Five ways to keep calm and why it matters

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  • Lindsey Baker
  • BBC

6 minutes ago

image copyright Maria Medem

Is calmness a passive attitude of existence that involves numbing the self to prevent it from interacting with what is happening in reality? Is it, in some cases, unnatural, even antisocial? Or is a sense of reassurance one of the best qualities a person can have? Below, five backgrounds on calm, from the philosophy of serenity, to music, art, and poetry, can make us feel at peace, and how do we find our own “flow”?

Stoic serenity

The Roman Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius said, “No matter what life throws at you, keep calm and still.” It may seem easier said than done, but in fact, Aurelius had a knack for making keeping calm seem like an easy feat.

Aurelius devotes his famous book, Meditations, to putting “our daily concerns and concerns within a broader perspective,” according to author John Sellars, Lecturer at Royal Hallway, University of London.

Sellars tells BBC Culture that Aurelius, who was also Emperor of Rome, faced enormous pressures, but “he was constantly reminding himself that his life was short compared to the breadth of time, small compared to the fullness of the universe”.

In keeping with his stoic attitude to life, Aurelius would always remind himself that “the frustrations or negative feelings he might feel are ultimately only a product of his own judgments and interpretations of situations, and therefore, things are still within his control,” Sellars says.

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The philosopher Epictetus and other Stoics believed that finding calm was essential—and within our control

But why so much focus on calm? Is it really important to find peace? For the Stoic mentality, calmness is everything, it is strength. As Aurelius writes in the Meditations: “The closer a man approaches his quiet mind, the closer he approaches strength.”

Sellars explains: “Marcus and his fellow Stoics emphasize that calmness is necessary to live a good and happy life, because a confused and disturbed mind will not be able to make logical and rational decisions. When a person is in the grip of violent emotions, he will not be able to think properly, literally. “He will feel violently exhausted, and he may act aggressively and aggressively. To make good decisions, we need a calm frame of mind, to take a short break, and to think, rather than just acting emotionally.”

For the Stoics, all we need to do is understand that calmness is within our control. Whatever is going on in the world, “it (its effect on us) hinges on our judgments and interpretations of situations, not the situations themselves,” Sellars says.

He adds that the philosopher Epictetus, who had the greatest influence on Aurelius, wrote: “When we feel frustrated, angry, or unhappy, the responsibility lies only with ourselves, and with our judgments.”

This idea is at the core of Stoic philosophy and, according to Sellars, had “a significant influence on the founders of modern cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and its effectiveness has been proven by many studies of CBT”.

The electronic escape

From windy instruments said to have calming properties, to the sounds of the rainforest, we’ve all grown accustomed to the idea of ​​soundscapes (or the collection of sounds that make up an immersive environment), as a soothing backdrop.

But of course, the sounds that each of us find relaxing differ from person to person, and there is no single syllable that can give a feeling of peace to everyone.

George Fitzgerald's electronic album Stellar Drifting is inspired by the calmness of the universe

image copyright George FitzGerald

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George Fitzgerald’s electronic album Stellar Drifting is inspired by the calmness of the universe

Just as the Stoics emphasized the importance of personal perspective, and how small we are compared to the universe, so electronic music composer George Fitzgerald drew inspiration from the universe and the stars to compose his 2022 album Stellar Drifting. “For me, space represents the farthest point, the most amazing vision of humanity,” the musician told MusicTech.

Fitzgerald drove in the New Mexico desert for a while, watching the stars. “Space makes you go beyond itself. It reminds you that we are small and insignificant.”

For decades, electronic music, house music and garage music were a form of escapism, as they first developed and developed on the exciting social fringes, uniting disparate groups.

According to Fitzgerald, contemplating the stars in the sky is an escape from reality, a form of escapism that connects all human beings. Perhaps the most inspiring piece of stillness on his album, one entitled Setting Sun, can be enjoyed not necessarily on a crowded dance floor, but rather on a couch, or standing on a cliff, contemplating the vastness of the universe — and our own insignificance.

The art of reassurance

We can observe the same thing in the visual arts. What one spectator finds a calm and contemplative experience, may be in another’s eye a very emotional psychological drama.

The New Yorker describes Swedish artist Hilma af Kilmet’s work as “frighteningly exclusive” and finds resonance in the “relentlessly searching mood of the moment.”

To other viewers, masterpieces such as The Big Ten Fourth Series No. 3 Youth of 1907 appear intrinsically quiet within their mysterious otherworldly worlds.

Aff Klint, a Swedish painter and mystic, developed her own vocabulary of pastel-coloured shapes, several years ahead of other, more well-known abstract artists.

Her work will be shown next April, along with the work of Beth Modrian, at the “Tate Modern” gallery in London.

Painting by Hilma of Klint entitled

image copyright Tate/ Courtesy of the Hilma af Klint Foundation

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“The Big Ten” by Hilma af Klint, 1907

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About the exhibition, the Tate Gallery writes in a statement: “At the heart of the two artistic journeys was a shared desire to understand the forces behind life on Earth.”

Of Klint began her career as a landscape painter, and then began her work by representing natural forms in a way that veered towards abstraction.

