“Real power is not in momentary desires, but in complete calmness.” – Leo Tolstoy
I have a bit of nervous energy as I write this. I’m traveling tomorrow for the first time in seven months and there’s a vibrating exhilaration deep inside knowing that I’m getting on a plane again, going to another state and driving around to places new to me. Mind you, its not like I’m flying to Antarctica for an extended climate change study, I’m going to Cleveland. I’ve been to Cleveland at least a half dozen times that I can recall and maybe a time or two beyond that. But it’s travel in a time of no travel, and this year that alone creates a buzz.
I got the same vibration hiking solo up Mount Tecumseh earlier this summer. Not because it was a particularly challenging hike, but because I was hiking it alone late in the day. Just enough risk to raise the level of uncertainty, but calculated risk. Hiking alone at night inherently offers risk to the hiker. You just don’t have people walking by you to offer assistance. So you take extra care or alternatively, you charge ahead brazenly challenging fate.
Calmness in the face of potential stressors is a superpower. In an age of talking heads stirring the pot of anxiety for advantage, of a pandemic ramping up for killing season, of a time when we teeter on the brink of a deeper recession or a depression and irreversible climate change should we get this wrong, in this time the calm prevail. We can take the bait and react, or swim calmly in the present storm.
“Do not be concerned too much with what will happen. Everything that happens will be good and useful for you.” – Epictetus
The posters used early on during the Blitz, “Keep Calm and Carry On” naturally come to mind. Those posters weren’t successful at the time as people viewed them as patronizing, but the expression has exploded in popularity in the last twenty years. Whether you view it as patronizing or nostalgic now, the expression does carry weight as a stoic reminder to keep your head about you. For in calmness we find clarity.
During that time when the British were facing down Nazi aggression, Viktor Frankl was living a nightmare in a succession of Nazi prison camps, ending at Auschwitz before finally being freed at the end of the war. He observed that state of mind had a lot to do with who survived and who didn’t as much as the whim of fate. Some people were in the wrong place at the wrong time, but others just gave up in the face of hopelessness and horror. Some people survived simply because they had a purpose for living. Based on this experience, he wrote the extraordinary book Man’s Search for Meaning after the war.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
– Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
Today we live in a time when everything is hyper-scrutinized, everything is a perceived affront, everything is designed to invoke a spark of fear or outrage. But when we swim in our sea of calmness, we overcome the efforts of those who would inspire a follow or a like or another cycle of commercials before they tell you the rest of the story. A calm mind sees the truth in the world and in ourselves. It remains the best foundation for a life of purpose and happiness. Want to improve the state of world? Be calm. And yes; carry on.