The gap between wanting and having is often huge, and warrants examination, right? Where does the problem lie? What is the nature of what I want? What is preventing me from having it, and what is the lesson I can learn as I strive to bring more harmony to my relationship with the world?
One thing most of us can say with certainty is: I want peace.
Peace among friends.
Peace among neighbours.
Peace among us all.
After a time, though, and especially in light of current world events, it becomes tiring living with two seemingly irreconcilable facts: 1) we want peace; and 2) we can’t seem to achieve it.
It’s time that we inquire: what’s going on here? Why can’t we make our way to peace?
First, we find that it’s too easy to blame society, or the government, or other forces “out there”. It’s too easy to say that we are advocates of peace, but that we are powerless in the face of what the powers that be choose to do in this world.
Why do we think we are separate from the world, and the other people in it? I think the answer to this question holds the key to the true and lasting peace we are always dreaming about.
The reason why peace eludes us is that we seem to have a mistaken conception of peace. First we need to notice that we think about peace most when we feel we are under threat, say, the threat of war. In this way, then, we are putting peace and war on the same playing field; they are dancing together in our field of consciousness, so that the specter of war is never far from apparently innocuous desires for peace.
So we say it: why can’t we just have peace? But what kind of peace are we imagining? Are we really projecting ourselves into a whole new world in which peace is the very foundation? Our first thoughts, if we are honest with ourselves, are not about some kind of Eden, a place characterized by genuine harmony, where we are unencumbered by every form of conflict large and small, where we have full freedom to be who we are and are simultaneously full acceptance of everyone else, where the very idea of “non-peace” does not even arise in consciousness. Rather, “peace” becomes more of a reactive concept: we long to go back to “better times”, to how things were before the threat of war appeared.
Hindsight tends to look more golden. Our youth, or even the preceding few years, become soft around the edges, a safe space we have distilled for their better moments. Scared of the present, we re-imagine the past as Eden, without really trying to go back there to remember the very same fears that now plague our minds.
The way things were: there, we might find comfort, stasis, perpetual fear of the status quo being upset, along with thwarted dreams, anxiety, dissatisfaction, a situation in which we were dwelling even further back in the past, or worrying about what was to come. In other words, the same things we find in the here and now, regardless of exterior circumstances.
We need to see the violence in this. Our minds can be very violent places, not at all at peace, but torn, divided, running amok, complacent, isolationist, subconsciously fearing and also wanting the upheaval that surrounds us, because we don’t truly believe it can be any other way. We may have grown up with it. We may have inherited it. We may have absorbed in from any of various environments and situations. We live it, because we are humans, and humans are replete with embattled interior worlds, until we find our way to a path toward peace.
So upheaval comes: we have war, devastation, harrowing events we fear but have long, maybe secretly, suspected were inevitable.
We seem not to be able to accept either what we have created, or what IS, right now, in this moment, in the world or in the deepest parts of ourselves. If we explore within, we will find fear-based reactions to world events; we feel, for example, that we don’t deserve the natural disasters that ravage the world and its inhabitants, but upon further inquiry we have to see that deserving has nothing to do with it. Natural disasters don’t happen to us. They simply happen. This is one of the laws of nature, and we somehow think we are removed from the laws of nature. Even above them.
Do you see how this amounts to a form of violence? To feel separation from what we are so intricately bound to, to see isolation, me versus you; how can this not be construed as violence? Am I not more likely to react in negative and harmful ways to things I feel are separate from me? Would I be as likely to hurt something that is essentially myself?
Yet this is what we are doing, because the war is within ourselves, and we don’t want to confront the more self-destructive aspects of our nature. Instead, we throw nature and people to the other side of a line or boundary, maybe out of self-preservation, maybe because we were taught about separation more than unity, about countries more than world; maybe because we have come to rely wholly on our senses and not our intuition, and our senses bring what is out there into our interior world. The reason doesn’t matter: here we are, wondering about everything in relation to our one self and how it benefits us, and unity is lost. There can be no peace when we can only conceive of our humanity in pieces. Pieces can also come apart just as easily as they can connect for short whiles. And this is how we are living: in constant fear of things coming apart.
But what if we are the ones keeping them apart? Our belief in apartness allows for all kinds of horrible things to find their way into the cracks. And we cannot fortify ourselves from the calamities that occur as long as our hearts are wired to expect calamities, and as long as we continue to forge separate pathways for the people of the world. We cannot stop violence until we understand that we are perpetuating the violence, we are housing the violence, we are feeling the violence with our deep-seated fears but also beliefs in it, until we come to see that we are the violence.
Look at all the ways in which we are at war with ourselves. Look at how we are self-deprecating; how we hate looking in the mirror; how we doubt our abilities to achieve success; how we hold ourselves back; how we don’t believe in ourselves enough to invest the time and energy into our wellness. Look at how quick we are to believe other people’s beliefs in the very worst of us, at the expense of our own belief in ourselves – a belief that should be the most natural thing in the world? It goes on and on like this. There is so much negativity living in the circuitry of our bodies and psyches. Where is the place for peace in this?
