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The Power of Poise: How to Stop Losing Your Cool

Poised

“Poise is an unseen power, and this unseen power is always ready to come to the aid of the outer action.” ~Sri Chinmoy

Poise is the seeker’s goal because poise is our highest state of consciousness. Poised, we are in a state of balance, composure, and equanimity, all of our powers at our disposal.

When I am able to achieve poise, I am present, connected, grateful, creative, and light-hearted. Poised, my love flows.

Like most of us, I have been poised much of the time, especially when life was easy, absent any major challenge. But I have also lost my poise too many times to remember.

Every time I lost my poise, I was upset, angry, impatient, resentful, critical, and—a couple of times—even violent.

A History of Lost Poise

To figure out how to sustain my poise, no matter what challenges life presented to me, I spent several months recapitulating every time I had became unglued in my life.

I wrote down every incident of lost poise I could remember, starting with the most recent and working back to childhood.

Meditating about each uncomfortable memory, I wrote down the details of what had happened when I lost my poise—what my state of mind was, how I explained my craziness to myself at that time, how I had affected others, and what common themes surfaced that might give me some insight into how I could sustain my poise in the future.

By the time I finished, I had enough pages for a book—a book that might have been entitled, Swinging Back and Forth Between Consciousness and Unconsciousness.

Some examples of lost poise from my recapitulation:

I was impatient with my wife, Mary, and said something critical.

There were so many of these with Mary and other people in my life that I cut off my work trying to remember them all: the pattern was obvious.

My self-importance was pricked by someone who didn’t show me proper respect. 

Pages and pages of these. Once, in my early days as a high school teacher, I slapped a student who gave me the finger and was lucky not to lose my job.  

Decades ago, as a teenager recently married, my young bride and I stood on a street curb watching saddle horses go by in a parade. 

Suddenly one of the horses bolted and charged straight at us on the curb. I darted back, leaving my wife to fend for herself. I hadn’t been poised enough to protect her.

The Deep Elements of a Poised Consciousness

Much later, I became CEO of a large non-profit organization, a leadership position that required that I sustain my poise every day. We want our leaders to be poised, and even with the large challenges I faced, I was able to sustain my poise most of the time.

One of the biggest challenges I encountered involved employees who lost their poise, reducing their effectiveness, lowering morale of their units, and sometimes diminishing the reputation and performance of our organization.

Even top executives who reported to me, men and women with a great deal of self-awareness, lost their poise at times, reducing their credibility with me, with their reports, and with organizational partners.

When employees lost their poise, they:

  • Were unable to stay present, looking inappropriately into the past or future
  • Lost their connection to others and to their own life purposes
  • Could not maintain their gratitude
  • Abandoned their normal creativity
  • Became heavy, losing their usual light-heartedness and becoming overly earnest

The Universal Cause of Lost Poise

Later, as a coach to other leaders, including Presidential appointees and other top executives, I finally saw clearly the universal cause of lost poise: self-pity.

I saw that we all lose our poise every time we feel sorry for ourselves.

Self-pity is often our response when something happens that we don’t like. We say “no” to something, as if it shouldn’t be in our life. Then we create a victim story to explain why we feel bad.

The story always blames someone else. Someone is doing something to me. I am a victim. I tell sympathetic people my victim story, and they oblige by saying the equivalent of  ”Oh, you poor thing.” 

Then we obsess and hope that divine justice or our own acts of revenge will bring our tyrants down.

As long as we are capable of feeling sorry for ourselves, we will lose our poise.  Our potential will be blocked, and our lives will remain trapped in an eddy as we go round and round, feeling as if we’re on the move, but actually going nowhere.

Living a Life of Sustained Poise

The student’s goal is poise, because when poised, we are able to embrace everything life brings to us. Poised, we can see how to use challenges to our advantage. Everything becomes grist for the mill of learning.

Poised, I say yes to life.

When I finally understood that my self-pity was the culprit, the bad explanation I created around certain situations, and the cause of my lost poise, I set out to erase it. This turned out to be very difficult work.

Self-pity is part of the warp and woof of our current stage of evolution, and only a small percentage of our human community is free of it. 

At this point in my learning, I only lost my poise in subtle, hard-to-detect ways, so I had to go looking for my self-pity and victimhood in each case, even though my lost poise might not have been visible to others.

It was painful to locate the self-pity lurking inside my rationalizations every single time. But I learned to recognize self-pity when it arose in the moment, cut it off, laugh, and say yes to whatever was happening.

I learned how to sustain my poise.

A Poise Checklist 

I used my poise checklist to find my way back to poise when I was upset in any way:

  • Am I in the present right now?
  • Am I connected to others in love, and am I connected with my values, my mission, and myself?
  • Am I grateful right now?
  • Do I have access to my creativity, improvising, refusing to be trapped?
  • Is my heart light, unburdened by my own heaviness and self-absorption?

I still lose my poise once in a while, but I know what to do—get back into the present, reconnect, give thanks, improvise, and laugh at myself.

No matter what is happening, poise is the ultimate cool.

Photo by h.koppdelaney

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About Gary Stokes

Gary Stokes maps the universe of poise on his blog www.thepoisedlife.com. His book, Poise: A Warrior’s Guide, is a profound exploration into the nature of poise, how we lose it, and how we can sustain a sublime state of consciousness.

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  • K

    Interesting post and I wholeheartedly agree that the feeling victimization underlies most, if not all, of human evils. That said, we are not to live as doormats to the abuses of others… but if we truly live with integrity, along with a humble understanding of our own and others’ flaws, we can even handle negative situations with a degree of poise, knowing where we stand in relation to things. Sometimes the poise can mean walking out of a room and returning when we are more composed. Or disengaging before a disagreement turns into a fight. Or ending a toxic friendship. But we do it knowing it is best for everyone involved. There is no negativity in it; to the contrary, compassion.

  • http://www.pinchmeliving.com/ Bernadette @ PinchMeLiving.com

    Enjoyed this post, thanks Gary :)
    Practising presence has been something for me that has helped me to keep my poise. Your poise checklist resonates with me. I have to practise presence daily, as I find my mind will wander off in unhelpful ways unless I remain conscious and aware! Bernadette

  • Aaron Wayne

    This was a very educative and transformative piece. Thinking in terms of poise is entirely new, and has been absent in my consciousness. This is an epiphany!

  • lv2terp

    Great post! Thank you for shedding light and a great perspective on this difficult subject of self pity, and how it affects our poise! :)

  • Gary

    Thanks for your comments about my post. The good news is that we can be poised almost all of the time. The path toward sustained poise, I’ve found, however, is difficult–partly because we are raised to believe that blowing up, getting angry, being irritated or impatient are all inevitable parts of being “human.” Actually, our inability to sustain poise means our love is not at our disposal. Sustaining poise has great rewards and is within our reach. The great barrier to overcome is our self-pity. Gary

  • Angela

    Excellent insight!