How to Maintain Calm in the Midst of Chaos
Chaos can be defined as a state of disorder and/or massive confusion. In Greek mythology, chaos was thought of as the origin of everything. In other words, change or growth couldn’t occur before there was chaos. In science, chaos is thought of as an unpredictable surprise — what might happen during natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and tsunamis. Obviously, there are different degrees of chaos, and sometimes there’s no time to prepare, but having a “go to” tool kit is helpful.
Chaos is the opposite of restoration or healing. When in the midst of chaos, we imagine that things can’t get much worse, and we might even think that they’ll never get better. But once in a while, those encountering chaos can see the positive aspects of the experience. For example, a cousin of mine who went through a very difficult divorce survived by reminding herself that “from all bad comes good.”
When we’re confronted with life challenges that might result in chaos, it’s important that we employ coping devices that can help us navigate through them so we can move from the darkness into the light.
I view of all the natural disasters lately, things seem more chaotic than usual. Or maybe there has always been chaos, but the fact that we’re inundated with news updates, everything seems worse than it is.
We are also entering into a busy time of year. With the holidays just around the corner, it might be a good time for you to consider how to deal with the onslaught of chaotic times often associated with this time of year.
Establishing a sense of controlled calm should be an important priority in your daily life. Some ways to bring calm into your life include activities such as yoga, meditation, exercise, communing with nature, reading, and the creative arts.
Meditation and writing are my personal anti-chaotic activities. In particular, loving-kindness meditations are useful during difficult times. As part of this 2,500-year-old practice, phrases promoting goodwill are repeated to evoke a feeling of love and friendship toward ourselves and others.
There are many mantras you can use during this meditation, which can be directed toward yourself or a loved one undergoing a difficult time. The idea is to recite these phrases over and over again. One of my favorites is from the book A Path with Heart by Jack Kornfield, and I repeat this passage often during chaotic or difficult times. You might wish to print it out and post it near your computer. It is as follows:
May I be filled with lovingkindness.
May I be well.
May I be peaceful and at ease.
May I be happy.
May (a person I love) be filled with loving kindness.
May (a person I love) be well . . .
Another book that is helpful during trying times is The Little Book of Calm by Paul Wilson, a collection of strategies that lead to a sense of peace and healing. Wilson says that remaining calm is all about crisis control. He suggests practicing calming techniques before a crisis occurs so that you’re prepared and ready. He emphasizes the importance of breathing, and knowing how to automatically access the skills shared in his book. To do this he says, you must be prepared, patient, positive, and practical.
Writing is another way to manage chaotic times and is cathartic because it interrupts the silence of the pain we’re feeling inside. It is a deliberate act, a conscious undertaking that helps release the feelings brewing inside us. Writing is a way of letting go, and it offers us a way to process key events in our lives. Since an early age, I have been using writing as a form of healing. After my grandmother committed suicide when I was ten, my mother gave me my first journal and told me, “This journal will help you move through the chaos of the moment and move forward into healing.” I have carried that message with me for more than five decades. Writing helps us organize our thoughts, and as a result, helps us articulate our thoughts and emotions more easily.
At various stages in my life, my journal writing has also been complemented by writing letters, poetry, and short stories. My recent book, Writing for Bliss: A Seven-Step Plan for Telling Your Story and Transforming Your Life taps into these different genres of writing and offers some writing tips to kick start your writing process.
Here’s one writing prompt for you:
Write about a troubled or chaotic time you encountered. If you had an illness, write a letter to the part of you that was injured. If it involved a relationship or a loved one, write a letter to the loved one. Then write a page on what helps you through your crisis.
If considering journaling, find a journal that appeals to you and a pen. Settle down in a relaxing area where you won’t be interrupted for at least 20 minutes.
Consider the following writing prompts:
- Close your eyes and imagine yourself in a peaceful place. When you feel calm, write down what you imagined: what you saw, heard, smelled, and felt. Revisit that place in your mind during chaotic times.
- Write about a positive experience you had recently and why it resonated with you.
- Write a thank-you note to someone who recently made a nice gesture.
- If you could change something about your day, what would it be? Write down your thoughts.
- Write about all the things you do that instill you with a sense of calm.
- What are some ways you’ve managed to deal with chaos in the past? Record your thoughts in your journal.
Kornfield, J. (1993). A Path with Heart. New York, NY: Bantam Books.
Wilson, P. (1996). The Little Book of Calm. New York, NY: Penguin.