• Petra Vandecasteele

How to stay calm in chaos

When I stayed in Heuningvlei, a picturesque hamlet tucked away in a valley in the rocky Cederberg mountains, South Africa, I spent the afternoon with the local medicine man. "What is your secret to staying calm in times of chaos?" I asked him, instantly regretting this irrelevant question. What on earth would anyone in a place like this have to worry about: Pristine beauty as far as the eye can see, no pollution, no technology, hardly anyone to argue with. In a nutshell: paradise. "As dit woel in die kop gaan ek berg toe," he replied looking up at the sunlit mountain ["when there is a storm in my head, I spend time in the mountains"]. It made me realise that, no matter where or how we live, we are all bound to go through emotional rollercoasters, one way or another, sooner or later.


Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, renowned for his teachings on mindfulness, shows us a simple, universal way to stay calm in the storm.

"When you look at a tree in a storm, you see that the top of the tree is very unstable and vulnerable. The wind can break the smaller branches at any time. But, when you look down at the trunk of the tree, you have a different impression. You see that the tree is very solid and still, and you know that it will be able to withstand the storm.

We are also like a tree. Our head is like the top of the tree during a tempest of a strong emotion, so we have to bring our attention down to the level of our navel. We begin to practise mindful breathing. We concentrate just on our breathing and on the rise and fall of our abdomen. It is a very important practice, because it helps us to see that, although an emotion may be very strong, it will stay only for a while and then go; it cannot last forever.


If you train yourself to practise like this during difficult times, you will survive these storms. You have to be aware that your emotion is just an emotion. It comes, stays for some time, and then goes away. Why should someone die because of an emotion? You are more than emotions. It is important to remember this. During a crisis, when you breathe in and out, maintain the awareness that your emotion will go away if you continue to practise.


Let us not get caught by our thoughts and feelings. Let us bring our attention down to our belly and breathe in and out. This storm will go away, so don't be afraid." – Thich Nhat Hanh


I like how both the Vietnamese monk and the South African medicine man use an analogy between the workings of nature and those of the human mind to show us how simple it can be to sort out the chaos in our heads.



Kids of Nature works with transformational life coaches who are experts in the practice of mindfulness. We design time out in the wilderness to help you clear the storm and stay centered when challenges come your way.



If you feel this is exactly what you need, then send me an email and tell me that you want to clear your storm. You can expect a fabulous time out in some of the best parts of South Africa and Namibia where you will learn how to ride a storm.


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Cape Town, South Africa

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