Where do we find our heart’s ease? How do we cope with emotional distress? What do we do to help ourselves when life gets challenging? I find that when I can keep my heart open to joy, I have the emotional resiliency to carry me through life’s difficult transitions.
I interviewed for a job earlier this week, and it went well. Nerves don’t bother me in such situations. I’m friendly and open by default. I have spent much of my adult life trying to cultivate an attitude of emotional equilibrium which helps me keep my cool in stressful situations. However, I’ve had to work hard to maintain that equilibrium in the post-interview waiting stage. With so much riding on the outcome of an interview, the waiting can be excruciating. These are the day to day opportunities for growth that I try to be grateful for.
I’ve always found waiting for important news difficult. As a teenager in high school, I used to audition for solos in choir and for parts in the plays and musicals. I was still developing emotional self-control at that age, so I was a bit more nervous during auditions, but it was nothing compared to the all-consuming distraction of waiting for the call back list to go up. I had a hard time putting my mind on other things, and would be anxious and distracted for days until the outcome was known. Once I got the news, good or bad, I was fine again. It was the waiting that killed me.
So it is still for me today, even after decades of meditation and self-development under my belt. I have gotten much better at being naturally confident in auditions or interviews, but I still am driven to distraction while waiting for the outcome. But while my idle mind still returns again and again to the thought “Will I get it?”, I have at least learned of a few effective strategies to engage my mind in worthier directions.
Here’s what doesn’t work: sitting by a phone waiting for it to ring. Now, I don’t have a cell phone that I use for business purposes, so if I get a professional call, it’s at home. This makes it far easier for me to walk away from the phone, both as an object and what that object symbolizes. As long as I’m at home, every innocent ring makes my heart leap into my throat, and my mind buzz like a kicked hornet’s nest. I can’t find peace in a state of hypervigilance. But by getting away from the reminder of my discomfort, I’m better able to place my attention and my emotional energy on other things.
A very effective strategy is to find ways to be helpful or useful to the world. I actively look for opportunities to do good deeds. If you’ve ever volunteered your time, you likely have experienced the special kind of joy that comes from helping a worthy cause. Selfless giving opens the heart and aligns it with a greater good. There are a million little pieces of unhappiness and suffering in the world. Relieve a piece of that for another, big or small, and your own heart is rewarded with the very act of doing it. It’s impossible to stay stuck in emotional distress while simultaneously experiencing the joy of selfless giving. An open heart finds sympathetic ease when easing the distress of another.
So yesterday, to ease my distraction by a phone that didn’t ring, I looked for ways to be of use to the world. I saw a friend in emotional distress over the grave illness of a loved one, so I offered to visit with her and help her create a custom essential oil blend that could support her emotionally in this difficult time. I blend oils for myself to give me support in similar situations, so I was hoping to offer this friend a gesture of solace that might also provide her with a real tool to help her through this time of sadness and transition.
We chose six oils whose properties are associated with decreasing anxiety, fear, and stress: Patchouli, Cedarwood, Lavender, Melissa, Bergamot, and Cypress. Patchouli is good for steadying the mind when overthinking and worry develop. Cedarwood can give us strength in times of crisis, and support emotional resiliency. Lavender is rightly renowned for its ability to calm and sooth frayed nerves. Melissa can provide relief from anxious depression, while Bergamot clarifies and uplifts the mind. Cypress helps convey a feeling of emotional cohesion, and supports our ability to cope with change, particularly with the transition of death. When I was done with the blend, my friend was left with a custom perfume that can give her something to focus on when stress becomes overwhelming, and I was left with the heart’s ease that comes from supporting a friend in need. And of course, I was also exposed to a therapeutic qualities of these oils as I was blending them, so it helped us both find a bit of strength together. That’s what friends are for.
It doesn’t do us any good to stay trapped in difficult emotional states. Whether unhappy with some piece of our lives, or distressed about events outside of our control, staying stuck in those emotions isn’t healthy. I think it’s important to find ways out of negative emotional states into more peaceful, joyful states of being. This is an important part of my search for samadhi. I seek liberation from the chains of emotional distress. In those times when I am able to achieve emotional equilibrium, I find an infinite pool of joy waiting to offer its endless abundance. I haven’t been able to achieve a perpetual state of bliss, and maybe I never will, but that is where I become a buddha. No matter where I am, that is my destination, my heart’s ease.
“Better do a good deed near at home than go far away to burn incense.” – Chinese Proverb