Have the words BREAKING NEWS now become like a broken neon sign that blinks all the time and reads more like MORE BAD NEWS? It doesn’t matter if BREAKING NEWS is viewed on television or heard via radio or read in print, it feels the same. Underneath the heightened anxiety is the thought, “Can it get any worse?” Yet this season of panic and woe offers many blessings. Among them—It is a time for deep inner listening.
I gave up watching weekday television for Lent. I noticed that I was watching too much. I compassionately observed myself one week and discovered that my daily schedule revolved around television programs. I tuned in to an early morning show and it became my company for breakfast. Next I would arrange lunch for around 2:00 pm so I could watch Daily Blast, the show whose tag line is “We’re talking about what you’re talking about.” Clearly, all of that chatter should have served as an omen. Typically, dinner was accompanied by the news with a dose of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah or some comedic program to soften the tumult of nightly news. Later I might top off the evening with light drama like Grey’s Anatomy, This is Us, or Cherish the Day which often overflowed into bedtime. Granted, I could have recorded most of the shows for viewing anytime but TV determined my daily routine.
I found TV to be distracting. Unfortunately, it sapped my productivity as well. And if I watched something particularly stark or disturbing in the evenings, the content seeped into my dreams. Why was I dreaming about the horrific Coronavirus Icon, face masks, DonaldTrump, KobeGiggi Bryant, MeaganMarkleHarry, NBA, NCCA, pandemic, not enough tests, stay in the house, rainy weather, talking heads, stock market red, retirement plans, cases rising, is there enough food, quarantine? Television was not only keeping me from my loves (e.g., sewing, reading, writing, crocheting, gardening) but it cluttered up my mind to an almost unbearable state. Most importantly, TV was keeping me from hearing the Voice of God.
I didn’t realize until Lent, how kind, gentle, and nurturing the silence is in my home. I was missing the sweet stillness heard in the chirping of the birds outside. Who can hear the Guidance when as my niece, Liz told me last night, “There are a thousand thoughts twirling through my mind and I don’t know how I can survive the stress of all of this?” I knew it was time to return to the discipline of quiet listening from within.
I understand what it feels like to be freaked out. About 27 years ago, I became totally discombobulatedwhen they first told me I was going to need a heart transplant. Similarly, I experienced a partial meltdown when during a rejection episode the doctor informed me the transplant team would be able to save my heart but would need to kill my kidneys, later leading to dialysis and a kidney transplant. I came home and cried when they said I would need more surgery to replace the tricuspid valve of my dear sweet transplanted heart. Yes, I’ve become hysterical and screamed to anyone who would listen, got underneath the bed covers and boohooed with my teddy bear and tissues. But at a certain time in the midst of it, I would hear a soft inner Voice say, “Okay. Time to get up and do something else. This too will pass.” Impermanence is the permanent in our lives. So how do we adapt? Here are some of the ways I utilize inner listening during a time such as this.
1) I truly believe that during trauma, crisis and challenge rather than being finely tuned into the fear, panic, anxiety and chaos of the world, I am better served by “Centering Down’” a term that Howard Thurman, Thomas Kelly, and Rufus Jones all recommended as a way to access wisdom instead of terror. I grew weary of feeling anything but peaceful. Thus, I take time each morning and evening and on the hour when I am available to PAUSE. I stop ruminating about the latest statistics and seek the Peace that I know lies deep inside. I continue to practice controlling my thoughts instead of allowing them to control me. Once I feel the deep peace that inner listening brings, I refuse to settle for less.
2) For those who possess runaway minds like mine and especially during a calamity, mantras and chants are a saving grace. Among my favorites, “Peace be still,” “The Lord is my Shepard and I shall not want,” “I am as God Created me,” or any parts of “Be still/and know/that I am God.” What a mantra does is slow down and in some cases eliminates the out of control thoughts that lead to panic, fear, anxiety, and anxiousness. But you must practice. Next time you feel your mood shift as though you are being pulled into the vortex of alarm and terror, start chanting your selected inspirational phrase over and over and over until you feel a shift. The result: a tranquil mind, a semblance of peace. Ahhhhh now doesn’t the thought of inner peace sound good?
3) Another method that I have used in workshops and retreats recently, and shared with Liz last night is the heart exercise. Some form of this I learned on the Math-Heart Institute website (HeartMath Tools) to encourage people to live from and through their hearts. It is important to locate a quiet spot (even if it’s the bathroom) and comfortable chair or cushion. Sit in a relaxed position, close your eyes and take three deep breaths (inhale through the nose and exhale out of the mouth). Then relax and notice your heart beating. Next park yourself in your heart. Yes, sit in your heart for few minutes. Feel the peace, the stillness and the joy. Listen. What are you being guided to do next? Do you need to engage in a creative activity with yourself or your family, go outside and get some fresh air or enjoy some emerging spring flowers, watch a movie or read a great book? You may need to turn off your television, radio, or stop checking social media about the latest outrage or panic-stricken comment. Periodically stepping out of the whirlwind can be healing.
Now is the time for deep INNER listening. We are in the midst of a “Holy Interruption!” Embrace it and discover all that you have been yearning for but haven’t pursued because you’ve been too busy running from one activity to another. They are canceled. Can you shift your focus from fear to the love, from panic to peace? What brings you joy and makes your heart sing? Who can you call to check on or offer some comfort to?
Know that Guidance goes with you wherever you are. Cease looking outside of yourself for the Answers. I promise, if you engage in this ancient tradition of quieting the mind and stilling the heart, you will feel more of the peace and joy that lies within you. You will discover a Connection that has never been broken. The Living Presence patiently awaits your attention and awareness.