Many are familiar with St. Teresa of Ávila’s (d. 1582, Spain) well-known “Bookmark Prayer”:
Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing cause you fear.
Everything passes away;
God alone never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.
St. Francis de Sales (d. 1622, France) had a similar saying:
Never be in a hurry;
Do everything quietly
And in a calm spirit.
Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever,
Even if your whole world seems upset.
Both these Catholic saints convey a profound message. This idea can readily be traced to Jesus’ counsel: “Do not worry about your life” (Mt. 6:25).
One’s entire spiritual life could revolve around these sayings.
In looking into Francis’ precept “Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever” in more detail (but not over-analyzing), we could glibly observe that in today’s world, this is far easier said than done. From dawn to dusk, many circumstances seemingly conspire to trigger us to lose our inner poise. Yet, all such circumstances have two things in common: (1) they are caused by outer events; and/or, (2) they are caused by our own emotional reactions.
Outer events could be anything from getting stuck in traffic on the way to an important meeting, thus making us late. Or a hacker stealing our Social Security number. Our child breaks their leg falling off a swing. A neighbor’s errant weed-whacking throws a stone that cracks our windshield. The situations are endless. Pressures, deadlines; delays. Problems created by others; unexpected turns of events; thwartings, obstacles, losses. We get whipsawed by forces outside our control, and we lose our cool.
In addressing the myriad of outer triggers, I’ll (unpresumptuously) cite an apt section from my book, Dialogues With the Lord of Time: “When a person’s peace of mind is so easily swayed by external events, it indicates they have little faith. Faith is the inner experience that keeps one spiritually grounded regardless of the impact of any external circumstance. An advanced aspirant’s mind will remain unmoved by fortune or misfortune, justice or injustice, blessings or travails.”
Unshakable faith in our spiritual essence; in the object of our worship (e.g., Jesus, Allah, Buddha, Tara, Krishna); in God; in the Ultimate Reality – whichever resonates with us spiritually: this is the antidote to losing our inner poise.
The very next paragraph (in Dialogues) addresses our tempestuous emotional reactions that jostle us inwardly: “When your mind turns inward and becomes firmly rooted by faith in the spiritual core of your being, you will no longer react to external events, be they ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ This is the true test of spiritual progress: making the mind turn inward until it becomes so deeply anchored in the fertile spiritual soil within that it will not react at any time to anything.”
So again, the answer is to possess a deep, unwavering faith. This helps immunize us from reacting emotionally both to outer events and to the ongoing parade of thoughts, emotions, and images that float through our minds. Okay, then: how do we cultivate such faith?
Effort, determination, resolve. One makes an unswerving inner commitment that, No matter what, I will adhere to my act of faith, and nothing but nothing will shake me, deter me, or drag me away from my conviction.
We initially take small steps. We may stumble at first; we try again. Every time we are successful, this reinforces our resolve. Soon, over time, we gain confidence in our practice. Every time we do not allow outer events to push our buttons; every time we do not react emotionally, we gain proficiency in our practice. Eventually, we gain mastery. It is entirely possible for us to realize and embody St. Francis de Sales’ wise maxim at all times in our lives: “Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever.”
(Excerpts from Dialogues With the Lord of Time are Copyright © 2023 John Roger Barrie.)