Coping with Overwhelm? How we can be Bigger than the Biggest Disturbance

During such complex times, happening at every level of our lives, how can we respond to complexity, go beyond our challenges, and ‘be bigger than the biggest disturbance’?

For some reason, during these past six months, I have experienced more complexity in my life and around me than ever before: I find some of my plans not materializing, and experience challenges at a personal level in my lower level of energy, in some of my relationships, and in the socio-economic and other forces that surround me. This allowed me to let go of my tendency to be a perfectionist.

I assume that, for most of us, there is a similar experience of living in a more VUCA world. The notion of VUCA was introduced by the U.S. Army War College, to describe an increasingly more volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world we are living in. Such complexity may baffle and confuse us, and certainly make us feel fearful and overwhelmed. How do we cope? How do we respond? In other words, as Indian philosopher put it: how can we be ‘bigger than the biggest disturbance?’

Being Bigger than the Biggest Disturbance

Moving beyond what unsettles us and throws us off balance requires skill and a new way of being. In his writings, philosopher Sri Aurobindo spoke about the capacity to be bigger than the biggest disturbance, which means: to remain unmoved within in all conditions; not to be disturbed by either joy or grief, pleasure of displeasure, by what people say or do or by any outward things; not to be disturbed by things that happen to the self, or in the world.

This capacity may require being gentle with the self. To cope, some may want to pause, take a deep breath, and take time to reflect, to process what is happening what is responding. This requires a deep acceptance of what is happening, whatever it is, and becomes an opportunity to deeply trust that one will be able to cope and overcome whatever is affecting us. Rather than resisting, we can let go and allow, trusting that all of this will lead to greater wholeness in our personal presence and in all areas on our lives. And this requires being kind with ourselves, having an untroubled mind, without being judgmental and frustrated. 

In the long term, this can then inspire us to reconnect to our commitment, to be ‘UnMessAbleWith’. As Josselyne Herman-Saccio states, ‘UnMessAbleWithNess’ involves the ability to create possibility and
make a difference with anyone at any time, under any circumstance, in the face of no agreement, no matter what life throws at you.

Learning from the most inspiring individuals around us, we can see the power of persistence, no matter what life was throwing at them, the power of not budging and not being messed with; a way of being, right to the core, being ‘UnMessAbleWith’.

When Something Mattered More than Your Fear

In situations of overwhelm, fear may be holding us back from acting. So, when feeling overwhelmed, the invitation is that you give this exercise a try: recall a time when something mattered more than your fear. How did you feel? From that feeling, ask yourself: in this situation, what am I committed to? In your response, speak from your commitment. Feel into it. Really notice the feeling you are generating in others – when it moves you, it moves others, even in circumstances in which we face the unknown. 

When dealing with overwhelm therefore, an empowering start would be to notice that overwhelm, take a deep breath and pause and take time to reflect, learning from what we are experiencing. And then reconnecting to what matters to us the most may give us the clarity to move forward with renewed, unshakeable energy and conviction. Indeed, energy in action is what we may need in this VUCA world.

Many thanks to Tong Schraa-Liu, Kim Frerich, Jesse McKay, and Monica Sharma for having inspired the writing of this blog.

Image: Android Jones