When the National Weather Service forecasts dangerous rip tides or rip currents at your favorite beach, it can cast a pall upon your day at the sea expectations. It’s much like the daily news broadcasts about strong opposing tides (politics) within nations around the world — ripping nations and societies apart.
“Rip currents are terrifying because they catch you off guard: One minute you’re bobbing along peacefully in the surf, the next you’re being dragged out to sea at top speed,” explains Tom Harris for Science: How Stuff Works. That’s exactly how many of us felt when we learned about the recent detention of children along the southern border of the United States. It’s probably how others feel with the continual fluctuation of shocking news here and abroad.
We can’t stop a rip current. But we can heed the warnings, and we should learn how to get ourselves out of a rip current if we are sucked into one. And so it goes with our personal efforts at finding peace. A sudden world event can pull our peace away. Once caught in the current, we may become another casualty.
There is absolutely nothing I can do about a rip current — either the water based one or the metaphorical rip current — except to be mindful of the conditions and seek my peace on the sands of the beach.
I don’t mean to suggest absolute passivity over negative conditions. But as with any negative condition, finding our inner peace first can brighten the escape path from the dangerous tide, and fuel our energy to persevere and/or take action.
Negative tides are at our doorstep. We can feel it. We can’t deny it any longer. So it behooves us to commit to building our inner peace and letting that peace spread.
Let’s start with five simple ways to build a protective barrier against the rip currents of negative behavior by others. These steps have always helped me safely swim out from the danger zone of despair:
1) Breathe. Ten deep breaths are truly awesome. It forces me to stop whatever I’m doing. Plus, “Deep breathing triggers the release of endorphins, which improves feelings of well-being and provides pain-relief,” according to Elizabeth W, the founder and creative director at The Nourished Life.
2) Smile. Bringing on a smile when the news has just broadcasted another dark moment in history is not easy. But if I allow myself to fall into the dubious current of outrage and discontent, my blood pressure rises, my stomach turns, and I’ve not made one bit of positive change. Studies continually show that smiling is the most positive thing you can do when stressed.
3) Walk. Take a walk around the block, or better yet in a park or in nature. “When stress affects the brain, with its many nerve connections, the rest of the body feels the impact as well. Or, if your body feels better, so does your mind. Exercise and other physical activity produce endorphins — chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers — and also improve the ability to sleep, which in turn reduces stress,” writes the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
4) Inspiration. Positive, life-affirming and uplifting messages and stories are the perfect personal flotation device. Paul J. Zak, Ph.D, director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate University, wrote in an essay for The Greater Good Magazine, “…stories are an effective way to transmit important information and values from one individual or community to the next. Stories that are personal and emotionally compelling engage more of the brain, and thus are better remembered, than simply stating a set of facts.” I now keep my favorite inspirational books on the coffee table.
5) Gratitude. Some believe gratitude to be the magical key to well-being. Gratitude journals are popping up all over social media. We can find gratitude for the fresh fruits of summer, for the purring cat on our laps, and for the fact that we can rise above life’s rip currents through breath, smiles, walking, and inspirational materials. Robert Emmons, the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude, writes, “Gratitude heals, energizes, and transforms lives.”
If we don’t keep ourselves healthy and at peace, we won’t have the energy to swim out of the rip currents. So, let’s take care of ourselves and build that wall — that impenetrable wall of inner peace and become the change we wish to see.