Girl Talk: Keeping the peace

One of my favourite episodes of the UK TV series Black Books is the one where Manny swallows The Little Book of Calm and starts to espouse words of peaceful wisdom to all and sundry while walking around in hospital robes looking like Jesus. To a woman giving birth, he suggests, "When you're feeling under pressure, do something different: roll up your sleeves or eat an orange."

I was reminded of the episode after reading Sarah Wilson’s column in Sunday Life over the weekend. Wilson, a Gen-X former magazine editor and host of MasterChef, is on an earnest quest “to make life more meaningful, happier, sweeter”.

Her latest revelation comes care of “a bunch of nice 22-year-old blokes in Ramones T-shirts” who tell her “these days it’s cool to be calm”. “Back in my day,” she writes, “it was cool to be stressed…the difference is that these kids choose calm. In saying they’re calm, they become calm… Calm is a state of mind that’s cultivatable.”

If you’re a highly-strung, neurotic type, you probably find this sort of talk infuriating. Like being calm is just SO easy. Who has the freakin’ time to be calm when there are deadlines and budgets to meet, status updates to upload, meetings to attend and reports to be filed? If you are calm, then you are probably not very important. Ignorance IS bliss. Oftentimes, a gentle demeanour is also mistaken for passivity or being a push-over, which no post-feminist in her right mind would have herself accused of.

But in all my encounters – inside the workplace and out – I’ve found it’s the calm people who clearly have it sussed. They’re emotionally mature enough to realize that being in a constant state of panic sucks for your health and for everyone around you. It’s selfish to pollute the world – online and offline – with negativity, vitriol and bad energy simply because you’re unhappy with your lot or wired that way. There are better ways to assert yourself in the public domain than coming across all Gordon Ramsay.

Inner peace is something I have to strive for everyday. I was practically born anxious. I put it down to being a chronic asthmatic since the age of 2 – near-death experiences and all that – and my parents’ hyper-anxiety (strangely, they’re both totally chilled now, but this has served to make me aware of how important it is to retain peace in the home for the sake of the kids’ mental health).

Obviously, my anxiety has manifested itself in a number of highly destructive ways. Like an eating disorder! I have also attempted to shop bad feelings away. But as I become less of an insane person, I’ve begun to lust after that peaceful feeling like a Paddlepop on a hot day. I desire it more than new shoes.

Retaining a rational, positive outlook isn’t easy – the world practically conspires against us to steal our peace – but peaceful people are much more pleasant to be around. And I’m more likely to follow their Tweets. Dinner with Perez Hilton, Rachel Zoe or Kevin Rudd (when he's on an expletive-charged bender) would leave me feeling nervous and tense; dinner with the Dalai Lama, Audrey Hepburn or Barack Obama would presumably have the opposite effect.

Similarly, some magazines, blogs and other media stifle my thoughts (mostly of the glossip genre), while others inspire, encourage and enable. We become what we consume, so I'm now more aware of how exposure to certain media affects my soul. Junk food in; junk food out. "For the mouth speaks of that which fills the heart." (Matthew 12: 34)

So, I guess we have a choice to make, between being a soothing presence and a stressful one. I’m easily overwhelmed by anxiety if I’m sleep-deprived, calorie deprived, spiritually deprived and emotionally deprived, so keeping these areas in balance is a priority if I’m to keep my peace. I also feel guilty about a lot of things, so learning to just do my best and let go of the rest has been a vital lesson. Trying to control everything is a fruitless pursuit (on that note, there's a card stuck to my MacBook which reads: "Don't worry! Just take on step at a time... The Lord will guide you always. Isaiah 58:11"). Procrastination is also a calm-killer, so the Nike "just do it" mantra is helpful, particularly when it comes to paying bills and replying to emails.

Last week I felt pangs of guilt and anxiety for not updating the blog because my MacBook went flat (up the creek without a power cable). And, you know what? The world didn't end! Amazing. Last night I read the story of Jesus rebuking the storm in the boat with his disciples (Mark 4: 35-41). He slept through most of it while his disciples flailed about fearing for their lives. When they woke him, he got up and said, “Peace, be still!” and calm came across the ocean. “Why are you so fearful?” he asked his disciples. “How is it that you have no faith?”

