience them anyway.

Placing yourself in the position of a fighter is a helpful story to tell yourself when you’re in a bad place. You’re fighting against the negativity with positivity and good vibes. But what happens when that fails? Does that mean the sadness is winning and you’re failing?

I’m not sure. So it’s worthwhile to think about the story you tell yourself in a bit more detail. Do you really want to spend your time fighting against negativity with positivity? Is that a positive thing to do?

Rather, we might want to adopt the metaphor that we let the sadness in, warm it up with acceptance then see calm embrace the room.

In some sense, we’re lucky to be able to feel such a large range of emotions. In many ways, it shows us that we’re capable of caring about things instead of feeling complete and utter apathy either towards ourselves or towards the things that we want to care about.

I’ve  disliked apathy for a very long time. Primarily because there have been pockets in my life where I’ve experienced it for so long. Accepting the wide range of emotions that we have, helps soothe the negative emotions away and appreciate the positive ones. We give these emotions our attention rather than being passively consumed by it.

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If you’re feeling sad, you can simply say “sadness is being experienced by me” or “sadness exists”.

If you’re feeling happy – “happiness exists… and I’m happy that it exists”

Separating yourself from the negative, even in your speech, can be the start no longer being overwhelmed by the emotion.

Separating yourself from the positive helps you acknowledge it and not let it pass without your attention.

Doing this really does help us move closer to the “goal” of appreciating the range of our ten thousand joys and ten thousand sorrows.

Striving to be happy is noble but I think, if taken too seriously, strips us from the richness other emotions can have.  To do this, we need to slow down and live our days with a bit more mindfulness.

So that is the quest for wholeness. It is difficult and does require practice – I’m certainly nowhere close. However simply reminding myself of this desire does have a calming effect on me. I hope it does for you too.

The quest for wholeness. It requires we pay a bit more attention to ourselves and how we’re feeling. We will be happy and we will be sad. We will be angry, and we will be excited. And that’s OK – they all pass and change with time.

Engaging life challenges us to be fully present and actively involved in our moment-to-moment experience, without clinging to joy and without resisting sorrow.

~ Toni Bernhard

As always, thank you for reading.


 

I will add – this certainly isn’t to say all negative emotions are good. Please do not misconstrue my message for that. I have nothing to say about the qualities of depression yet for I haven’t arranged my thoughts on it. I will some day and it’ll be here for you to read.

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Some days will be difficult

Some days will be tiresome to get through. Some days, nothing will go your way. Some days will be bad from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to bed.

Those tough days might become a tough week. A tough week might become a tough month.

If you’re dieting, during those difficult days, you might give up and eat whatever you want.

If you’re trying to read more, you might watch YouTube videos all day.

If you’re studying for an exam, you might throw your pen at the wall and declare yourself stupid.

These difficult days happen and I think it’s important to remember: They’re a normal part of any journey.

In the midst of these days, it is often extremely difficult to see where the end is. We feel much worse because we’re suffering and don’t know when it’ll end! If it goes on for long enough, we might begin to convince ourselves that it’ll never end. Or even worse, that if it actually doesn’t end, I’ll always struggle and never adapt. I’ll never achieve the goals that I want because I don’t have the will power or I don’t have the energy or I always make mistakes because that’s the way I am.

We need not feel this way. Difficult days are normal. For some, they will unfortunately go on for much longer. However, such days are not a signal for us to give up on our goals and especially not ourselves. They aren’t the clear reminder showing us we’re better off quitting and that our good intentions will only lead us to bitter failure.

During these days, take some solace in the fact that our emotions often come and go without our permission. And so, it helps to take a deep breath.

Slow down.

Then return to the present.

The present contains none of the future worries or past regrets. It contains none of the anger, sadness, frustration or hatred. It just contains you and your breathing.

You might, or in fact, probably will, still feel like things aren’t going your way. But now, by slowing down slightly, you have taken a break from the distraction and frustration the day has presented you with.

Remember that some days will be difficult. Sometimes they’ll last for far longer than you think you can handle. But as with all things, they’ll pass with time. You’ll find your peace again.

When it comes, you’ll savour it and maybe the tears you once cried during a difficult day will now be tears of joy.

If you’re experiencing difficult times at the moment, I wish you the best and hope the dark cloud passes and the sky becomes clear once more.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson says better than I:

This is my wish for you: Comfort on difficult days, smiles when sadness intrudes, rainbows to follow the clouds, laughter to kiss your lips, sunsets to warm your heart, hugs when spirits sag, beauty for your eyes to see, friendships to brighten your being, faith so that you can believe, confidence for when you doubt, courage to know yourself, patience to accept the truth, Love to complete your life.