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INTRODUCTION: The Best of Times, the Worst of Times.
PART I: Into the Unknown.
1. The Winds of Change Are Brewing.
2. Under Pressure.
PART II: Crossing the Threshold.
3. Stand Like Mountain, Move Like Water.
4. Move a Mountain, Walk on Water.
PART III: Life in the Balance.
5. The Human Equinox: Six Ways to Bring Balance into Your Life.
6. The Health of the Human Spirit: Twenty-one Strategies for Letting Go of Stress.
PART IV: Back Home Again.
7. The Winds of Grace.
EPILOGUE: Sacred Spaces and Divine Inspiration.
REFERENCES AND RESOURCES.
When we forget our stories, then we forget our dreams. When we forget our dreams, we lose our spirit. -Maori saying
Remember when the world seemed like a simpler place to live? Not long ago, stores were closed on Sundays. Only girls wore earrings. There were just three television networks (four, if you could get PBS). Cell phones were considered science fiction. Only NASA engineers and MIT professors used computers. Some cows were a bit unhappy, but none were mad, and there were seven words you could never say on television. That was then. Things are quite different now!
The stormy winds of change are blowing fast and furious today, and, by all accounts, they show no signs of stopping. Change has always been part of the human landscape, but the rate of change occurring today, from near-instantaneous telecommunications to terrorism, genetic engineering, and globalization, is unparalleled in human history. Future shock has arrived, throwing everything out of balance. Experts suggest that we will see as much dramatic change in the next three to five years as our grandparents saw in a lifetime. Are you ready for this?
If your answer is no, you're not alone. Add to this list more social changes, such as nanotechnology, rapidly infectious diseases, andcloning, as well as any personal dramas that you might go through, whether a death in the family, the end of a marriage, or being downsized out of a job, and your pace of life has just accelerated tenfold. Social changes only increase your levels of personal stress. The winds of change are blowing at gale force, so it's best to batten down the hatches by using your inner strength.
Believe it or not, if you stay anchored to your inner resources (e.g., faith, optimism, courage), it is possible to stay calm in the eye of the storm. Yet most people, distracted by the newest technology craze or a plethora of shallow media events, find it hard to recognize their strengths, let alone make use of them. Whether welcome or unwelcome, change is often associated with stress, because with change comes uncertainty, and uncertainty breeds fear. Fear clouds the mind and robs the heart of its highest potential. Let there be no doubt that we are living in a time of great fear.
Nestled up against the foothills of the Rockies, Boulder, Colorado, may not be your typical town, but like everywhere else in America, the winds of change blow here regularly. Renowned for its mountain splendor and subtle mystique, "the Republic of Boulder" is sometimes described as ten square miles surrounded by reality. At the cash register of my favorite local bakery, there is a sign taped to a huge teacup. Unlike most signs that read "Need a penny, take a penny," this one says "If you fear change, leave it here." Every time I go in, I notice that the bowl is overflowing with pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters. I'm not sure whether people contribute their pocket change out of jest, guilt, or authentic fear, but without a doubt, not only is change brewing, like the pocket change in this teacup, it is overflowing. Change is inevitable, and with change comes fear, particularly fear of the unknown. Granted, while a little bit of change (e.g., new restaurants, new music, etc.) can interrupt life's monotony, by and large, people don't like change because it is perceived as stressful. As the expression goes, "The only person who likes change is a wet baby."
The weather from hell. Traffic from hell. The stock market from hell. Have you noticed how popular hell has become lately? Hell is the metaphorical symbol of stress, and whether it's frozen over or breaking loose, there seems to be no shortage of turbulent winds these days, all of which precipitate feelings of personal stress. Everywhere you go, people are tense, frustrated, and pushed beyond the limits of their patience. Take a look around. Listen closely. People talk as if they have Tourette's syndrome, or they complain like Andy Rooney on 60 Minutes. He gets paid to whine, though; the rest of us do it for free.
A Lesson from Churchill
Perhaps the first time the world's inhabitants were acutely aware of global stress was during the height of World War II. But even before the atomic bomb was dropped on Japan, ushering in the age of nuclear destruction, Britain was continuously being bombed by the Germans in the famous "Blitz." Winston Churchill, the prime minister of England and a man known to never mince words, shared this thought with his countrymen: "If you're going through hell ... keep going." Though slightly humorous, his message holds profound wisdom. In times of great strife, we often want to throw in the towel and give up. Many people, when confronted with stress, whether of the mountain or the molehill variety, admit defeat without even trying. Churchill's message was clear. Hell isn't meant to be a permanent refuge or a final destination, so keep moving.
