How clarity defies evil
Mordor comes to mind at the moment.
For those of you who are not a Lord of The Rings fanatic, Mordor is a place of doom.
It is the seat of the Dark Lord Sauron, whose increasing power over Middle Earth will be complete when he possesses The One Ring he searches for.
“The one ring to rule them all, one ring to find them,
One ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.”
Possession of the ring has fallen to Frodo, the hero hobbit, (very little person with hairy feet), who must conquer seemingly insurmountable odds and reach Mt Doom in Mordor’s midst, where he can destroy said ring.
By doing so he will ensure the the demise of the Dark Lord and Middle Earth’s return to peace and prosperity.
Decades ago, through three books and hundreds of pages, this tale kept me mesmerised and got me fired from a sales position in a department store. While I sneaked a read, someone reached into the till and pocketed the cash. The supervisor thought it was me.
Not for this tawdry detail, but for the tale of good trumping evil, these books have inhabited my imagination the rest of my life.
Tolkien, like any good writer of high drama, understood the right balance of tension and calm. He knew he had to invoke times of quiet, a sense of ‘phew, I can relax for a while, it will be alright, maybe it will all go away’. Without that, the tension of all that lurking evil was just too great for you to turn to the next page.
The triptych of films made from the book could not quite achieve that necessary calm between the hours of horrendous battle, horror and misery poor Frodo and his faithful campaign Sam had to endure. The equivalent at this time of being on Facebook 24/7.
After the last film, it felt like being stretched on a medieval rack for three hours with no sense of hope or reprieve, even when you knew the final outcome was triumph.
Our ordinary, sometimes pedestrian lives don’t quite match the epic challenges Frodo faced in his quest. He would surely have needed years of PTSD therapy after such experiences, so for that we should be grateful.
All the same, we may be surprised by how much of what happens in our daily lives causes a charge of cortisol, the stress hormone, and a physical reaction in our bodies.
We may also be surprised by how much this impacts on our communication and therefore our relationships.
From a workshop called ‘Challenging Conversations’ run by Angela Dadds, I learned that even a small slight such as a well timed roll of the eye, or lift of an eyebrow in response to something you’ve said or done can activate the amygdala centre in the brain. Responsible for the fight, freeze and flight response, each can leave you feeling fearful, diminished or excluded in some way.
As she explained, our brains haven’t quite caught up with our current experience of life. In cave man days, if you were excluded you were dead. A small gesture of exclusion in a meeting is certainly not going to kill you, but your brain still reacts as if it might.
Multiply managing personal and working offline relationships with dozens of metaphorical eye rolls and lifted eyebrows in our daily social media shares and, currently, controversy and divisive views, and our cortisol levels are likely topped up every day.
Which is why, as in Tolkien’s books, we need to find moments of refuge in the equivalent of Lothlorien, home to the gracious Silvan Elves and a place of tranquility where evil could not penetrate.
How can we readily access the mental equivalent of Lothlorien in our daily lives?
I’m not an expert in any field of awareness that can allow one to instantly assess their need and then access their place of peace.
Clarity and calm
I do believe however, that clarity plays a role. And, that it is essential to our ability to be good to others that we reduce stress and evoke calm where we can. It makes sense, more endorphins (good feelings) and less cortisol (stressed feelings and physical reactions) is bound to make you a nicer person likely to be concerned for the wellbeing of others.
Can I share with you the four ideas I have that might reset or reframe aspects of our lives to expose us to more, and longer moments, of calm.
Why? Because if you work at being clear about anything you do, you’ll come to a place of purpose.
You’ll understand and have an intention for why you are saying or doing something. You’ll be less likely to commit a knee-jerk response and cop the consequences.
Clear on a purpose, you’re not in constant conflict with yourself or others about the direction you’re heading in. You’re not in a mess. Being in a mess is stress. Work on clarity can be testing, but it’s rewarding. Rewards are endorphins, good feelings.
Can you work on clarity everyday? I believe so. Those delightful aha moments, those delectable insights, no matter how small are the equivalent of a quick dip in the clear pools dotted through Lothlorien. Worth the mental gymnastics to get there frequently.
There is something else about this clarity work, it’s creative.
There’s a load of research that suggest creativity is a state of play. Play is defined as something that occurs in a specific place for a specific time. Think about your dedicated times of play that are fun for you – running, tennis, holidays, yoga. You go somewhere specific for a set time, the hours flash past, your concerns recede – you’re in your mental equivalent of Lothlorien.
Can I recommend then, that you dedicate a time and place for this work of clarity – the shower perhaps, or on a daily walk – every morning for a short time in the garden? Being in a creative space thinking about why you are doing what you are doing is fun.
A neuroscientist called Creswell did some research that showed we are better at solving problems that are too big for our conscious mind, when we are distracted. How often do we come up with a solution for something that’s been troubling us, when we’re in the shower?
The research showed that when we keep pushing through to solve a problem we’re ineffective at solving it. If we take short breaks, or distract ourselves and come back to the problem, solutions will frequently present themselves that were not evident before.
In other words, pop over to Lothlorien for a cup of tea and then come back to it!
Seriously. Writing is cathartic as in cleansing, purging, freeing. Writing is also creative while forcing you to be clear on why you are doing it in the first place. All three good things rolled into one.
Why should we?
I believe the dark plains of Mordor have come back into view. Mt Doom is spewing forth a stench of vapours and dark beings are crawling out from under rocks where they were previously banished for decades.
We might be tempted to turn our backs on this, or to normalise what was not normalised just a short time ago to preserve ourselves and reduce our stress. That will not take away the problem.
We need to be calm and resolved, clear and creative and to be just a little kinder to each other than we might otherwise have been.
New York subway travellers recently spontaneously used what they had at their disposal to rid the train they were travelling in of ugly Nazi graffiti. Like them, we need to each do our bit where and how we can, before retreating to the peace of whatever our Lothlorien is, to refuel and refocus.
I welcome you to have a 20 minute, ‘What’s Up’ chat if clarity and calm is evading you at present. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org