I Would Like a Piece of Peace, Please (Part 1)
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Would You Like a Piece of Peace?
- Do you suffer?
- Are you kept awake at night, worrying about the fate of the world?
- Is your life chaotic?
- Would you like to make a real difference in the world?
Searching for Wisdom
I stumbled across stories of White Tara this morning. She is an aspect of the Hindu and Buddhist goddess, Tara. White Tara symbolizes compassion, long life, healing, and serenity. She is peaceful and powerful, loving and strong. In our world, we often associate peaceful and loving as weak, yet Tara is the essence of compassion and love made strong.She is a teacher of peace. How can we learn from her?
(A note: I am not an expert on Hindu or Buddhist deities, so please forgive any inaccuracies. I am happy to receive comments regarding this lovely goddess).
Peace appears to be a universal dream for humanity. In any culture, and throughout our history on this earth, we find evidence of the search for both inner and outer peace. Most of us search for peace in any external source we can find. We hope that alcohol will bring us peace, or sleep, or the next yoga retreat. We attempt to force our own ideas about peace on others. Maybe we work hard to "fix" our "broken" system. The results are varied, sometimes making a difference, other times none at all. Some enlightened beings have had some success and shared it with others. One important message that comes from these sources is that outer peace can only be achieved through inner peace.
In order to get along with each other and collaborate on a global scale, it is important for each of us to find our own path to inner peace. Until that happens, our differences appear as obstacles, rather than gifts. When you find inner peace, you can appreciate the different perspectives and abilities of your fellow humans, rather than feeling threatened by them. Finding inner peace helps you to develop confidence in yourself, allowing you to enter strange situations and know that a different perspective will not shake your happiness. Your happiness is no longer dependent on anything outside of yourself. The current Dalai Lama says, "As human beings we all want to be happy and free from misery. We have learned that the key to happiness is inner peace. The greatest obstacles to inner peace are disturbing emotions such as anger, attachment, fear and suspicion, while love and compassion and a sense of universal responsibility are the sources of peace and happiness." The best contribution you can make to humanity is to find your own, inner peace, then share the benefits with the rest of us. Knowing that finding your own inner peace will contribute to world peace means that you will likely wish to follow the advice of Eleanor Roosevelt: "It isn't enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn't enough to believe in it. One must work at it." So, how do we accomplish inner peace?
Here are the common elements I have seen in my research on finding inner peace. They are, in no particular order because they interact with and affect one another:
In order to change anything in your life, you must first be aware of what needs to change and what is already working for you. Awareness of your own inner workings, how you tend to respond to things, what your hopes and fears are and how they serve you, allows you to avoid falling into old, familiar traps and to use the strengths you have. As you gain awareness of yourself, you can more effectively accept reality, live mindfully, and practice compassion for yourself and for others.
Awareness of the external world allows you to figure out what you believe works and does not work in your environment. Because you do not live in a vacuum, you need to be aware of the world around you. What kinds of systems and cultural beliefs affect you in your day to day life? Where do you find yourself feeling trapped or limited by the world? Which laws of nature determine what you can and cannot accomplish? As you begin to notice the way this world works, you can begin to see where it could benefit from your particular strengths and where you might wish to collaborate with others to improve things. You see which needs you can fulfill with your unique mixture of interests and abilities.
Life is a masterpiece, but we tend to ignore the beauty and brilliance of it when we allow ourselves to mindlessly drift from one task to the next. Mindfulness practice is like picking up a magnifying glass and studying the details of that masterpiece, noticing the brushstrokes and the layers of paint. Life becomes more meaningful and challenges become more manageable. Mindfulness takes awareness to the next step. As you increase your awareness of both your inner and outer world, you practice letting go of distractions and judgments. You learn to focus your mind on one thing at a time. Your emotions are less volatile and your life less chaotic when you bring your attention to one thing in each moment and release any judgment or expectations that anything should be different than it is. Mindfulness practice introduces joy to the experience of living life. When you practice mindfulness, you learn to allow all experiences -even pain and discomfort- to exist. You become adept at accepting and fully experiencing them. When you "sink in" to your experience in each moment, it becomes vibrant. The pain that would otherwise lead to suffering becomes another opportunity to fully live your life. The discomfort becomes an opportunity to understand yourself better. Pleasure increases and everything becomes manageable.
