Calming the Storms Within Us

Jesus woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be Still!” Then the wind ceased and there was a dead calm.” ~ Mark 4:39

I love the rhythm and the peace of walking. When I hike up and down a trail, breathe the fresh air in and out, and absorb the beauty of the sky, the trees, and the alpine flowers, my soul sinks into a deeper peace. Thoughts, problems, and issues disappear with each step. Hippocrates had it right when he said, “Walking is the best medicine.” I would add, “Walking is good therapy, divine therapy.”

On the Colorado Trail, I remember walking the first five or six miles up Waterton Canyon and slipping into that tranquility from walking. The Platte River was flowing next to the trail while bighorn sheep grazed nearby. I thought to myself, “I’ll be walking every day in awesome wonder. All I have to do is let the river flow.”

The sun was out, and all was well. Then a troubling thought surfaced in my mind. I don’t know where it came from; the unconscious I suppose. I started thinking about a political leader, and I became irritated, resentful, and angry. My “stormy” thoughts wouldn’t go away. The river no longer looked refreshing. I did not notice the magnificent bighorn sheep along the trail. The sun was out, but a storm was brewing within me, and it wouldn’t go away.

After several long hours of repetitive negative thoughts, they subsided. The next day, they returned in the afternoon. And the day after. I thought to myself, “I’m on sabbatical in beautiful country. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Am I going to carry and battle these cynical, critical, judging, irritating, and destructive thoughts for over four hundred miles of walking?” My walk was anything but peaceful because of the squall within me.

External storms come and go, but how do we make peace with the storms within us which seem to never end?

When the disciples wake Jesus up in the squall, he asks them, “Why are you afraid?” Thomas Keating writes, “The first thing we need is to determine the diagnosis. Why are we upset?” Why are we angry? Why are our thoughts possessing us day and night? Can we let go and find inner peace?

The next time we are offended, upset, defensive, or obsessing on a negative thought, we need to ask ourselves, “what part of us is actually upset” writes Richard Rohr. “We can waste a whole day (or longer) feeding that hurt until it eventually seems to have a life of its own and, in fact, possesses us.”

The inner storms can fester and percolate for years and inhibit us from truly living life. For several days on the trail, the negative thoughts persisted. I did not know what to do with them. Eckhart Tolle calls this our “pain body. We all have one. It is a negative energy field that occupies our body and mind.” Rohr adds, “In our mind, it makes us judgmental and negative. In our body, it makes us fearful and angry.”

Hear the disciples in the storm, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38). They are angry and upset. Do something! Help us!

Asleep in the boat in the middle of the storm, Jesus shows us a different way to heal from the storms, external or internal. “Peace, be still,” he says. “Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm,” (Mark 4:39). In the storm, Jesus stops and goes to a deep place, the unconditional love and grace of God, intimate union. The “windstorm” and the “waves” cannot separate him from this love. There is a calmness not of this world.

Is this available to us as well? “Be still,” Jesus says. Practice contemplative prayer. Meditate. Go deep.

My negative thoughts were like annoying bees buzzing in my head. They wouldn’t go away. The storm within me was “tossing me around like a ship upon the sea.” I thought, “God, don’t you care? Help me out here!”

“Be still.” Who are we beneath the wind and the waves?

Keating writes, “Peace flows from the conviction of our rootedness in God, a presence of infinite concern and caring. Then the winds can no longer disturb us.”

When the negative thoughts came, I imagined them flowing by on a river. We do not have to attach to our thoughts or give them energy. With grace, we can let them move down the river. When they return, by the grace of God, we can just let them flow on by again and again says Rohr.

The calm and the peace do come.

Why are we afraid? Why are we upset? May we live and pray from the deep peace of Christ’s unconditional love and grace which calms the storms within us. Amen.

Blessings and peace,