A friend told me recently how many of her colleagues were feeling depressed. The 24/7 access to the news that is filling every channel from public news sites to Facebook and Twitter feeds was somehow robbing them of energy and life. It's as if in some way the nation has been mysteriously and collectively taken up with a force of superficial, sensationalizing, passion-filled banality.
I look around and it is true. Many people exhibit signs of exhaustion, discouragement and confusion. They are suffering from all kinds of storms that rage through their minds and hearts. I walk with these people who are inundated with words — words piled upon words — as a #MediaNun, mostly without a lot of words.
Healing, I believe, takes place when our senses are directed inward without a lot of words. When we do not run from the raging fury of the inner storms of anger or fear, but instead stand in their midst with silent courage and serenity, refusing to be propelled into action by what we feel, healing takes place.
Below are four habits you can develop to restore calm if there is a "tempest in your spirit."
1 - Develop the habit of waiting. Ultimately we are happy when we are connected to our deepest inner source. Through our senses we either empty ourselves or we enrich ourselves with the beauty of an inner life. One person can read a story on the internet and dash off a passion-filled comment that is embarrassingly lacking fact and reflection. Another can read the same story and be drawn to prayer, compassion, and to that deeper space within where God wordlessly has made a home. This person's comments and commentary contributes clarity to the conversation.
One important way to develop an inner life is to wait before speaking (or responding to that email or dashing off a comment). Wait even if you do not feel anything or hear anything. Often our inner life is like a shy child. It needs to be sure that you will respect it and honor it before it has the courage to make itself visible.
Waiting makes space for something deeper, something beautiful, something that is beyond our reactions.
2 - Develop the habit of awareness. As we wait we discover that the tempests we thought were only outside of ourselves are also inside ourselves.
Events we encounter trigger responses that are "charged" or "springing from the passions" within our own hearts. We often think and talk about these world or family situations in a cynical, angry, or discouraging way. Even though we may feel that we are important, informed, or helpful, the more we repeat these types of conversations, the more we strengthen the underlying passions. In effect, these "charged" thoughts appeal to the unpurified desires of our hearts. We are in danger of little by little becoming ourselves what we ridicule.
By practicing awareness we realize that we ourselves are subject to all manner of delusions, anxieties, and passions.
3 - Develop the habit of serenity. Serenity is the ability to disengage from the power of the tempest without acting on its suggestions.
Let's say you are thinking that a particular event or situation shouldn't be happening. When you think this thought, notice what you are feeling. What are the sensations, emotions, thoughts? Write them down. How are you affected by this thought that the event should not be occurring? What is the cost of having this thought? Could the opposite of this thought also actually be true? And finally, do you really know that this shouldn't be happening now?
When we disengage from the tempest within we become free. Often without our realizing it, we become identified with a thought or feeling that isn't completely true or freeing. Through the serenity we gain by pondering the questions above, we become liberated from their power and can choose our response to the situation at hand.
4 - Develop the habit of seeing with the eyes of God. We sell ourselves short when we look at people and situations only through the eye of our own storms. Here's a simple process for taking the poison out of the passion-charged thoughts and desires that create the drama of the overwhelming tempests: As you become aware of your anger, sadness, frustration, or cynicism, you might have the grace to sense that there is also a deeper "I" within you.
Seek to be present to this "I" who is also experiencing the event or situation. This "I" is deeply present to the reality, but it has no thought or judgment in its regard. This "I" feels called to accept what is happening to us within that greater plan of God's design that is mysteriously beyond what we can grasp. Doing this is not meant to condone or resign yourself to a situation; rather it is to open you up to what is also real — to the perspective of God. When we have stepped outside of the boundaries of the storm and stand within the heart of God, we look at the person involved and say, "You are precious to me." Observe what unfolds within you as the person who was the "problem" becomes "precious to you."
Looking at the world from within the mind and heart of God and at the people who take part in the drama of our tempests as precious and held in life by God's breath profoundly shifts our inner space. It sometimes can even "pull the plug" on the storm entirely and all that is left is love.
Any number of issues in our country and our world trigger reactions within our minds and hearts. We can join the cacophony of voices speaking out of fear, anger and cynicism making them stronger, or we can step aside and speak wisely, powerfully, and prophetically with the heart of God, with words our world needs to hear.
These four habits will strengthen you and gradually transform you into both mystic and prophet. When people decide they want to come out of the fury of the storm, you will find them coming to you. They will choose to come to you for warmth, support, and strength because you are no longer part of the tempest everyone is in, but a person of wisdom and peace.
[Daughter of St. Paul Sr. Kathryn James Hermes is the author of the best-selling book Surviving Depression: A Catholic Approach as well as a number of other titles. Everything she does or writes has one focus: giving people the tools for joy by radically shifting their focus through Presence. She works with individuals online at pauline.org/heartwork, and her newsletter can be found at pauline.org/sisterkathryn.]