Brainstorming works wonders. When we let loose a torrent of ideas, freely associating and playfully combining anything and everything that comes along, we often see past old boundaries and discover solutions to vexing problems. The stream of consciousness becomes a torrent that blasts through every snag.
If brainstorming opens formerly clogged channels, then what is braincalming?
Braincalming shifts us into a state of ease and placidity, trading frenetic energy for generative stillness. As the stream of consciousness settles and gathers in pools, real reflection becomes possible. When you’re talking, it’s hard to hear. When storms are raging, it’s hard to see straight.
When faced with an intractable problem, a stalled creative endeavor, a relationship snag, or any other kind of challenge, try one or more of these braincalming techniques and see if solutions arise on their own out of the depths of stillness.
Get away from your desk, your device, your office, your car, and step out under the sky. Leave the world of human machinations behind and return to the natural realm. For hundreds of thousands of years we lived outside. Rooms with ceilings are a recent invention on the long-term scale of human evolution. Electric light was invented yesterday. So many of us have lost touch with the elemental world that gave birth to us. Somehow, when we walk in the wind and stand under the sky, something shifts in us and we lean a little more willingly into the unknown. Held in the embrace of a wide, unobstructed horizon with the infinite space above, the impossible begins to seem possible.
Watch a hawk spiraling on an updraft. See how she chooses her flight line — a perfect synthesis of effort and effortlessness, assertion and submission. See a green-leafed cottonwood tree in a dry creek bed and know the sustenance running just beneath the surface of all things. Find a crow feather in a field of boulders and feel with your own hands the harmonious union of rigidity and delicacy. Such is the range of the manifest world. In the face of these apparent contradictions we come to peace with our own paradoxical nature.
Most Americans suffer from significant sleep deprivation. The results of this easily-remedied deficit are well documented: moodiness, irritability, diminished cognitive function, weakened immunity, relationship problems, stress, anxiety, depression, increased drug and alcohol dependency, just to name a few. And it gets worse — some estimates claim that 5,000-6,000 traffic fatalities a year are caused by drivers asleep at the wheel. Sleep deprivation endangers us all and unnecessarily complicates our lives. If you think that sleep is cutting into your productivity, you’re wrong. It’s the other way around. Sleep deficit chokes your output and steals your happiness. Depriving yourself of the enormous health benefits of sleep is a sure way to drastically reduce your quality of life across the board. It’s a perfect example of how stillness feeds us in ways activity never can.
In longevity studies, researchers have identified a rather small number of factors that most contribute to long, healthy, and happy lives. One of the most consistent is religion. And it doesn’t matter which one, or how traditional. It’s simple, really — when people believe in God or some kind of higher power, they move into a more peaceful relationship with the conditions and circumstances of their lives. In spiritual or religious consciousness, you know that your ego doesn’t run the world. You relax. You do your part and let go of the rest. I know this is not what atheists like to hear. They gravitate toward the claim that religion is what’s destroying the world on an individual and global basis. Negatively judging the legitimacy of a metaphysical claim by the idiotic actions of a tiny minority of zealots is not only short-sighted, it’s demonstrably, logically unsupportable. The vast majority of people living within the guidance of any particular religion live lives of community, compassion, pluralism, and tolerance. We’re not arguing about the definition or existence of God — we’re simply noticing that an extremely beneficial shift in consciousness occurs when we surrender to the grace of the universe and allow it to do what it does so well — support us. Nor does any of this have anything to do with the tiresome arguments about which religion is the right one. Most of us have moved way past that. We’re simply recognizing that spiritual practice in all its forms moves us from the agitation of self-will and into the wide-open willingness of serenity.
Nothing calms, emboldens, and enlarges the soul like beauty. Art, in all its forms, celebrates the mystery of existence and calls us to our higher sensibilities. Some media, like literature and poetry, uses words while other media, like painting and sculpture, uses color, line, form, shape, and composition. Film uses both, and more. But the real thrill of art is its inherently seditious nature. It defies the very forms it employs by making us see past the surface and feel the depth of our own lives — something we have been desperately longing to feel. Art brings us home to ourselves and leaves us awash in the stillness of our own infinite value. We know more now, we feel more. We see a little further. And we take this empowerment into our moral action, our loving kindness, and our willingness to talk less about the problems and move more into the embodiment of solutions.
In his poem The Great Wagon, 12th century Persian poet Hafiz wrote, “Today, like every other day, we wake up empty/and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study/and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument./Let the beauty we love be what we do./There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” Whether we play a musical instrument or not, music has the capacity to break us out of the captivity of our own thought-cage. Listen to music that has power and meaning for you. Let it lift you like wind lifts a wing. Let it carry you over your worries and endless mind-puzzles. As Beethoven reminds us, “Music is a revelation higher than all wisdom and philosophy.”
There’s more. But you know the rest. Eat better. Move your body. Get out of your isolation. Trust community. Travel. Take risks. Trade safety for love. Give away whatever it is you want to receive. Learn, again and again, the art of letting go. In these ways and others we move out of the maelstrom of thought-addiction and into the serenity of the eye of the hurricane — a place of calm and stillness where we finally see and feel our authenticity rising up through the cracks of the chaos of our former lives.
Peter Bolland is a writer, speaker, and singer-songwriter as well as chair of the humanities department and professor of philosophy at Southwestern College, where he teaches comparative religion, Asian philosophy, ethics and world mythology. Everything you need to know is at www.peterbolland.com