The Hero's Code
At a recent dinner party I attended, the conversation was abuzz with personal strife and national calamities: the death of a mutual friend, a newly discovered cancerous tumor, and a hellacious divorce, as well as the stock market crisis, high school shootings, and weather storms of biblical proportions. Eight of us sat around the table, sharing moments of our lives, perceptions of the global village, and our visions of the next decade. With each new topic of the conversation, we tried to make sense of the rapidly changing world we live in, as well as determine our best course of action while individually navigating the shoals of impending disaster. It didn't take long for us to realize that stress was a recurring theme in every aspect of our lives. In the midst of our apparent abundance and prosperity was the inherent knowledge that things were terribly amiss.
Mark put down his wine glass and asked, "Is it me or has anyone else noticed that the planet earth has become a runaway train?" His question went unanswered for a few moments. Then the dining room became vibrant with conversation on how to take command in a situation where control is a tempestuous illusion. With a wary eye on the future, we came to a simple consensus that the only way to deal with the turbulent times ahead was to have a clear mind and a brave heart with no trace of fear, for it made no sense to either fight with anger or surrender in disgust. We had too much living to do. Before we drove back to our respective homes, we made a pledge to return to the same dinner table in a few months, like knights returning to King Arthur's round table, to share with the group how we had slayed a personal dragon or two, found the mythical Holy Grail, and, in doing so, made the world a better place to live.
Brave New World Revisited
A hush fell over the crowd as the speaker walked up to the microphone. It was the spring of 2004, and the topic was "Global Change," a glimpse into the next decade through the eyes of one of the country's foremost futurists, Dr. Paul Kordis. His presentation was an eloquent synthesis of keen insights poised at the vanguard of what the next decade holds in store for earth's inhabitants. Dr. Kordis spoke of the advances in microchip technology, political upheavals, nanotechnology, the application of the Human Genome Project, newly revealed secrets from the Hubble space telescope, the bioengineering of food, and more. At the conclusion of his talk, he specifically addressed the fear that will accompany these changes, as paradigms crumble and belief systems collapse. "We have entered a time in the history of humanity when our capacity to use this technology has exceeded the consciousness to question whether it should indeed, be used. I am afraid to say there is no stopping it." Kordis paused to view the attentive audience. "Welcome to a brave new world," he said without a hint of cynicism.
In 1939 the book Brave New World rolled off the presses. It described a future utopian society-ironically, one not without problems. Its author, Aldous Huxley, like other science fiction writers of his time, used literature to make a philosophical point about many things, including spiritual hunger and the pursuit of happiness. Huxley died in 1964, but if he were alive today, he would most likely not be surprised to see the advances in computer technology, cloning, and mind-altering pharmaceuticals that he envisioned so many decades ago. He might, however, be disheartened to know that with these changes, humanity's potential is far less than realized. Apparently, his warning went unheeded.
Like so many other science fiction books, Huxley's work wasn't so much a vision, as it was a spiritual wake-up call. Ever the philosopher, Huxley intuitively knew the dangers of a world that neither acknowledged nor fully embraced the spiritual dimension of life. In a later book of nonfiction titled The Perennial Philosophy, Huxley explored the deeper issues of human spirituality by synthesizing ageless wisdom derived from several of the world's cultures, traditions, and religions. Reality, he explained, is a shrouded mystery, hidden from people who are neither pure of heart nor light in spirit-in essence, those who are victims to personal events, by not learning from them or moving on with life.
People who travel the human journey with a pure heart and a light spirit, no matter what comes their way, will master the human condition. Huxley believed that while life is never easy, when one is armed with a pure heart and a hungry spirit that's willing to learn, the trials of the human journey are always rewarding. His call to action is as important today as it was when he first wrote Brave New World about half a century ago-given the state of current global changes and personal strife, coupled with futuristic technology, perhaps even more so.
A growing majority of people believes that brave or foolish, we truly have entered a "New World." In many ways, though, the more things change, the more they remain the same. Yet regardless of the personal issues and the global events that lie ahead, we still have valuable inner resources to cope with change. Patience, compassion, honesty, faith, humor, forgiveness, and a score of other human attributes have helped us deal effectively with personal crises and cope with stress throughout the course of human history. I call these inner resources "muscles of the soul." When we use them in trying times, they manifest as grace. To quote a familiar expression often attributed to Ernest Hemingway, "Style is grace under pressure." Undoubtedly, adapting to personal and global change in today's world without animosity, resentment, or fear takes grace.