Spirituality, divine wisdom and philosophy were central to her worldview, and her work reflected a sense of something greater than us – in fact she believed she painted her paintings under the guidance of higher spirits. Like others before her, she saw our existence as just one small element in a larger scheme.

Although her insights tended towards the occult, her interest in metaphysics and theosophy was complexly practical, quasi-scientific, so to speak, and endowed with its own inner logic.

The painter was attracted, on the one hand, by the writings of the founder of the Theosophical Society, Helena Blavatsky, and by the philosophical ideas of the medieval Christian mystic Rosenkreuz. She wanted her work to facilitate spiritual mediation that transcends physical reality, and to depict what we might call an illusory world.

Who can know what was the exact motive and meaning in her extraordinary, edifying, and enigmatic works? Perhaps it is that mystery and belonging to the other world, which makes the act of looking at her paintings, or at least some of them, a profound experience of her stillness.

Haiku harmony

The traditional Japanese haiku, composed of 17 syllables in three lines, is widely known for its calming effect on the reader.

A haiku composition follows a set number of syllables, and the poet is encouraged to focus on a single image or moment, which in itself has a meditative effect.

The use of natural imagery in haiku, in turn, stimulates feelings of serenity and peace. The brevity and simplicity of the haiku allows the reader to ponder the meaning and imagery without being overwhelmed by the abundance of ideas and language.

The most famous haiku poet is Matsuo Basho of the Edo period (1603-1868). His complete works of poetry have been translated into English in the book On Love and Barley: Haiku Basho.

Born in Iga Ueno, near Kyoto, in 1644, Basho began writing poetry while working as an attendant to an aristocrat from his region.

Basho was not only a haiku teacher, but also a Buddhist monk and great traveler, and during his travels he relied on the hospitality of temples and fellow poets.

His short poems combine the Zen meditational idea of ​​the unity of creation, and Kurami, meaning lightness of touch. Each of his poems evokes a scene from the natural world: a leaping frog, summer moon, cherry blossom, winter snow, suggesting the smallness of human life in the context of the vastness of nature.

Some of his poems are: “An old pond / A frog jumps / The sound of water”, or “On a leafless branch / The crow rests / Autumn sunset”.

Basho lived a hermitic life, completely dispossessed. It can be said that his poems were the result of an insightful eye and a contemplative mind that left far from the distraction of “things”, becoming more aware of the beauty of the world around him, and closer to his own intuition.

Itinerant Japanese poet Matsuo Basho, known as the first haiku teacher, gave up all his possessions and traveled to find inspiration.

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Itinerant Japanese poet Matsuo Basho, known as the first haiku teacher, gave up all his possessions and traveled to find inspiration.

In a book titled “Zen in Japanese Culture,” Daeste T. Suzuki writes: “A haiku does not express ideas, but rather issues ideas that reflect intuition. These images are not metaphorical representations used by the common mind, but refer to axioms, even as intuitions on their own.” He means that composing a haiku is so intuitive that it may be unconscious.

Haiku poems and the attention they pay to details of nature are part of a broader Japanese culture based on the concepts of “nagomi” and “ikigai”, meaning “meaning and harmony”.

“The haiku poems give an explanation as to why the word ikigai exists in the Japanese language,” writes Yukari Mitsuhashi in her book, “Ikigai: Giving Happiness and Meaning to Every Day.”

“In our daily lives, whether we are immersing ourselves in nature or devouring traditional Japanese food, attention to detail drives our focus on what is right in front of us, rather than wondering about the to-do lists in our heads,” she says. “It is what allows us to find joy and ikigai in everyday things.” Mini”.

Applying the principles of haiku to other areas of life can provide stillness. “Traditional paintings contain few forms, and value empty spaces,” says Funio Sasuke in his book “Farewell to Objects.” Japanese calligraphy paintings are brushed against black and white. Haiku is the shortest poetic genre in the world. These are some examples of minimalist aesthetics in art. and Japanese culture.

In the book, Sasuke decides to give away most of his possessions, as Basho did centuries earlier, in order to experience the resulting sense of calm and reassurance. “You can gain more than you think when you get rid of excess: time, space, freedom, energy.”

Find flow

Some view calmness with suspicion – is calm really just a state of passivity? Abdication of commitments, capitulation, or worse, some kind of social hostility?

Being calm doesn’t necessarily mean you’re passive or drugged. When we indulge in something we love—music, gardening, painting, knitting, writing—we enter a state of calm, almost trance-like, as if enchanted by what we’re doing.

In her book on ikigai, Mitsuhashi says that immersing ourselves in nature, or an activity that makes us focus on what is in front of us, and freeing our minds from other things, helps us find peace.

In her classic book, The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron encourages the reader to “keep quiet time.” You write: “Creativity happens in the moment, and in the moment we are immortal.”

Writer Mihaly Csiksezentmihalyi says that what gives us a sense of calm and peace, and makes us happy to be alive, is to reach a kind of contentment, or a state of mind called “fluidity.”

In his book, Fluidity: The Psychology of Happiness, he sheds light on an idea that many philosophers before him had taken up—that the path to serenity lies not through mindless estrangement, but through conscious defiance. Thus, each of us finds his own flow in different ways, his own sense of stillness.

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