Shalom is a Hebrew word often translated as “peace”. While that is a good translation, it captures only a hint of the richness of shalom. As with the word peace, shalom refers to the absence of conflict. Its meaning, however, is more fully represented not by what is absent, but by what is present. The idea of being “Whole” and “Complete” is essential to its meaning. And when we consider shalom as a verb, we bring healing and restoration on a deep and profound level.
Unfortunately, our world is perpetually in need of shalom. Until the Prince of Shalom (Is 9:6) establishes His Kingdom we will continue to struggle with its absence. There are times that we need a reset – time and space to recover from the stress and strain of the world in which we live. An opportunity to intentionally engage shalom, that is the intent of this article. I invite you to consider a specific tool by which you can do just that.
Variations on this exercise are referred to as Calm Place, Safe Place, Visual Relaxation, among others. The invitation is to a place of shalom. It requires intentional work. Establish a time – 20 to 30 minutes. Make plans so you will not be interrupted. Communicate this to family or roommates with whom you share living space. Turn off electronics or ensure they are set to “do not disturb.”
As you begin your preparation it is important to consider how your body is designed. Your body’s capacity to perceive is profoundly influenced by your imagination. In other words, your perception of the world around you is both formed and transformed by your imagination. By intentionally imagining yourself in a specific place you can experience some of the sensation of actually being in that place. The more specifically you engage that imaginative place with your mind the more directly your body experiences the sensations associated with it.
Before moving into the exercise, it is important to establish a destination. Typically, I ask clients to consider their life experience and think of a place where they felt most relaxed, at peace, calm. Most people tend to think of either the beach or the mountains. The painting that hangs in my office gives away my tendency. I head to the heights every chance I get. I’ll use my experience with a backpack on my back to illustrate my place of shalom. I encourage you to find your own. If a physical location doesn’t work for you then try something even more imaginative: a cloud, flight in a blue sky, swimming with the ease of a fish in clear waters, or even a color by itself – blue, or pink, or fuchsia ☺
Settle into a comfortable chair that permits your feet to rest comfortably on the ground. Settle into the chair so that you can relax all of your body. Preferably, your hands and arms are also supported by the chair (or by some pillows). Feel the bottoms of your feet firmly planted on the floor. Feel the solidness of the floor beneath you. Grounded.
Focus on Breathing
As you breathe, close your eyes and focus your attention on the center of the room in which you’re sitting. Use your imagination to picture a small sphere at that location. Pause. Let your full attention be drawn to that sphere. This small object now represents your attention – your focus. You are in control of this little sphere and it will go where you choose to move it. If your attention drifts from the sphere then simply, with gentleness and without judgement, bring your attention back to this little object and continue along with me.
The sphere is at the center of the room in which you’re sitting. Now with a deep exhale begin moving the sphere across the room to the far wall. Let it rest there momentarily and then with a long inhale bring that sphere back toward you. Watch it move past its starting point at the center of the room and continue toward you as it finally comes to rest within the very center of your chest. As your attention moves from outside of your body to the inside let your focus settle there. The sphere is now out of sight, but it is not gone. It is now absorbed in your breath.
Pause again. Allow your attention to settle on your breath. Consider where in your body that focusing on your breath feels most natural. Is it your chest, where the sphere entered? Does your focus naturally flow upward to your nose or mouth? Or, does it settle more deeply into your abdomen? Your belly? Wherever your attention settles, let it remain there. If you find your mind drifting, again, with gentleness and without judgement bring your attention back to your breath. As you inhale, feel the soothing rush of air within you as it fills. Pause. Then exhale. And feel your breath escape. Pause again. Inhale. Let it fill you. Pause. As you exhale this time add a small push toward the end and compel a bit more air to escape. Where is your focus? Maintain it on your breath as you continue to inhale and exhale at a rhythm that feels comfortable and relaxing. Breathe.
As you allow your breath to settle into that natural rhythm let your attention move from your breath toward your place of shalom. With your eyes still closed let the eyes of your imagination move from your chest and begin to take in shalom. (Again, we’ll use my place for now). Begin to use all of your senses to perceive what is around you.
What do you see? There is a winding mountain trail that unfolds ahead. Tall trees sway gently all around you as the wind high above dances in the canopies. Small mountain sparrows flit and play in the branches. Their acrobatic flight is simple and graceful. The contrast of colors is starkly refreshing. The blindingly white clouds and bright blue sky high above yield to the comforting rich brown and green tones of the forest floor and the gray mountain.
What do you hear? The birds chirp and chatter. Occasionally pausing long enough for a winsome call… or even a song emerging from a far and distant place. The wind in the branches whispers and shushes. You notice the sound of your breathing as it blends with the pleasant sounds of nature around you. The thud of your boots and skittle of rocks on the trail as you stride.
What do you smell? The crisp scent of pine. The earthy peat of the forest floor. Rich and full of nutrients and life. As you climb higher on the trail you smell the remnant of an afternoon rain.
What do you taste? That rain. The pine. The salty residue of sweat. The contrast of that cool water of the snow runoff as you take a small drink.
What do you feel? Here is where I encourage you to settle. You feel the weight of your pack pressing on shoulders and hips and you’re reminded it’s time for a break. Up ahead is small boulder that will serve you well as you loosen your hip belt and prepare to lower your pack. As you get closer the overlook emerges and the valley unfolds in front and below. You’ve climbed well. There is still trail to cover before setting camp for the night, but you can pause here and enjoy. The exhilaration of releasing your pack and standing free of the weight, it’s as if you’re floating above your footsteps. You step gingerly above the trail and find a moss-laden depression in the mountain that matches the curvature of your back. You recline. And rest. Your hands dig below the prickly of the pine straw and feel the cool moisture of the soil beneath. You dig your fingernails into the clean dirt.
You exhale. And for a fleeting moment you feel yourself enfolded in the bosom of the Father. Shalom indeed.
Prepare to Return
Notice how at peace you feel here. Remember this place. Remember that you can return to this place whenever you feel the need. Whether stressed, angered, or fearful there is safe refuge in this place.
With your eyes closed return your focused attention to your breath. Notice the inhale. The exhale. Follow your breath with your attention. Expand your attention when you are ready to your body, and then open your eyes to the room in which you sit.
McKay, M., Wood, J. C., & Brantley, J. (2019). The dialectical behavior therapy skills workbook: Practical DBT exercises for learning mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, emotion regulation, & distress tolerance (Second edition). New Harbinger Publications, Inc.
Siegel, D. J. (2011). Mindsight: The new science of personal transformation. Bantam Books.