An Invisible Cup of Tea, and Other Ways to Take Shelter From The Storms of Life

by Apr 12, 2009Challenges15 comments

The rapid fire pace of daily life takes its toll and often fails to give us even a moment to pause, recover from, or even consider what’s going on around us. Our world is more frenetic, more overwhelming and more opportunity- laden than at any time before in human experience. Modern life has become a hail storm of input, activity, connectivity, and a never ending flow of information. Pressured situations come at us from all sides – at work, in social settings, or at home.

If we’re to make the most of the whirlwind existence sweeping around us, then it’s a good bet that we’ll need some shelter from the storm from time to time. We can’t stay inside forever — literally or figuratively— not unless we want to give up participating in the world and the company of our fellow human beings. So, how do we find a moment of shelter from the storm?

Planning Ahead

No matter what’s going on at any given moment, there are very few conversations, occurrences or situations that would stop you from getting out of life’s hurricane for just a few moments. Knowing that you may need to take refuge of a sort during your day, you can prepare your “emergency shelters” ahead of time and assail the tempest with confidence.

As with most everything, taking the time to plan before hand will be worth hours of damage control after the fact. Just knowing what you would want to do under stressful circumstances, planning the type of response that will serve you best, as well as mentally rehearsing situations over which you want to gain a better control will give you a tremendous advantage. Following through on these things will greatly increase your ability to cope with stressful situations and how to get through them.

Before you get caught in a moment of stress or emotional storm, make a list of the situations or type of situation you want to handle more aptly.  Decide what the ideal response would be. Make a list of 3-4 things you can do or say next time that situation comes up. Get a friend to play the other side of the conversation or, if there’s no one that you care to share your practice sessions with, write out or visualize the situation and your preferred responses to it.

Whether you are coping with an irritating co-worker, trying to run the obstacle course that is your teenager’s bedroom, or even explaining to your super-controlling mother-in-law (for the 20th time) why you are going to bring something to the family reunion that your kids will actually eat, instead of the recipe she picked out for you to make, you can get your mental and spiritual umbrella all set up and ready to go before you step out your door.

Stepping Away From the Storms of Life

From my friend Colleen, I learned the fine art of stepping away momentarily from the storms of life.  In the middle of relating a story in which she was under a great deal of stress at work, she used a phrase that stopped me dead in my tracks. “I had to get away from the situation for a few moments, so I went in the back and had an invisible cup of tea.”. “A what!?” I interrupted, totally intrigued. “An invisible cup of tea, since I didn’t have time for a real one.” She replied in her signature calm, matter- of- fact manner.

Even if the world is not obliging enough to pause for the amount of time we’d like to have to come up with a reply, catch our mental breath, take a vacation day, or just get organized for the next round of strum und drang brewing up over the horizon, we can build a shelter or two along the road, despite the storms go on around us. Even if all you have is five seconds, you can pause and put up a metaphoric umbrella for yourself.

“What on earth can be done in five seconds?”  Someone, somewhere surely would ask. Unless you are being cross-examined by the latest incarnation of Perry Mason, defusing a bomb, or are engaged in life-and-death level activities, you can take a step back—mentally, if not physically— from whatever is going on around you.  It’s all too easy to be caught up in the moment and forget that you don’t have to respond to most things in fewer than five seconds.

With five seconds you can:

  • Take a deep breath and think before you speak
  • Focus on a pre-chosen image or mantra that you associate with calm, strength, clarity, or whatever you feel you need most at the moment.
  • Choose to use a phrase that will place the situation on actual physical hold: “Excuse me for a moment.”  “I’m sorry; I have to check on something.”
  • Place the information stream on hold while you catch your breath.
  • Think of the punch line to your favorite joke.
  • Ground yourself by touching an  item  that carries meaning for you– your wedding ring, a souvenir on your desk or a  good luck  charm in your pocket.

With one minute you can:

  • Recall what your priorities for the situation are.
  • Step out of the room and take a brisk turn around the hall.
  • Pull out pictures of your loved ones and let the good memories flow.
  • Make a quick list of all the things for which you are grateful.
  • Recite a prayer or other meaningful utterance.
  • Imagine what your Mom or your witty roommate from college would say.

With five minutes you can:

  • Check your facts on the net or in the nearest reference work.
  • Make a quick call for moral support.
  • Find a window and get a dose of  sunlight
  • Re-read a note from a loved one.
  • Plan what your next words will be.
  • Listen to your favorite song.
  • Step away from the situation and have an invisible cup of tea.

Final Thoughts

No matter how fast-paced life becomes, no matter how much someone wants you to do something yesterday, no matter that you just froze up like a deer in headlights—take those five seconds, that minute,  or five minutes. The world won’t end, and I guarantee you’ll be much happier if you do yourself the kindness to take a moment away from the downpour.

So get ready, prep your umbrella, and smile quietly as you step out your door into the world. You may find that you’ve got more opportunities to use it than you realize at first and you may be surprised to at how much room you have under there to share.

How do you take shelter from the storms of life?

Photo by The Giant Vermin