Riding Through Chaos

Finding peace through leaves, chickens and the International Space Station

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You’re in the passenger seat of a car that’s driving down a road, when suddenly the driver swerves to miss a pothole. What do you do? Most of us instinctively reach out and grab something stable, like the door handle. If you’re already buckled in, it’s not actually going to do much, but it makes you feel better. It’s a reflexive action — grabbing on to something that’s still when all else around you is shifting.

When it feels like everything around me is chaotic and the world is going to shit, I’m reminded of this quote about peace, and I make a conscious effort to reach for that “door handle.”

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If you’re struggling to stay peaceful in the midst of chaos, you might try two things that work well for me:

Step back. Way back.

In the past week, I’ve balanced out news stories of disorder, pain and racial tension with stories about the launch of SpaceX’s Dragon shuttle, which left Earth on May 30th carrying NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley. The next day, they joined NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and Russian cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner at the International Space Station, then in orbit above China’s border with Mongolia. How’s that for global cooperation? If we can do that in space, surely we can accomplish that within our countries and communities.

A common theme among astronauts is the fragile beauty of our planet as viewed from afar, and their desire for others to explore space as they have. If they could, they say, life on Earth “would be vastly different.” In space it’s quiet, you have beautiful views, and everyone gets along. I don’t know this from personal experience, but the next best thing is watching videos from space. If you have a few minutes, watch this hauntingly beautiful rendition of Space Oddity, recorded by Commander Chris Hadfield during a previous stay on the International Space Station. I dare you to watch that and not feel more peaceful and reflective.

Get in close. Very close.

Nature is an incredible stabilizer; it keeps on doing its thing no matter what the stupid humans around it are doing. If I’m feeling off-center, I get outside if I can. Sometimes I’ll observe a leaf — a single leaf. I look closely at its veins, its color, its structure, and I see how there’s an entire world within it, happily going on about its business whether I notice or not.

I look just as closely at my bunny Nelson’s fur. I marvel at his long eyelashes, and how every hair in his coat has its own beautiful pattern of ombre color. I feel his teeth grinding with happiness when he’s held, and laugh at the unbridled joy he gets from a tiny treat. But I can only notice these things when I slow down and focus enough to see them.

Nature has also helped calm me through a Facebook friend’s posts about the animals on her farm — the tortoises that amble out of their stall at 7am and return for bed every night at 6pm — old farts. And her chicken, Bowling Pin, who defends her favorite tree stump from any other chicken who dares try and share it with her. Like humans, they have their conflicts, but it’s over after a few pecks.

No, we can’t ignore the chaos around us — nor should we. It’s especially during trying times like these that we must take time to find our own “door handle” and hold on tight. Because it’s only then that we will make it calmly through the bumpy ride.

Caution: reading may cause uncontrollable happiness, states of bliss and enlightenment. Please enjoy responsibly. Or just read yourself into a stupor on my web site, and join my email list while you’re there. I won’t tell.

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