12/29/2014 06:12 pm ET Updated Feb 28, 2015

Compose Yourself

Inherent in the nature of living is being disturbed and being settled and how we're rearranged by life in between these states. So we're asked to compose ourselves again and again.

Compose Yourself

Another practice we're led to is the effort to compose ourselves. When agitated, through pain or fear or worry, when broken into pieces, we need to find an inner way to put ourselves back together. In a culture afraid of feelings, the instruction to calm down is often used to muffle what we're going through. But to quiet what we're feeling is not the same thing as to settle what we're feeling. It's the difference between putting a pillow over someone's head when they're crying and letting a churned-up lake settle so you can see what's on the bottom.

"To compose" also has two definitions that are helpful. "To compose" means to form a whole by ordering or arranging the parts, as in composing music, where the arrangement of the parts creates a whole that releases its harmony. But how do we arrange the various parts within us to form a whole that will release our music? This leads us to the other definition of "to compose": to calm and settle yourself, to calm and settle your thoughts and feelings and thereby your features -- those distinct attributes by which you know who you are.

To compose yourself means to commit to the effort to calm your agitation, enough to see and feel the wholeness of your being that is always under your agitation, the way the bottom of a lake is always there under the agitation of its waves. The mystery is that while we are broken at times on the surface, we are always whole somewhere in the depth of our being.

Consider how a lake is always both still and moving at the same time, often still in the deep and moving on the surface. We are no different. So the goal is not to eliminate the surface movement or agitation that is part of the weather of life but to learn the art of composing ourselves, calming the surface, so we can see through and reconnect to the still depth of our being.

A question to walk with: Tell one story of how different parts of you have come together over time, and how this new arrangement of yourself has affected you.

For more poetry for the soul, click here.

For more by Mark Nepo, click here.