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What to do!

Readers of this column are exposed to a wide variety of approaches to accessing one's inner reserves, especially in times of personal crisis.

For each of us, some directions are more accessible than others, easier to relate to, more to the point. If you are mystically inclined, perhaps you can be inspired by visions of spiritual teachers, or avatars. Maybe you can invoke angelic presence, and find guidance that way.

Meditation may bring you peace of mind. Practices that shift your focus to the soul rather than the ego may be the thing. There's a lot of talk about not letting your life be dictated by ego, but not a lot of clarity about what kind of choices or decisions the ego makes and what kind come from some more lofty place.

Can you always tell the difference? Selflessness may be the key but is that all it takes? It seems to me that the language of spiritual growth is fraught with glowing terms that mean whatever the writer wants them to mean. It's difficult to know what meditation or the soul, or the self really mean. If you and I each experience a visit by the archangel Michael would we agree about its significance? Would it change each of us in the same way? If two of us meditate, do we do the same thing? Do we meditate on a question, or simply empty our mind, or watch our breathing, or do we do something like praying?

All of these questions lead me to prefer a practical approach when life doesn't seem to go my way. There are several strategies I know that don't depend on ill-defined definitions.

Three good ones are visualization, attention and breath.

Visualization is a powerful tool and a great remedy for establishing a calm presence in difficult circumstances as well as defusing emotional crises. It does involve some understanding to use correctly. The most important aspect of that understanding is that you have to choose wisely what to visualize. You don't have a wide-ranging freedom to visualize changing other people or to visualize becoming something that's not, shall we say, in your potential.

So don't visualize becoming the president or the world's greatest violinist unless you have a realistic grasp of your inherent abilities. Given that, you need to have a confidence that visualization isn't hocus pocus. In fact, it's really the fundamental creative mechanism of the human psyche. It's how things come into being, transmitting clear intention from the mind, through the subconscious, into manifestation. Don't take my word for it. Try it and watch.

Attention — that's something we all have control of, and when you realize it, it gives you great ability to deal with crises.

Often when we are in distress we become obsessed, stuck, unable to let go of what we fear is happening. That's the time to attend to something else! I'm not suggesting you ignore responsibilities, but rather notice where your attention is leading you, often out of the present, into stress, away from living in your body, in the moment.

You can do something about that, whether it's going out to the gym, or cleaning the house. These alternatives quiet the runaway inner monologue. It restores perspective, gives you leverage to deal with your situation.

Breathe — It seems so simple, and we do it all the time, don't we? Well, not the right way. It may also seem dull and incapable of changing anything, but don't sell breathing short. Nothing else re-establishes your awareness of being OK, physically alive and whole. And nothing else gets your awareness of the here-and-now working like watching your breath does.

Like gaining control of your attention, becoming aware of the breath works instantly; you don't work up to it a little at a time. You realize the ability you have to do it and act. In contrast, visualization usually takes some patience and persistence, making a habit of holding an image in your mind.

Avram Chetron has lived in Ashland since 2007 and enjoys singing in vocal groups, teaching and learning at OLLI, and working on whatever life presents him. Send articles on inner peace to innerpeaceforyou@live.com