Yet, there is a place for peace, a huge, golden space inside of us, that coexists with all this violence. We are full of love, hope and good intentions, and we know this, and we have felt this many times. This is a brilliant truth. We just need to believe in this part of ourselves, and work to cultivate it that much more.
So how we begin to turn things around?
First, we must realize that peace starts at home. We must become aware of our hidden, limiting and destructive beliefs that serve nothing but the powers of violence. We must stop right here, where we are and accept the mess that we have inherited and that we continue to make by doing nothing to stop it. We must feel the effects of this violence on the core of our beings right now, in this very moment.
We must ask: do we really want peace, or do we want the luxury of returning to our comfort zones, where we keep the world at bay and hope that all the terrible things we are scared of don’t make their way to us, though they are already right here with us, in the deep crevices of our minds? We must ask: are we ready to do the hard work of finding the peace in us that is also the real, true, lasting peace of the world?
We can only do this in stillness. We must rest in stillness and use the landscape of our bodies to feel what fear looks like, and to arrive at a place of a true, real desire to end the violence within. We must look so deep within that the borders between us and the world fade and we start to realize how destructive the lens of separation is on all our relationships, with people and the world.
We must commit to the responsibility of looking deep within and removing the obstacles to peace, removing the violence we find inside, for peace is the absence of violence, and will naturally arise when we actively want and seek our own salvation.
Peace isn’t something you wish for while going about life and not doing much to effect real change in your relationship with it. Rather, peace is something you uncover, and discover in yourself. You figure out that it has been there all along, and once exposed, it will grow and expand and guide you. And this is the building block to a peaceful world.
You know them when you see them: people who radiate joy, don’t sweat the small stuff, naturally attract people to them and who seem to be in a pretty constant state of peace.
What do these people have in common? Well, they’ve all worked hard to tame the beast within and turn their minds into their greatest allies. For the rest of us, life might look a little bit like this: worrying, regretting past actions, stressing out about potential future events, spinning out of control, retreating to worlds of fantasy and distraction … sound familiar?
You don’t want to feel like this. You might be thinking about starting meditation and mindfulness practices, to become more Zen, but don’t know how where to start. As you work up to your Namaste, then, it can be helpful to try a few practical things aimed at familiarizing yourself with the lifelong companion that is your mind, which you definitely want on your team!
1: Recognize that you are not your mind.
Here’s a telltale sign: you can actually observe your thoughts and feelings as they come up, which means you are not inextricably bound with them. This awareness is truly a revolution, and the first step toward empowering yourself to begin the work of calming the mind down and getting it on your side.
“To find out what is truly individual in ourselves, profound reflection is needed; and suddenly we realize how uncommonly difficult the discovery of individuality is.” – C.G. Jung
2: Become a witness of your mind.
Your mind is capable of extraordinary things once you learn to take the reins. One of the main purposes of meditation is to connect to the present moment by accessing your inner witness. Rest quietly and become aware of your body and immediate surroundings. Observe thoughts as they arise and slip away; they will do this over and over. As you distance yourself from your thoughts and feelings, you’ll start to wonder you we attach so deeply to ephemera that come and go like clouds in the sky.
“To enjoy good health, to bring true happiness to one’s family, to bring peace to all, one must first discipline and control one’s own mind. If a man can control his mind he can find the way to Enlightenment, and all wisdom and virtue will naturally come to him.” – attributed to Buddha
3: Be careful what you put into your mind.
In some ways, the mind is very simple: it builds on what you feed it. If you funnel negativity into it, it will soon be hard not to feel negative, because the mind – which is not your enemy, just doing its job – adjusts and happily works with what it’s given. This is known in neuroscience as “plasticity” : our brains work with new stimuli no matter how old we are. Letting the good stuff in will actually, if slowly, make it easier for you to feel positive over time.
“I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.” – Mahatma Gandhi
4: Explore your mind like it’s a foreign country
The best kind of travel is all about being curious, having no expectations, and being ready to be dazzled, even enlightened by what we find. Take the time to be in stillness with your mind and contemplate the thoughts and feelings you find there; they have a lot to teach you about your coping patterns and how you have come to view the world over time. In short: discover yourself!
“We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.” – Dalai Lama
5: Distinguish between knowledge and wisdom
Knowledge involves learning facts and developing the intellect. You might come to realize that accumulating knowledge does not make you feel any happier. Wisdom, on the other hand, involves learning from our life’s experiences about what is meaningful so we can live our best possible lives with heart. Learning things is great, but acquiring wisdom is invaluable.
‘Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers.’ – Lord Alfred Tennyson
6: Embrace compassion, the gateway to happiness
As we focus more on wisdom than gathering information, we come to understand whey we are really here: to benefit others and know deep within that we don’t want anyone to suffer, as we ourselves don’t want to suffer. Cultivating empathy compassion through meditation and contemplation is one of the best things we can do by encouraging the mind to serve our purpose of being agents of good in a world that badly needs it.