The Way of the Tao
If one word describes Nien Cheng, it is grace. I was first introduced to Nien in 1987 through her book Life and Death in Shanghai, a remarkable, heroic story of the human spirit's triumph over indescribable adversity. With the rise of communism under the rule of Mao Tse-tung, all Chinese intellectuals who spoke English were accused of being spies. Nien had been educated in London and had lived in Australia as the wife of China's ambassador; she then took an assignment for Shell Oil in Shanghai after the death of her husband. Her past became highly suspect to the Communist Red Guard. In 1965, at the age of fifty-six, she was falsely accused of being a spy and imprisoned in solitary confinement for over six years. She endured horrendous living conditions and physical torture. She was never allowed to see her family, including her only daughter, Mei Ping. A U.S. détente between Nixon and Mao opened a window of opportunity in 1972, and several prisoners, including Nien, were released. Upon learning the unspeakable fate of her daughter, she made the decision to leave China forever, first immigrating to Canada, then relocating to the United States. If you were to meet her today at age ninety, you would see the scars on her wrists from shackles she was forced to wear. But more important, you would be struck by her sincere smile and bright eyes, conveying grace and dignity and giving no hint of the utter hell she endured.
While serving on the faculty of the American University in Washington, D.C., I invited Nien to be a guest speaker for my stress-management class in the spring of 1992. She graciously accepted. A wonderful friendship developed afterward, which over the years has been cultivated with letters, phone calls, and e-mails. When I return periodically to the nation's capital, we visit over lunch or dinner. Conversations with Nien are never boring, as she is well versed in many topics that range from politics, health care, and gardening, to current issues and world events.
Sitting in her living room sipping tea one afternoon, I asked whether she had seen the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Her face lit up with a big smile. "Oh, yes," she said, "I liked it so much, I saw it twice. You know, long ago, this was how they made movies in China: flying on rooftops and such. As a young girl, I loved to see them. Then Mao Tse-tung took over, and they stopped making these films. The communists," she said with a faint laugh, "they have no sense of humor." Humor, I learned, was one of Nien's many inner resources.
I mentioned that I, too, had seen it twice and was quite taken with the philosophical theme, as well as with the movie's plot. Pouring more tea, Nien looked up to make eye contact and asked whether I was familiar with the concept of Taoism. Like many people in the mid-seventies, I first became aware of the Taoist philosophy by reading Fritjof Capra's book The Tao of Physics while attending college and again, years later, while reading The Tao of Pooh. Taoism is rather hard to explain, so rather than risk embarrassing myself, I politely shook my head, hoping that Nien would share her insights. She did.
"We have a philosophy in China called Taoism." She paused to collect her thoughts, before attempting to explain the unexplainable. "Taoism is not a religion, it's merely a practical way of life: living simply, living a life of balance and harmony." She looked out the window. "So many things are out of balance today." She took a sip of tea, then shared her experience of being interned in Shanghai's Number 1 Detention House. It became obvious to me that not only her faith in God but her subtle discipline of patience, integrity, and persistence, as expressed through the Taoist philosophy, had enabled her to survive such a terrible ordeal.
Excerpted from Quiet Mind, Fearless Heart by Brian Luke Seaward Excerpted by permission.
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Posted November 8, 2004
It was in the early '90's that I was experiencing emotional burnout equivalent to an extended 'dark night of the soul'. It was then that I first began reading this author's work while in search of tools to bring light back into my days. Reading Dr. Seaward's books, and even hearing him speak at our Unity Church, I learned even more! I felt I had 'past the course' and could, in some ways teach it myself. Then this year I got 'sent back' a few years when problems with major surgery left me in great pain and some what homebound. Then I discovered his new book, 'Quiet Mind, Fearless Heart.' With it, I was able to take a deep breath and begin to explore hope again. I found exercises in this book that stretched and strengthen the 'muscles' of my soul. Am I 'all well'? Not yet! Have I found a path back? Most certainly! His first book, 'Stand Like Mountain' was my textbook on life that I've treasured for many years. Now, just when I most needed it, as I go though major 'winds of change' his sequel, Quiet Mind has come to give me 'winds of grace.' With humble gratitude, I encourage everyone to give themselves this reason for hope, 'A Quiet Mind, Fearless Heart.'Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 18, 2011
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