The calm citizen

By Maralyn Lois Polak

I’ve been thinking a lot about our lives lately – the lives of ordinary Americans – and how we can best stay calm despite being bombarded by a daily barrage of media garbage about torment, torture or terror.

We’re frazzed out.

Take Al Sharpton, for example. He’s so frazzed out, electrified hair notwithstanding, he’s fulminating. John Allen Muhammad’s just a convenient fall guy for perhaps a larger government plot – he contends it’s not plausible a Brothah would take out other Brothahs like that when he could choose any target. And then some folks wonder if there’s anything to the supposed Beltway sniper’s boasts of being a Green Beret, serving in the Special Forces, being CIA and connected to the FBI.

Stranger things have happened.

How did he suddenly go from living on handouts before Sept. 11, 2001, to taking airplanes? Ask the Rev. Al Archer of Bellingham. Stolen credit cards, sure, but still …

Gives one pause, doesn’t it?

And then there’s some Canadian conspiracist I’d rather not mention by name who outright accuses the U.S. Gummint of staging the snipings to distract us from what’s really going on in our country and the world, and he warns the feds have a chemical attack in store for us next.

Sure there are precedents, but speculation has to stop someplace, so why not HERE!

Pretty bad when real life is scarier than a horror flick.

Even worse when, in order to survive, we must zigzag, becoming Prufrocks, perpetually pondering, “Do I dare, do I dare,” and, in the justifiably immortal words of Famous Dead White Male Poet T. S. Eliot, morphing into “a pair of ragged claws / Scuttling across the floors of silent seas. ”

Is this any way to run a country?

No! Time for a change. Short of exiting the U.S. and seeking refuge elsewhere by establishing dual citizenship in a kinder, gentler nation where you don’t have to worry about pumping gas under a tarpaulin to avoid getting iced by some homicidal maniac, where can we turn for renewed nonchalance?

Perhaps to the King of Calm, celebrity baby doctor Harvey Karp.

Pediatrician to the stars, the controversial Dr. Karp counts among his cradle-and-crib clients the coddled and cosseted offspring of Madonna, Pierce Brosnan, Michelle Pfeiffer and other high-profile parents.

Canonized by the Associated Press as “a miracle-worker who can trigger almost opium-like serenity in a crying baby within seconds,” he touts a quintet of placidity techniques for squalling infants which I’m wondering – let’s walk through this together slowly – might be applied to grownups and other Nervous Nelllies who feel the world is too much with us.

Dr Karp has identified a “Calming Reflex” which kicks in after some or all of these five strategies are applied:

  • swaddling

  • shushing

  • swinging or rocking

  • suckling – breast, bottle or pacifier

  • temporarily resting on the side or stomach, but not for sleeping, because of possible danger of SIDS.

Since he claims his methods work on the fussiest of bambinos, why not – radical notion – modify them and apply them to adults?

Manhattan spiritual counselor “Sforza Destino” recommends something sounding somewhat similar – “Imaginary Tai Chi” – a series of slooooooow physical movements to defuse stress.

What’s that? Speak up! You over there, sitting cross-legged on a pillow, and rhythmically, blissfully breathing in and out. You say what better time than now to dust off the Relaxation Response? The thanks of a grateful nation go to Herbert Benson, M.D., of Harvard Medical School, for discovering this boon to humanity a quarter-century ago.

This built-in physiological antidote to the stressful events of daily life – which will refresh your mind and body – is triggered, and I use that word advisedly, by following these four simple instructions:

  1. Sit or lie down in a comfortable position.

  2. Close your eyes.

  3. Mentally repeat a word, phrase or syllable over and over, again and again and again.

  4. When your mind gets cluttered with distracting thoughts, let them go, and return to your word or phrase.

Found in many major religious and spiritual traditions, essentially, the Relaxation Response is actually a form of meditation – simple in its own way, yet not necessarily easy to overcome the inertia which keeps us from its regular practice in our daily lives. Minds, as they will, wander. Someone accurately said it feels like setting aside 20 minutes twice a day for sitting and doing nothing.

But try it. Sit! Relax! Breathe! Slow down! Ah!