Acceptance is about recognizing reality as it is, rather than as you wish it was or think it should be. It means seeing clearly and recognizing that what you see is real. When you look outside and see water falling from the sky, you accept that it is raining. You will get wet if you go outside without anything protecting you. It does not mean you approve of it. I will repeat this. Acceptance does NOT equal approval. You can accept that it is raining, even if you would prefer sun and the weather forecast promised a sunny day. This is true for anything you choose to apply it to. Once you accept something as it is, you have a choice about how you respond to it. Once you accept that you feel emotion, you can choose how to respond to your emotions. If you refuse to accept that you feel emotions, you will end up reacting without choice again and again. This refusal to accept your human emotion is one crucial ingredient to a chaotic life. Once you begin to accept that you will have emotional responses to things, you can then begin to plan for how you would like to handle those emotions and which actions you would like to take. Your life becomes less chaotic and your emotions become more integrated into your plans. Once you accept that things happen in this world that are painful, you can choose how you will respond to them. If you refuse to accept that people die, you will struggle and suffer when they are no longer in your life. Once you accept that people die, you can begin the grieving process. You can choose how to respond to the reality.
Part of learning Acceptance is learning that you do not control everything. You can control your own actions, you can learn to control your thoughts, and you can influence your emotions by controlling your actions and thoughts. That is the extent of your control. You have some control over yourself. You cannot control other people, the world, the universe, or time. You have influence over others and you can influence the world, but you cannot control the outcome of your influence. You cannot control what others will say or do or think. Natural laws will continue to be what they are. If you throw something, the law of gravity will bring it back to rest on the earth. You can influence this by tying a string to the object and suspending it from something, but gravity will continue to work on the object and it will end up back on the earth if the string is broken or untied. Once you accept the laws of nature, you have room to work with them to reach your objective. The first, fundamental step must be Acceptance.
Compassion is a recognition of the suffering of others and feeling an urge to help them, in it's simplest sense. It's about seeing suffering and wanting to alleviate it. This requires a combination of awareness and acceptance. You must be aware of suffering and accept that it is happening before you can decide that you would like to help. White Tara, the goddess of serenity and healing, is also the goddess of compassion. The eyes on her hands and feet symbolize her abillity to see the suffering of others so that she might help to alleviate it. It is her compassion that leads her to teach us about peace, so that we might learn to free ourselves from suffering altogether. Your own inner peace will also be affected by practicing compassion. As you practice mindfulness and begin to recognize your judgments, you learn to release those judgments, which makes room for compassion. When you judge others, you block compassion and increase your own suffering. As soon as you release judgment, you make room for a full understanding of others. If you can notice your own curiosity about why someone might behave in some way, you can explore the reasons, leading to a better understanding of them. Once you understand others, you find yourself better able to feel compassion for them. For example, if someone cheated on you and you felt betrayed by their actions, you might start by asking why they were tempted in the first place. Does it have to do with their beliefs about themselves? Perhaps this person does not believe he is capable of being faithful. Was something missing in the relationship? Perhaps something had been bothering her for a long time, but she was not able to communicate it to you and someone else was able to listen to her. Whatever the reasons might be, your exploration of the reasons might lead to a better understanding of your former partner. The more you understand someone, the easier it is to feel close to them. As you feel closer, you are likely to want to help them. When you see someone as being human, like you, you feel closer and more connected to them.
Compassion is usually considered in relationship to others, but I find in my work that most people are much harder on themselves than they are on others. You probably judge yourself more harshly than you would anyone else, including someone you perceive as an enemy (until you practice compassion and see their humanity). It is important to develop compassion for others. It is vitally important to inner peace for you to learn compassion for yourself. Just as it does with others, recognizing and releasing judgment of yourself will help you begin to recognize your own humanity. Once you can allow that you are human and therefore not expected to be perfect, you can begin to have compassion for the mistakes you make and for the suffering you experience.
Putting it all Together
Finding inner peace is a continual practice. It is a fully human experience, which means that we complicate things, make mistakes, and act counter to our values sometimes. As you practice these four components to inner peace, you will have moments of profound wonder, gratitude, and peace that make it all worthwhile. There will be moments when you find that you simply cannot accept a situation, or find the compassion within you. It's okay. Just be aware of yourself in those moments, and you will be continuing to practice. This is a human endeavour, and as such will not be perfect. That very imperfection makes it beautiful. If you would like further guidance on how to follow through with this practice, stay tuned. I will lay it out, step by step, in my next blog. Stay tuned and practice peace!