On a recent 90-degree day with over 60% humidity, I remembered my childhood snow globe.
Do you remember the magic of the tiny bits of reflective glitter in the water-filled glass? When turned upside down or shaken, the particles fell, like a snow storm. I gazed at it, fascinated by the whiteout after a few jiggles. Its goal was no doubt entertainment. I wonder now if the settling of what gets stirred up might have taught us a thing or two about how to calm our nervous systems.
Then I remembered the calm jar, introduced to my grandchildren in pre-school. The calm jar, too, offered fun, yet meant to help with it was to help calm tension and feelings like fear and anger.
The kids made them with water, glycerin and sprinkles. They took a clear jar and filled it halfway with hot water, added transparent liquid glue and glycerin, then glitter and a little more water. Something like that. Instructions: Shake the jar, then let the settling in it capture your attention. Teachers and parents hoped that watching that downward flow would create an almost hypnotic effect to help the one doing the shaking settle tough emotions. Each grandchild had one.
When angry or stressed, heart rate and breathing speed up, sending the brain signals of danger. The calm jar “should” work like yoga, meditation or relaxation, as a stress management tool, to allow the person to feel a sense of peace and serenity. At least that’s the idea.
So, I’d bring it out during sibling squabbles. “Let’s whip up your calm jar to see what happens.”
We’d sit, jostle it up and down, and wait for the supposed magic. Each time they’d say, “Susu, it doesn’t work. I’m still mad at my brother.”
They were right. At least in the way we used them, they didn’t work. I wonder if it’s because we were spectating, not feeling our own inner whirlwind.
A quote from Taoism by Lao Tzu asks:
“Do you have the patience to wait
Till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
Till the right action arises by itself?”
For me, for the kids, for most of us, the answer is “no!”
So how do we bring inner mud-settling into our bodies? How do we train to embody a snow globe, to learn from the calm jar? Here’s an idea. Recently on retreat with no TV, we retreatants were encouraged to minimize social media. The third day, one of the leaders said, “You haven’t been watching the news, right? It’s not good.”
With those words our inner blizzards squalled, thoughts crescendoed, emotions swirled. Minds fluttered with gas prices, the Supreme Court, mass shootings, climate crises, war. Hearts stormed with dread, grief, rage. Then the teacher offered this invitation: “Stand or sit still. Imagine you are a glass of water with sand stirred up inside. Feel the breath, and on the exhale, allow the sand in you to settle, to drop, to descend. Notice how your ‘water’ clears. Feel the flow and see that clearness. Whenever your inner sand gets agitated, take a few breaths to let stillness happen. Feel it in the body. Then move and/or act from this clarity.”
Try it. Here’s what you might notice. Space between the eyes softens. Jaw loosens its grip. Shoulders drop away from ears. Feet become solid on the earth. Maybe say, “I am the snow globe. I feel the release.” Sense the letting go into ease. Then step into the world grounded and clear.