One’s ships come in over a calm sea.
~ Florence Scovel Shinn
I discovered Florence Scovel Shinn, a wonderful early 20th-century metaphysician, in 2008.
Metaphysics deals with the invisible underpinnings of the visible world we live in. And more specifically (also usefully) how we create conditions with our minds and words, consciously or unconsciously.
As soon as I laid eyes on Florence’s statement, which she separated on the book page from all other text to give it a special emphasis, I heavily highlighted it. It resonated with me. Deep inside I knew it to be a profound truth. An inner calm is essential in order to realise our dreams. There was only one – big – problem. I couldn’t actualise it. Calmness and I were not very well acquainted.
Panic, on the other hand, had moved in and made itself at home many years before. I came by it honestly. My mother came from a highly dysfunctional, melodramatic family, and then, as a teenager, went through World War II, unfortunately getting severely wounded in a Nazi air raid on London in which she lost an eye.
Have I mentioned anxiety yet? My father, a Royal Air Force officer, had a military-trained, strict outer composure – a veneer that covered the anxious man within. As he grew older, his anxiety developed into a full-blown dread of dying. That’s a terrible fear to have.
So calm, and its cousin, confident, we didn’t do in our house.
My modus operandi became escape. At 13, I talked my parents into letting me go to boarding school. At 18, instead of going to university, I left home to live with my 31-year-old fiancé. I bought a pair of hot pants and got a job in a London massage parlour. (It was a straight place – no sexual favours – but nevertheless a place where men wore nothing but a towel.) My fiancé proved to be physically abusive, so while he was at work one day I left, and moved into a pretty dreadful, old, cold-water flat in London’s East End. Then an admirer financially backed a couple of good small flats for me in central London.
All the while I kept drinking alcohol to feel better, and also binge-eating. My weight seesawed up and down by 12 lbs. every two weeks. I couldn’t control myself and my fear and distrust of life. In my greatest escape plan yet, I left the country for Montreal, Canada, at 21. Of course, everything would be better there. Less than a month later, I was abducted and raped by a violent stranger.
I won’t bore you with further details of my misadventures. Suffice it to say that at 30, I finally enacted the ultimate escape plan of a suicide attempt. Fortunately, I failed. Even more fortunately, I found Nichiren Buddhism – or it found me – three months later.
I had a deep inner knowing from the beginning that this practice and what it could help me do in my life was the answer to the existential question I had since age 16: “Why am I here?” Then the very first week that I began chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo I started sleeping like a baby. My first inconspicuous benefit. The anxiety-induced insomnia I’d suffered from since my young teens left me, almost never to return.
But I still escaped into alcohol and drugs, binge eating (exacerbated by the hashish I smoked every day), isolation, night-life, obsession with the past, fear of the future, complaining and blaming. Not surprisingly, depression still dogged me.
I learned through Buddhist study, which I loved, that my repeated thoughts, words and actions over the years had created immutable karma – the kind of deep negative karma or tendency that takes something as powerful as the practice of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to transform. It’s the “neurons that fire together wire together” idea, expressed differently. Put simply, as we all know, bad habits are hard to shake.
But in fits and starts, I changed. I drank less. I got off drugs. I changed my way of eating. In keeping with the Buddhist game plan of chant + take action, I later attended Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and then Codependents Anonymous. The former taught me that I had the right to set and stick to personal boundaries. The latter opened my eyes to my self-appointed relationship role of caregiver and victim.
But I still didn’t feel calm. Or confident. My default programming still saw big problems as doom, the end of the world. I was still afraid of people’s anger. I still worried about what would become of me. Which made it hard to chant with full belief in the power of the Mystic Law. In short, I doubted. But I kept practising Buddhism every day anyway, knowing from previous experience that one day I’d break through.
In 2011, I discovered the Emotional Freedom Technique, a.k.a. Tapping. It’s an energy healing modality. I tried it and stopped. Then tried it and stopped again. Three years ago I started tapping every day twice a day, and it has become something almost as essential to my life’s well being as Buddhist practice. And in fact, it’s complementary to my Buddhist practice, because both Tapping and Nichiren Buddhism affect a change in the eighth consciousness, the repository of the immutable karma I previously mentioned. (In everyday speech we know the eighth consciousness as the subconscious mind.)
Recently I attended the 14th Tapping Summit, a 10-day online event hosted by The Tapping Solution. The same annual event that first introduced me to Tapping. Last weekend I tuned into a talk tantalisingly titled Free Yourself from Fear. I have watched interviews with Carol Look, who is an Intuitive Energy Healer, Psychotherapist, and EFT Master, before. But never have I experienced the kind of release that came from tapping along with her as this time.
To my utter surprise, I went back in time to making mistakes when I was a kid, and my male teacher or my mother shouting at me and hitting me. I began to cry as I tapped, which I didn’t do back then, just bottled my feelings up inside. I voiced my feelings: “It felt so unfair! I was doing my best! I was not a bad or a naughty kid! And there was no one I could talk to about it.” Then the tears stopped, and I felt… calm.
I tapped again and told the teacher he could leave my subconscious now, I release him in peace. More tapping while I had a mutually compassionate chat in my heart with my mother, and we became friends.
When I stopped, I thought, “No wonder I’ve always been so afraid of making a mistake!”
In the days that followed I felt a tangible difference in my inner world. Most importantly, I stopped feeling traumatised and terrified by Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Now when I chant a determined prayer for peace and the protection of Ukrainian and Russian people, I believe that my prayer – and the prayers of millions of us I’m sure – will be answered. I don’t know exactly how or exactly when, but that no longer matters to me.
My new-found calm, confidence and faith mean I’m no longer hijacked by my ego’s belief that if I can’t see exactly how something could work out, then it can’t, and the situation is therefore hopeless. The ego lives in our seventh consciousness. So I’m released not only from the crippling fear of making a mistake, but also from the tyranny of my ego mind in the seventh consciousness.
Back to Florence Scovel Shinn. Directly after the quote I started this post with, she wrote: “So long as man [sic] resists a situation, he will have it with him. If he runs away from it, it will run after him.“
I’m so glad, and grateful, that I can stop running away now.