Work on getting clear, and you’ll end up where you need to be


How being clear beats evil

Mordor is what comes to mind right now. Mordor is a place of death for those of you who don’t read Lord of the Rings.

It is where the Dark Lord Sauron lives, and when he gets The One Ring, which he is looking for, he will have complete power over Middle Earth.

“The one ring to rule them all, the one ring to find them,
One ring to bring them all together and bind them in the dark.”

Frodo, the hero hobbit (a very small person with hairy feet), now has the ring. He must overcome what seem to be insurmountable obstacles to reach Mt. Doom in the middle of Mordor and destroy the ring there.

By doing this, he will make sure that the Dark Lord dies and that peace and wealth return to Middle Earth.

Fired!

Decades ago, this story kept me interested through three books and hundreds of pages. It also got me fired from a sales job at a department store. While I was sneaking a look at a book, someone reached into the cash register and took the money. The boss thought that it was me.

Not because of this dirty detail, but because of the story of good beating evil, these books will always be in my mind.

Tolkien knew how to make the right amount of tension and calm in his stories, just like any good writer of high drama does. He knew he had to make people feel like they could relax for a while, that everything would be okay, and maybe it would all go away. Without that, the tension of all the bad things that could happen would have been too much for you to turn the page.

The three movies based on the book couldn’t quite find the right balance between the hours of terrible fighting, horror, and misery that poor Frodo and his loyal companion Sam had to go through. At this time, it’s like being on Facebook all the time.

After the last movie, it felt like I had been stretched on a medieval rack for three hours without any hope or relief, even though I knew the end would be a victory.

Our everyday, sometimes boring lives don’t come close to the epic problems Frodo had to solve on his quest. After what he went through, he would have needed years of therapy for PTSD, so we should be thankful for that.

Still, we might be surprised by how much of what goes on in our daily lives causes cortisol, the stress hormone, to rise and our bodies to react physically.

We might also be surprised by how much this changes how we talk to each other and, by extension, how we get along with others.

Talks that are hard to have

Angela Dadds taught a workshop called “Challenging Conversations,” where I learned that something as small as a well-timed roll of the eye or lift of the eyebrow in response to something you said or did can trigger the amygdala center in the brain. Each of the things that cause the fight, freeze, and flight responses can make you feel afraid, small, or left out in some way.

She said that our brains haven’t quite caught up with what we know about life now. In the days of cave people, if you were left out, you died. Even though a small act of exclusion in a meeting won’t kill you, your brain still reacts as if it could.

When we add up the stress of managing personal and work relationships offline, the number of times we roll our eyes and raise our eyebrows when we share things on social media every day, and the fact that there is a lot of controversy and disagreement in the world right now, our cortisol levels are likely topped up every day.

So, just like in Tolkien’s books, we need a place like Lothlorien, where the kind Silvan Elves lived and where evil couldn’t reach, where we can go to escape for a while.

How can we get to the mental equivalent of Lothlorien easily in our everyday lives?

I’m not an expert in any field of awareness that would let someone quickly figure out what they need and then go to their place of peace.

Peace and quiet

I do think, though, that clarity is important. And that if we want to be good to other people, we have to do what we can to reduce stress and bring about calm. It makes sense. Having more endorphins (which make you feel good) and less cortisol (which makes you feel and act stressed) should make you a nicer person who cares more about the well-being of others.

Can I tell you about four ideas I have that might help us reset or reframe parts of our lives so that we have more and longer moments of calm?

Clarity

Why? Because if you try to be clear about what you’re doing, you’ll end up in a place where you have a purpose.

You’ll know why you’re saying or doing something and know what you want to get out of it. You’ll be less likely to do something stupid and have to deal with the results.

When you know what you want to do, you don’t argue with yourself or others about where you want to go. You aren’t in a big mess. Stress comes from being in a mess. Clarity work can be hard, but it’s worth it. Rewards are endorphins, good feelings.

Can you work every day on being clear? I believe so. Even the smallest “aha!” moments and “delicious insights” are like a quick dip in one of the clear pools that are all over Lothlorien. Worth the mental gymnastics you have to do to get there often.

Creativity

Another thing about this clarity work is that it is creative.

A lot of research points to the idea that creativity is a state of mind. Play is something that takes place in a certain place at a certain time. Think about your favorite ways to play, like running, tennis, vacations, or yoga. You go somewhere for a set amount of time, the hours go by quickly, and your worries fade away. You’re in your mental version of Lothlorien.

Can I then suggest that you set aside a time and place for this work of clarity? Maybe the shower or a daily walk, or even just a few minutes every morning in the garden. It’s fun to be in a creative space and think about why you do what you do.

Shower Sickness

Creswell, a neuroscientist, did some research that showed when we are distracted, we are better at solving problems that are too big for our conscious minds to handle. How often do we solve a problem that has been bothering us while we’re in the shower?

The research showed that when we keep trying to solve a problem in the same way, we don’t get anywhere. If we take short breaks or do something else for a while and then come back to the problem, we often find solutions that weren’t clear before.

In other words, go to Lothlorien for a cup of tea and then come back to it!

Blogging

Seriously. Writing is cathartic, which means it cleans, purges, and sets you free. Writing is also creative, and it makes you think about why you’re doing it in the first place. It was all three good things in one.

Why do we need to?

I think I can see the dark plains of Mordor again. Vapors are coming out of Mt. Doom, which smells bad, and dark beings are coming out from under rocks, where they had been locked away for decades.

We might want to turn away from this or make something normal that wasn’t normal just a short time ago so that we can protect ourselves and feel less stressed. That won’t make the problem go away.

We need to be calm and determined, clear and creative, and a little bit nicer to each other than we might have been otherwise.

Recently, people riding the subway in New York used what they had on hand to get rid of ugly Nazi graffiti on the train they were riding.

Like them, we need to do what we can where and how we can before going to our own Lothlorien to recharge and get back on track.