Who wants it calmer? Me. Probably you, no matter how you feel about That Thing. No matter how much you enjoy the run-up to the holidays. No matter how confident you are that if the daily madness doesn’t kill you it makes you stronger. So here are 10 de-stressers. And the 11th, for no extra charge: Breathe.
Marcus Aurelius was, it is said, Rome’s last great emperor, but there’s nothing regal about him. His father taught him, he writes, “It is possible for a man to live in a palace without wanting either guards or embroidered dresses, or torches and statues, and such-like show.” In his “Meditations,” he goes no further. That is, he snatches time to write without once mentioning his primary task — leading the most powerful army in the world. It’s not that he’s modest. It’s because he’s struggling with the challenge we all face: how to be live with dignity.
The value of Epictetus is that he is, literally, a practical philosopher — if you’re looking for deep thoughts, big ideas or anything that leads to the linguistic and mathematical analysis we now call philosophy, he’s everything you don’t want. His concerns are the here and now: reality, life, death. And he’s not about to quibble over their ambiguities.
As Epictetus has it, your first task is to look hard at reality and see it for what it is. Then your decisions start: What can you control? What’s out of your control? And if you care about the stuff that’s out of your control, can you really complain when life deals you dirt? And why oh why are you even bothering to look at your neighbor to see how he/she is doing?
Thich Nhat Hanh: Being Peace
Life is filled with suffering, but it is also filled with many wonders, like the blue sky, the sunshine, the eyes of a baby. To suffer is not enough. We must also be in touch with the wonders of life. They are within us all around us, everywhere, any time.
If we are not happy, if we are not peaceful, we cannot share peace and happiness with others, even those we love, those who live under the same roof. If we are peaceful, if we are happy, we can smile and blossom like a flower, and everyone in our family, our entire society, will benefit from our peace. Do we need to make a special effort to enjoy the beauty of the blue sky? Do we have to practice to be able to enjoy it? No, we just enjoy it.
Kneipp Bath Oils
Sebastian Kneipp, born in 1821 in Bavaria, planned to be a priest but had his hopes dashed when he contracted pulmonary tuberculosis. Eager not to die, he searched for a cure — and found it, he believed, in a book on hydrotherapy. He started dunking himself briefly in the Danube River. His disease vanished.
In 1886, Kneipp wrote a book, “My Water Cure.” The book had enormous appeal to Europeans who sensed that our daily stresses can accumulate and cause physical and spiritual disease — and the way back to health was not Freud’s “talking cure” but lifestyle changes. “Inactivity weakens, exercise strengthens, excess harms,” he said. And so he proposed a three-pronged road to health: a healthy diet, fresh air and physical activity, rest.
Reader Review: A friend known for his strong opinions started taking Mental Clarity once a day. He reported back: “A number of situations have occurred — both work and play — that would have had me up the wall, but I’ve just shrugged my way through them. After one incident, I noted how unstressed (de-stressed) my reaction was. So there’s a rousing testimonial.”
Mental Clarity contains Brahmi, which is said to “improve capacity for attention and focus, improve the ability to withstand emotional stress, reduce nervousness and anxiety and improve immune system function.” And it has Ashwaghandha, which is said to improve memory and “protect the brain against brain cell deterioration.” In short, Ayurvedic medicine.
Danny Cudd and Markus Johansson — Hang Massive — were street musicians who began playing together in 2010. They financed their own records and built a following. “Once Again” has almost 10 million views on YouTube.
Their first appeal is the novelty of their sound. They play the Hang drum, an instrument introduced in Switzerland in 2000. Each Hang is handmade. Few exist. The drum is made from “common steel sheet converted into sheet with a higher intrinsic energy. In the method the steel sheet is nitrided until the sheet is completely permeated with iron nitride needles.” The Hang produces a sound we’re not familiar with, what the inventors call “sound sculpture.” They ask: “Where does this sound come from? From the inside? From the outside? The listener becomes a sounding instrument.”
Nóirín Ní Riain
Nóirín Ní Riain was an Irish national treasure for a decade. (Sinéad O’Connor called her “my biggest influence and heroine in music.”) Then she began performing outside of Ireland, often in support of peace groups. She’s learned to sing the sacred music of India in Hindi and to play Indian instruments. In 2003, she earned a PhD. in theology from the University of Limerick. Her thesis subject: “Theosony,” a theology she devised that marries listening to Spirit.
An Irish critic, Brendan Kennelly, nails her appeal: “Nóirín Ní Riain’s special magic springs from her ability to meditate coherently on the nature and consequences of her own passion for music, song and chant. She is a very conscious artist who has a direct, articulate link with her unconscious powers. The beautiful clarity of her singing and thinking is born of her intrepid ability to confront and express the complexity of her dreams, instincts, aspirations and longings. I believe that is why her genius, at once contained and soaring, creates in the listener’s heart an atmosphere of serenity and calm, a peace that is all the more profound and convincing for being voiced in a world of horror, greed and compulsive destruction…”
Djivan Gasparyan’s music banishes the world — it’s like meditation. In the middle of the night, when it’s so quiet that you can barely hear the breeze, what kind of music would you want to hear? Something that honors the silence and blends with it. Something beautiful and melodic. Something slow — energetic music would just sound gaudy — and meditative. Eternal music, expressing feelings beyond words.
For the last 1,500 years, people have found that kind of music played on the duduk, a double-reed instrument that’s a distant cousin of the oboe. Armenians feel it’s theirs, but versions of it are also played in Turkey, Georgia, and Azerbaijan.
The modern master of the duduk is Djivan Gasparyan. He was an Armenian kid growing up in an orphanage when, at six, he picked up a duduk and started to play — he had listened to recordings, he “just knew” how it worked. By 1947, he was a soloist in a group that played for Stalin, who presented him with a watch. Great honors would follow. By the 1970s, he was a national treasure in Armenia.
100 Journeys for the Spirit
I knew nothing of the lakeside villages of Guatemala’s Lake Atitlan, the ruins at Tiwanaku in Bolivia, the Great Blue Hole in a reef in Belize, the quarry-like rock face of Pipestone in Minnesota, the Godafoss Waterfall in Iceland, The Ring of Brodgar in Scotland, Carnac in France, the gorgeous simplicity of the St.-Peter-on-the Wall Church in England. the Talati de Dalt stone remnants on Menorca, Morvern in Scotland, the instantly classic Sogn Benedetg chaptel in Switzerland — and that’s just my list from the first half of the book. By the time the book reached gorgeous, unspoiled, spooky Australia and New Zealand, I felt I should kiss the family farewell and get going on my travels.
Sacred Landscapes: The Threshold Between Worlds
Places have power. Sometimes our very distant ancestors grasped that this was so and erected monuments to that power (Stonehenge, Tibetan stupas). Sometimes the power comes from man-made structures that replicate the eternal power found in nature. The point: What we have gained through science and exploration is massive. So is what our ancestors on the spiritual path learned from nature. For these places and objects from our distant past contain “inner histories” that resonate with energy. They are, literally, “thresholds” between the world we know and the cosmic knowledge imbedded in our planet. If we wish to slip through that threshold and achieve wholeness — or, more simply, if we wish not to feel so stupid and incomplete all the time — we should spend some time seeking these places out.
This article originally appeared on The Head Butler
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