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A Little Happier: To Calm Myself, I Imagine a Traffic Light in a Thunderstorm.


When I’m feeling anxious, overwhelmed, or unhappy, I sometimes conjure up an image in my mind to help me to feel calmer.

Sometimes these images come from reading. Here’s a passage I love, from one of the writers I admire most—Marilynne Robinson, from her brilliant novel Home (Amazon, Bookshop).

Children are looking at a tree:

And there was the oak tree in front of the house, much older than the neighborhood or the town, which made rubble of the pavement at its foot and flung its imponderable branches out over the road and across the yard, branches whose girths were greater than the trunk of any ordinary tree. There was a torsion in its body that made it look like a giant dervish to them. Their father said if they could see as God can, in geological time, they would see it leap out of the ground and turn in the sun and spread its arms and bask in the joys of being an oak tree in Iowa.

Calling up an image of that joyful tree makes me feel more serene; I feel my perspective expand to take in a much broader vision.

From my own life, one of my favorite images is of the traffic light at the end of my street. To steady myself, I sometimes imagine it during a heavy thunderstorm, calmly changing its colors from yellow, to red, to green, amid the wind and rain.

Somehow, the imperturbability of the traffic light reminds me that even if a storm is raging, I can stay true to my own duties, and find calm in that work.

Do you have an image that you like to invoke, to help yourself stay calm?

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