As a teacher, I learned quickly that one’s energy has tremendous power over a room.
The confined space of the classroom would detonate regularly with the emotions of thirty children. Like Luke Skywalker I would brace for impact, ducking the beams of anger and frustration as they zoomed by.
To re-establish order in the midst of chaos, I initially reacted by replicating the response of my childhood teachers: yelling. I mustered up a primal fury, inhaled deeply, and with as much volume as I could:
“STOP! SILENCE! SIT! DOWN!”
An angry loud voice shocks chaos back to order. But it is a brief victory, and using this voice left me poisoned by a cocktail of fight or flight hormones.
Yelling fights fire with fire by adding more anger and anxiety to an already angry and anxious situation. It does not spread calm and certainly does not spread joy. I was determined to change response to find one that would build an environment of calm joy.
I did not have control over how 30 young people presented themselves at school. But I did have control over how one person presented herself.
The only energy that I could control in a given space was my own.
I started by building calm within myself. I located it within my breath, my body, and my voice.
I practiced breathing slowly, deeply, and mindfully. When in chaotic situations, I inhaled the chaos and exhaled space. When surrounded by anger, I inhaled the anger and exhaled acceptance.
I noticed where anxious energy was absorbed within my body. When my shoulders rose to my ears, I consciously lowered them. When my eyebrows raised into my forehead, I relaxed them.
I kept my voice slow, creating space between the sounds. I kept my voice low, leaving room for quiet amidst the noise.
I was becoming a conductor of calm energy, radiating it through the room. My calm energy could cool the surrounding anger and chaos.
To add joy to my energetic brew, I focused on smiling. I changed my default facial expression from serious neutral to a light smile. Smiles are contagious: when you smile at someone, they usually catch it and smile back. As I am out in the world, I can smile and spread joy to the people I see.
By adjusting my bodily habits, I learned how to be a source of calm joy to the people and spaces I encountered. This was more cooling than yelling would ever be.
We have incredible power to impact the spaces that we occupy. We can spill out angry, fearful energy and fan flames. Or we can choose to smile and breathe, and spread cooling peace.