How To Keep Your Mind Steady Under Stress

In the busy swirl of life, it can be very hard to achieve what is known as equanimity. Steadiness of mind isn’t easy when all day long we are bombarded by information, requests, and emotions that show up and demand our attention.

I know that I often find my life in Los Angeles just a little too crowded and loud for me. I live only a couple of miles from a wide sandy beach and the sparkling Pacific Ocean, and I love the sunshine, big blue sky, and the vastness of the terrain. But LA’s crowds and bustle can also make me feel an ocean away from my own deep knowing; my sense of openness, trust, and well-being; and the grounded balance that helps me to be calm. In the midst of change and too much noise, too many things to do, and too much to read, what helps me most to connect with that steadiness of mind is my regular mindful awareness meditation practice. This truly is my antidote to the bustle I live in.

I’ve been practicing mindfulness meditation since I was a teenager, but I still need a lot of reminders to help me. There are certainly those days when my level of irritation and frustration with our usual crazy traffic rises too quickly, or I find myself feeling competitive and restless in the line at the grocery store. I may still be a kind person (really I am!) and do my best to be courteous and civil. I may even look to others like the model of steadiness and calm… but I sure don’t feel it. By the end of this kind of day I’m exhausted.

My daily mindfulness practice helps me to cultivate patience with myself and others. I also attend silent meditation retreats in Northern California once or twice a year. Many extroverted friends have been shocked that I, an extrovert, choose this prolonged silence, but I love the way I can settle in and not worry about connecting with others—even though I love to do this most every day when I’m home. After simply walking, meditating, and being in nature, my inner landscape begins to resemble the vast beauty around me, and I feel more integrated into the blue sky and the rolling hills and less like a singular bi-ped trying to survive in the 21st century urban wilderness.

At home in daily life, I find that lots of reminders help me to be the centered woman I most like to be; with a big open heart and a larger perspective I can access my creative and wisest self. It doesn’t matter if I am interacting with people who are thoughtless in speech and action; when my heart closes down, I am the one who feels it most. I’m not who I most want to be. That’s when I remember equanimity phrases I’ve learned over the years.

No matter how much I wish for things to be otherwise, things are as they are.

May my mind/heart be balanced and at peace with life as it is.

And this one, a favorite phrase I came to befriend as my son grew into an independent 18 year old:

I wish for your happiness but cannot make your choices for you.

I keep these by my kitchen sink, where I will constantly see them. I also keep a flat, white stone with the word Trust on it in the console of my car. And then there’s the necklace I wear—a long silver chain with a piece of clear quartz that’s delightfully smooth and imperfect in shape. I’ve declared this my equanimity accessory.

You, our cherished Quiet Ambassadors, are bringing forth in your life and the lives of those at your schools a new awareness, new behaviors, new ideas. Not a small task! What will support you to assimilate all of this new information? How can you fill your life with reminders to stay open to honor a student’s (or colleague’s) way of relating, even if it’s in stark contrast to your own? What helps you to find the wisdom to pause for that student who needs just another moment to find their words? What cracks your heart open so you can see into the motivation or needs of those around you in a whole new way?

We are always practicing something. What, though, do we want to be practicing? Learning and doing at the same time can feel like walking on a bridge you’re building. We all need support as we build.

I invite you to bring mindful awareness practices, if you haven’t already, into your daily life to support you. We are all living big lives full of growth and service. And constant, demanding change.

This is the nature of life.

You can read more about mindful awareness practices, and equanimity, in a favorite book of mine, Fully Present: The Science, Art, and Practice of Mindfulness by Susan L. Smalley, PhD and Diana Winston.