“Never be in a hurry; do everything quietly and in a calm spirit.  Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever, even if your whole world seems upset.”

— St. Francis de Sales

This is great advice, but how easy is it to maintain inner peace when the outer world seems to swirl and draw you into its vortex?

It is hard, when life makes too many demands on us, it sometimes seems that what lies outside us finds its way to our center and we let it tear away our calmness and replace it with chaos.  How do we manage, on the most chaotic days, to hold onto serenity?

Yesterday, I was reading a book.  One character portrayed in the story was a sniper — a sharpshooter whose very job title defined him as someone who had to perform calmly while enduring the worst sort of stress.  When another character asked him how he could shoot so accurately under such conditions, he answered that he had to relax, exhale completely, and wait for the space between two heartbeats so that his hands would be completely steady.  When I read his advice, I nearly laughed out loud.  He had just described the same technique I had developed for taking photos that required me to zoom in and focus intently on a subject.  I had tried many other strategies — holding my breath, supporting my elbow by leaning on a tree — but ultimately, I discovered that the only way to be perfectly still was to breathe  out completely and pause.

Think about it.  When do we breathe in and when do we breathe out?  A startled gasp — inhale.  The distressed state when we have been underwater and desperately need oxygen — inhale.  A sigh of relief — exhale.  Again, as so often before, we return to the practice of breathing, which is as natural as simply being alive.  What is important is to be mindful of our breath.  We can breathe in some of the chaos, but we must remember to send it back to the universe when we exhale.

I am sure St. Francis de Sales led a meditative life; and we can do that, too.  Holding our peace does not require that we shut ourselves away from the chaos of our world.  It simply means that we should pay attention to what we are taking in and what we should release when our breath flows out into the space around us.  Hold onto your peace.  Breathe deeply, pause in the space between two heartbeats and discover the calm center of your being.  Then exhale all that stands in the way of your sense of well-being.  Let the winds swirl — there is no way you can stop them — but remember they cannot blow you away, so long as you are anchored by peace.