Wednesday 16 September 2015

Calm your horses, before they trample you!

I wanted to run. I wanted to get up and rush to the exit, maybe I'd get away, perhaps if I sneaked. They said boredom never killed anyone, but I didn't want to take any chances. I am sure school assemblies were similar for you. Fortunately, neither of us raised our backsides from the chair and fled those monotonous voices... Not in high school anyway... in Grade 2 I had decided enough was enough, and landed in trouble. As adults, we know the importance of self control. Children don't quite yet have the potency of will.

In the adult world, though, the same sort of urgency is still common enough. It is just generally better justified, latent, or expertly hidden. People get this sense of urgency, urgency becomes desperation, and keeps its annuals in stress. Whenever I have done something I whole heartedly regret, that urgency egged me on. I am told I am calm in most emergencies... I certainly didn't used to be. I thought self control would be a useful skill to master. I didn't realise quite how difficult it would be until I realised that I had never been guilty of a faux pas without that nagging sense of urgency. Patience is not merely a virtue, it is the power by which self control has a foothold in our lives.

When you want to do something you shouldn't: to eat that creamy chocolate cake that calls your name during a diet, to respond to an insult when you just know it would cause a fight... to say things you really shouldn't say... have you ever done anything you regret that was not accompanied by an unusually potent sense of urgency?

There are times for urgency... it might be wise to run if you are late for an important exam. It can be pretty urgent to get out of the path of an elephant or of an out of control truck. Urgency has a place, but generally its place is limited. When I am about to make a mistake, I might not realise that I am being foolish at first. What is always obvious to me is that sense of urgency. I just have to do it... I must... When my thoughts become urgent, I take a slow deep breath and ask myself if there is any real reason to be urgent... usually there isn't, and once calm, I see the fault in my thoughts.

Some of the more famous saints of the Catholic canon are famous for doing all sorts of exotic things to maintain their self control. Scary things, like jumping into a painful thorn adorned bush to undo their naughty lusts. I imagine they transferred the urgency they felt to do naughty things, upon an urgency to jump into a nest of thorns. No doubt that pretty lady who wanted them, noticed their passion, and regretted asking a monk to coffee or a date. The same desperation for company redirected, caused the painful jump, and with their desires cleansed, they limped away from their floral friend. Thomas Aquinas, who every lawyer learns about, was among such saints... when his family hired him a prostitute against his wishes, he directed his excess passion to chasing her out of his chambers with a fire poker... yes, that Aquinas, every lawyer learns about. And yet, in a non-medieval society, it is not socially acceptable to jump into someone else's perfectly pruned roses, or chase our fellow man with a fire poker... Deep breathing exercises and logic will have to suffice for the modern professional.

They say the wolf you feed is the one which grows. Over the years, a focus on calm and patience has truly reduced my levels of stress.

Even when urgency might be warranted, I find a calm has come over me... the less you stress, the less you are controlled by it. A few years ago I was halfway up a steep staircase, and saw what looked like paper on the step above me. I started to bend down to throw it away... next I knew, I was a few steps up, staring down at a snake... no paper had rested on the stairs. My voice sounded like that of a little girl's, but I stuck it out, just out of reach of the serpent, waiting for help without letting it out of my sight. If I had not learnt to fight urgency in my daily life, I might have run... and lost sight of my nemesis, the snake.

There is a place for urgency, but it is a very limited space.

Next time you feel just a bit too much stress, the child of urgency, ask whether the urgency is warranted... if it isn't, take a few deep breaths, calm yourself down, and passively continue with your day. I find that when I shelve undeserved urgency, I get far more done during any one spin of the earth around its axis.

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