We are caught in the tension of engaging with the complex while being drawn drawn to simplicity. This reality is present in our bodies, organizations, and individual lives. Our bodies seek to maintain equilibrium. Organizations prune layers of complexity that add no value. Individuals learn to cope with complexity by seeking structure and focus.
This natural swing of the pendulum affects everything, including the emotional and spiritual areas of our lives. Emotion and spiritual dimensions are the foundation on which the rest of our lives and organizations are built.
Emotions are varying mental states that are experienced. These are affected by thoughts, circumstances, habits, inhibitions like shame or fear, and opportunities for excitement. The limbic system in the brain controls emotions and behaviors. It is the first responder, arriving on the scene of a new circumstance before logic. This is the reason people frequently make decisions based on emotions. Later, when logic has a chance to inform the brain of risks or potential problems, there may be regrets. Things can seem so much clearer in hindsight!
Emotional stability skills can be learned
Emotional stability varies among individuals and from day-to-day, as well as over the stages of life. While some personalities may be naturally more or less stable, the neuroplasticity of the brain ensures that everyone can learn new ways to cope during challenging periods of life.
Build a strong emotional foundation for life by simplifying, releasing control, embracing vulnerability and community, and finding time to rest.
When the complexity of life makes you feel emotionally off balance, simplify the things you can control.
For instance, Mark Zuckerberg, Barack Obama, and Steve Jobs are among those who chose to wear a “uniform” of sorts ranging from heather grey t-shirts, grey or black suits, to black turtlenecks with jeans in order to focus their “decision-making” energy on more important things.
Learn to say “no.” Delegate tasks that others could accomplish while you focus on your own job strengths.
Let go of what you can not control. Embrace the unpredictability of life. This current moment in time and its accompanying feelings (good or bad), will not last. Focus on what is most important.
Embrace Vulnerability and Community
Recognize the power of vulnerability and community. Humans are all imperfect beings. All make mistakes, all long to be loved and known, to belong, to be part of something larger than themselves. It is important to acknowledge shortcomings and seek forgiveness. Authenticity builds real connections with others. Find supportive people to walk with on life’s journey.
Rest is an important part of training to run a marathon. During interval training, a runner increases speed for a short distance, then slows down significantly to rest, then increases speed again. Rest allows muscles to rebuild and creates endurance in the athlete. Rest is also essential in the marathon called life. It is not the opposite of productivity, but an important aspect of building both physical and emotional endurance. Taking the time for self-care, for rest and renewal is crucial to balancing the tensions in life.
Everyone has spiritual needs, regardless of whether they consider themselves religious. The spiritual side in each of us needs to find meaning or purpose in our day to day lives. Just as people benefit from taking an emotional inventory when faced with complex circumstances, it is also beneficial to take a spiritual inventory, examining assumptions about spiritual matters.
Spiritual topics can be complicated. Every faith has specific beliefs and moral codes. For example, some version of a Golden Rule is aspired to in Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity. Even belief in a Creator, which seems like a simple concept, is full of complicated assumptions of by whom, why and how creation happened.
Though spiritual beliefs can be complex, some simple practices can be profoundly meaningful.
Build a strong spiritual foundation for life by pursuing wisdom, praying, seeking forgiveness, belonging to a community, practicing gratitude, and embracing rest.
Along with many of our clients, staff at Plains Edge embraces the Judeo-Christian perspective of God. Following are examples of how we incorporate simple spiritual practices to provide spiritual stability. However, it is not that these practices themselves have any transformational power, but they serve as a means of personally connecting with God.
Spiritual foundation begins with wisdom. Many people use inspiring quotes from individuals they admire or who were wise, such as Socrates, Mahatma Ghandi, St. Augustine, or Albert Einstein, to encourage them during difficult times. We look to the person of Jesus and his words as our ultimate source of wisdom. An example is his simple challenge from the Bible: “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”1
Christianity is not so much a religion as a relationship with the person of Jesus Christ. Since we understand the Bible to be a historical document revealing Jesus’ life and teachings, we regularly spend time reading it to get to know him. Starting the day by reading the Bible provides a reminder that how we live is important. Just as choosing to wear a “uniform” focuses decision-making energy, so too meditating on scripture helps focus thoughts on things that are meaningful. Meditating on scripture can displace negative thought patterns and bring calmness. It can also aid us in falling asleep at the end of a stressful day.
Prayer is spiritual communication and is as simple as carrying on an inner conversation with Jesus as we go about our day. We ask for help with problems, express thanks for the good around us and seek wisdom and direction for planning.
Prayer is also a way of letting go of what is not in our control. Acknowledging and expressing what we are worried about in this way helps us process difficult emotions and cope with the unpredictability of life. Vulnerability and trust are important aspects in both human and spiritual relationships. Our dependence on God gives us a unique sense of freedom.
Forgiveness is a spiritually significant topic. Being imperfect, forgiveness is essential in human relationships. It is also essential in a spiritual relationship with God. Experiencing spiritual forgiveness inspires us to be more gracious and forgiving with those around us.
Join a Community
People do not thrive in isolation. We are wired to live in community, longing to be part of something bigger and meaningful. Knowing others who share beliefs and who encourage and support through life’s difficulties develops both emotional and spiritual stability. We have found our faith in Jesus to be a common denominator with others, helping us find belonging in new communities and new situations.
A daily gratitude journal is an effective way to help take our focus off current problems or stressors and look for the good that is still present all around us. Writing down just 3 items every day, results in over 1,000 blessings in the year to look back on when feeling discouraged! Expressing that gratitude to others increases our awareness and joy.
Just as rest promotes physical and emotional endurance, being at rest in our spiritual dimension brings us a true sense of peace. God invented rest and self-care and modeled it for us by refraining from work on the Sabbath. Jesus invites us to experience rest and peace through faith in him, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” 2
When emotions and feelings are in flux, we are uncertain and unsettled. At difficult times like these, our spiritual foundation can provide stability. We can choose to continue to trust what we know to be true of faith.
We are of two minds: simplicity and complexity. The tension is everywhere, the movement between them is part of the rhythm of life. There is good to be found in both. Intentionally build a strong emotional foundation through simplifying, releasing control, embracing vulnerability and community, and finding time to rest. Acknowledge your spiritual dimension too. Embrace the simple faith practices of wisdom, prayer, forgiveness, community, gratitude, rest and find true peace in Jesus.