How to Find Peace in the Midst of Crisis

By Brian Gast

I’m humbled by the nature and magnitude of current events. There’s the oil spill, mounting U.S. government debt, Greece, et al in Europe, and volcanoes and earthquakes. Oh, and I almost forgot about terrorism and the wars. If my aging children and their impending college tuition were not enough to make me nervous, these events have me stirred up.

When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Go on Vacation

This spring I found myself growing fearful about both little and big stuff. I relapsed into my CNN/CNBC addiction and wasn’t sleeping well. Eventually I did what any strong man would do in such a situation. I went on vacation!

Maybe not a typical vacation—I headed to the Amazon in Peru to spend a week with shamans. From the moment the speedboat headed down the Amazon River out of Iquitos, I felt relaxed. Helping matters was the absence of cable TV and cell coverage and the fact that I spent my time with people who chanted all evening, smoked cigarettes and listened to music all day. I returned to Colorado a new man.

That lasted about twenty-four hours. I quickly found myself having a panic attack when my friend told me his parents were selling the $2 million beach house they loved and had owned for 25 years. They were selling not because they were among the previously-rich retirees that had to downsize post the ’08 meltdown, but because his mom is convinced the whole barrier island the house sits on will be underwater in a couple of years due to global warming. I was struck by the reality that even people with million dollar second homes have new sources of stress from which they can’t easily escape. I realized the only sustainable solution to the angst of our time was a shift in perspective.

History Repeats Itself

We haven’t entered a new stage of chaos but returned to what life has usually been for humans. If you think about it, most of man’s history has been chaotic, violent and uncertain. Anyone who looks back to periods like the turn of the century or 1950’s and says, “Those were the good old days,” is idealizing. Life historically has been very hard—especially during the “good old days.” The bull market and positive economic run we enjoyed in the eighties and nineties was an aberration.

How Do We Best Navigate in These Times?

Taking vacations, self-medication, or filling prescriptions are not long-term solutions. Neither is resorting to softer addictions. Two popular addictions these days are: blaming (or complaining about) politicians and/or CEOs and demanding they fix the problems and extended watching/reading/listening about events via media outlets. Like worrying and rationalizing, these patterns are of little help to others and probably toxic to your health.

Here are four disciplines you can do to stay grounded in the midst of crisis:

  1. Go on a Media Fast: For two weeks eliminate new shows on TV, no talk radio and no news print media. Then see if you can reduce your daily intake of real news each day (preferably via some source like NPR or the Christian Science Monitor).
  2. Spend Two Minutes Each Day in the Present: Spend two minutes each day with what is happening right now. This is a mindfulness practice wherein you slow down, get quiet and focus your mind on only what is happening in this moment. At a minimum you will begin to get an understanding of how your mind takes what is and distorts it causing you stress and suffering and you just might find yourself directing your mind toward what you are grateful for.
  3. Focus on Facts, Not Story: As a discipline until it becomes a way of life, look closely at real data and events without letting your mind start to drag or whip you around via illusions of what could happen or judgments about how this could be different than it is. To observe without interpreting is a life-long practice that will bring peace and clarity.
  4. Get Curious: Learn what you can from events. This involves a counterintuitive movement toward crisis and pain, not away from it. Sit with and notice your inner experience and your emotions in the face of crisis—don’t go numb. This is the first step toward expressing your fear and grief that will allow you to process your feelings instead of internalizing them.

There are a lot of escape hatches that will provide short-term relief from our stress. These four practices will help you shift your perspective and to live with what is and with the uncertainty that the future always brings. From a clearer perspective, you can take effective action.