“More smiling, less worrying. More compassion, less judgment. More blessed, less stressed. More love, less hate.” – Roy T. Bennett
7: Seek truths that thought cannot produce
The rational mind computes, analyzes, discriminates and assesses very well, but left to its own devices, it does not naturally guide you toward greater consciousness. But that doesn’t mean we can’t get there! The mind just need some coaxing. Attempt to remember your dreams. Comb your mind for things people have said to you in the past that struck you as wise. Don’t dismiss insights; write them down. Embrace synchronicities that seem to fall on your lap. Recognize wisdom and deeper truth for what it is and let it support your conscious life.
“To understand the immeasurable, the mind must be extraordinarily quiet, still.” – Jiddu Krishmanurti
8: Listen to your heart and your gut and let them win
Contrary to conventional belief, it’s been shown that reason and emotions are not two passing trains in the night. Our emotions actually guide our rational and cognitive functioning to a large extent, and our “gut” area has come be known as our second brain. Don’t rationalize your gut instincts away: take the time to listen to the messages you receive from your body and inner wisdom.
“When the heart speaks, the mind finds it indecent to object.” – Milan Kundera, “The Unbearable Lightness of Being
9: Tend to your mind like a garden
Before we start on the garden, it looks like a mess of jumbled weeds and dried clumps of earth. Who wants to go there? But with effort, you end up with a gorgeous kingdom of your creation, full of beauty, nutrients and wonder. So it is with the mind – with a little pruning, love and care, persistently attended to every day, it can grow into a gorgeous and fruitful splendor.
“The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.” – Plutarch
10: Develop equanimity
Equanimity means regarding the things you experience without judgment. Stop liking things so much that you can’t live without them, and stop focusing energy on despising things, which only strengthens their iron grip on you. Practice observing your reactions to things, and notice how naming and being aware of these reactions helps make them less intense over time.
“It is simply sitting silently, witnessing the thoughts, passing before you. Just witnessing, not interfering not even judging, because the moment you judge you have lost the pure witness. The moment you say “this is good, this is bad,” you have already jumped onto the thought process.” – Osho
11: Allow wonder in
Little kids are so full of awe at everything they encounter – we can be that way again too! The world is really a playground, and we are infinitely lucky to be in it. Life isn’t always going to be easy, but you can access that innocent, childlike wonder anytime by opening eye and heart to the magic all around us. Trust me, you’ll thank yourself for it!
“There are no seven wonders of the world in the eyes of a child. There are seven million.” – Walt Streightiff
12: Slow down and be silent
We’ve all experienced the overwhelm that comes with trying to be productive all the time. It’s time to stop burning yourself out. Carve time in the day to spend time with loved ones, enjoy the rewards of your labor and reflect on your life. There’s a reason we’re afraid of silence; here we are forced to confront ourselves, and it’s not always pretty. But in coming face to face with our demons, you can overcome them and ease through to peace and harmony.
“Silence is the language of Om. We need silence to be able to reach our Self. Both internal and external silence is very important to feel the presence of that supreme Love.” – Amit Ray
13: Know that you don’t have to be defined by your stories.
Humans have an amazing capacity for storytelling and to create identities based on the stories we tell. It’s key to keep in mind that in choosing which stories you tell and whih memories you latch onto, you are reinforcing certain aspects of your identity, for better or worse. Stories are fluid and can always be rewritten.
“A student, filled with emotion and crying, implored, “Why is there so much suffering?”
Suzuki Roshi replied, “No reason.” – Shunryu Suzuki
14: Replace “what ifs” for “thank you’s”
One of the “best” ways we waste time is to pine over mistakes and wonder, what if we’d done things differently? Well, we didn’t! The life we are living now is a product of the decisions we’ve made, and the best antidote to regret is gratitude. Express thanks for all the million ways in which your life is awesome and worth celebrating, and more of that is bound to come
“Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer. And let faith be the bridge you build to overcome evil and welcome good.” – Maya Angelou
15: Take a walk in nature, be wild and write a poem about it
You don’t have to literally write a poem, but tapping into your creativity is also tapping into your nature. Nature and creation go hand in hand. Humans are among nature’s most awe-inspiring creations, and so much of the discord we feel comes from how far we’ve strayed from our roots. We are designed to think and feel more clearly when aligned with nature’s rhythms. Doing things like breathing clean forest air, sitting under trees and using our natural-born creativity – whether you think you are “good” or not – will do wonders to restore the mind and get it working in your best interest.
“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity.” – John Muir
Find your heart in the forest,
For there it whispers between trees
Reaching up to the sky’s eternity,
There is sings among the crackling,
Brown leaves carpeting the ground
With the pine needles, moss and stone.
The heart of us all weaves through
The space between leaves,
It’s right there in a bird’s song.
We enter into the darkness of the forest
And come to places streaming with light,
And if we listen carefully enough,
There it is: the purity of being,
The source of what and who we are.
May I hear my heartbeat
In the silence all around me,
And I know that I am here,
And know how sacred it is.