From that I deduce that a) Jesus was one cool customer in the face of a crisis; and that b) Fear will destroy us if we let it get a grip in our lives, so taking comfort in faith, rather than the whimsical suggestions in books such as The Little Book of Calm (i.e. "Caress the back of your hand"; "Pretend it's Saturday") or even the wisdom of peacekeepers in Ramones t-shirts, is more solid ground to stand on.

Yours truly,

Girl With a Satchel


Mands said...

Thank you so much for that. I really needed to read it today.

Lauren said...

Ah so true.
When we stay calm and just submit our anxieties and worries to God in prayer things seem to come a lot easier. I have learnt that stress gets me no where fast and in a tizz. Staying calm I can see the big picture and remember I don't have to do it all this second.
Isaiah 26:3 is a good one for this: [God] will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in [God]. (Its on a post-it note on my computer, next to one that says RELAX!)

Rochelle said...

A great read, Erica - I really love your Girl Talk posts.

I agree that we each have a responsibility to strive for calm in our everyday lives (I'm not saying it's easy), not only for ourselves, but for the sanity of others. Making a conscious effort not to inflict our anxiety and worries onto other people is kind and generous, and something I try to think about whenever I feel a grumpy mood or silly outburst coming on.

Eek, I hope this doesn't sound too 'holier than thou'. Your post struck a chord with me. :-)


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this article and your honesty but one thing has me troubled - you lumped our Kevin Rudd in with Perez Hilton and Rachel Zoe?!

Unknown said...

Amongst 'end-of-uni-forever' and internship stress, definitely what I needed to read. Thanks Erica!

Reminds me of a song we used to sing when we were little, 'Cast your burdens onto Jesus, He cares for you'.. Means a lot more when you are old enough to have pressures, rather than a 5 year old dancing around the living room! :)

Anonymous said...

Calm is as calm does - love it! I apply this to my own life: when I'm asked to do something for my job, I always say yes with a smile - even if I have no idea how I'm going to manage it. That way I can go away and work out the details in my own time, while the person who has given me the task feels confident it will be done and won't be stressing and checking up on me every two seconds.

Of course, the downside is that I've come to expect everyone to share my can-do point of view, and it seriously winds me up when I ask someone to do something and they immediately tell me how hard it will be or why it can't be done. It's like, where's the positivity people?!

SquiggleMum said...

Thanks for the way you share honestly Erica. I know what you mean about associating being busy with being important. I've done that (and lived like that) in the past, but I am slowly learning that there is a better way...

Alison said...

What a beautiful post Erica. I, too, struggle with the need for calm and the role that adrenalin plays.

Lizzie said...

Could not have been a better timed post for me - thanks Erica!!

jess said...

Lovely post, Erica, but like many inspirational things, it's much easier said than done! That said, it's better to strive for something than just sit around and complain!

P.S. I haven't seen much of 'Black Books', but we were shown that episode you mention in my TV class. That scene was hilarious!

Rachel Hills said...

Joining the "great post" chorus.

Like you, I tend toward the anxious side of things. Whenever people ask me how I am, I say, "Soooo busy!" - and while that's almost always true, I'm also aware that it's pretty much always going to be the case (no matter how much I try to adopt minimalist and "zen habits"), so instead making a big deal out of it and stressing myself out, I should just enjoy it.

I like the idea that we could choose to be calm - not even necessarily by changing our actions, but by changing the way we think about them.

milsnash said...

Reading that instantly made me feel calm and at ease, and I woke up feeling so stressed and overwhelmed this morning.
Your writing is so gently inspiring Erica. Thank you.

Footprints Australia said...

That is my family's absolute favourite episode of Black Books! My 12 y.o. daughter often spouts that line about eating an orange at many appropriate moments, which always gives us a giggle :-).

You are so right about it being important what we feed our mind and spirit with ... much as I am a magazine junkie too, I reached a point where I wanted something more ... so I started my own!!! Check it out at ... we are about to celebrate 12 years of publication!

love Janet xxx