I Would Like a Piece of Peace, Please (Part 2)
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Active Peace: A Beginner's Guide
The idea of finding inner peace sounds pretty good, doesn't it? All you have to do is begin practicing Awareness, Mindfulness, Acceptance, and Compassion (see my last blog: I Would Like a Piece of Peace, Please, Part 1) and you not only find your own inner peace, but you actually make a change in our world. Practicing inner peace affects every person you come into contact with, therefore contributing to world peace.
You might look at these simple concepts of awareness, mindfulness, acceptance, and compassion and think, "yeah, I can do that." If you already have a plan for how to use these ideas, I congratulate you and encourage you to go for it. If you look at this and say, "um...these ideas are great, but what do I DO? How do I incorporate these into my daily living?", I'm happy to tell you that I have some specific actions you can take to begin your journey to Inner Peace today.
This is an ongoing, integrative process. You find inner peace for moments, hours, sometimes days, but most of us do not stay there indefinitely. It requires intention and practice, which means you must find the method that works best for you. You do not have to follow these steps in any particular order because they all work together. As you increase your awareness, you find that mindfulness increases. As you increase mindfulness, you become more aware and it is easier to accept reality. Once you accept reality, you become more aware. As you develop awareness and mindfulness, it becomes easier to practice compassion, and as you practice compassion, it becomes easier to accept reality. With that in mind, start with whichever step you prefer. If you are unsure where to begin, you can use the order I have. If you prefer your own way, by all means, honour your own way. In the spirit of releasing judgment, there is no "right" or "wrong" way to do this.
Step 1: Increasing Your Awareness
Increasing your awareness starts with your five senses. Look around you. What do you see? Listen. What do you hear? Notice the temperature, the feel of your clothes on your skin, the breath coming in and out of your body. See if you can identify the smells around you. What do you taste? Describe your sensations by writing, or naming them in your head, or talking to someone. If you like to draw or paint, create a visual representation of everything you notice. You can also make it a game. Identify 5 things you see, hear, feel, taste, smell. Then, identify 4, then 3, then 2, then 1. As you practice this, you may find that you become more sensitive to the underlying parts. For example, the ticking of the clock is no longer one sound. As you listen, you can hear the movement of the device just before the hand moves. As you look closely, you notice that the green leaf has yellow just at the edge of it. As you feel the breeze on your skin, you begin to realize that you can feel the hairs on your body move, and the sensation just where the hairs enter your skin. Along with the smell of the rain coming off of hot pavement, you can smell the accumulated oil that is being swept into the drain. When you take a sip of your coffee, you taste more than just the overall flavour; you notice the hint of chocolate that the beans had in them. Do this throughout your day, whenever you remember to do it. If you find that you are having trouble remembering to do it every day, set reminders for yourself, maybe every hour, or maybe at 8am, noon, and 8pm. The key is to do it regularly, until it becomes a natural part of your day, every day.
Increasing your awareness of the world around you is a great place to start, but awareness of yourself is also important for increasing your inner peace. Give yourself a moment at various times at the day to observe yourself. Notice the thoughts you have in your head, the visual images, and the memories that are coming up. Next, notice your body. Do a scan, from head to toe. Where do you notice tension? Are some parts of your body more comfortable than others? Do you notice tension in your chest? Notice that tension and describe it for yourself. How big is it? What shape is it? Is it very tight, or only a dull ache? Is it constricting your breathing? Next, notice which emotions go with the various sensations in your body. Which emotion is tied to the tension in your chest? If you are relaxed, which emotion is tied to that? As you become more adept at these regular check-ins, you will find that the tension releases naturally and your emotions become calmer, as a result. When you notice your thoughts, physical sensations, and emotions all together, you can begin to notice where they affect each other and make any changes you need to make for yourself. As you become more aware of yourself, you may find that it is easier to understand other people, as well. You begin to recognize some of yourself in them and to appreciate your common humanity, which leads to greater compassion (there is the overlap I mentioned!).
Step 2: Mindful Living
Mindfulness practice means deciding to focus your attention on something, completely and without judgment. In practice, that means you choose something, like how your body feels when you listen to music, and you focus all of your attention on it. Maybe you notice how your chest vibrates when you hear the guitar solo, or how your arms tingle when you hear lyrics that mean something to you. You completely immerse yourself in the experience of the music. If your mind tries to distract you with thoughts of things you, "should be doing", you acknowledge the thought and let it go, returning your attention to the sensations you feel. This requires practice, which means that you may have to continually redirect your attention and you may become distracted repeatedly. As Jon Kabat-Zinn says, "While it may be simple to practice mindfulness, it is not necessarily easy. Mindfulness requires effort and discipline...".
Mindfulness can be difficult to learn on your own. It helps to have guidance. Luckily, you can access guidance easily by visiting your local bookstore or finding a workshop or class near you. I recommend "Full Catastrophe Living" by Jon Kabat-Zinn or "A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook" by Bob Stahl, PhD and Elisha Goldstein, PhD. Once you have the basics of it, you just incorporate it into your daily life. You can start a daily meditation practice (most experts suggest at least 20 minutes each day), or incorporate it into your life by practicing mindfulness when you are walking from one place to another, while you are getting ready to leave the house in the morning, or as you prepare for bed. I recommend practicing when you are with others, as well. Your time spent with children is enjoyable when you are mindful and present with them (For structured practice with them, try "Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children" by Thich Nhat Hanh and Wietske Vriezen). Spending time with close friends or with your partner mindfully, increases the pleasure of their company and can even increase the intimacy and closeness in the relationship. Even practicing mindfulness when you pet the cat or play with the dog can improve your enjoyment of them.
Try practicing mindfulness at work, as well. If you are working on a project, let yourself get completely immersed in the project. Remember to release judgment as you work. If something could be better, you can recognize that and work to improve it, but try to release any judgments you might have about your work or the work of others. It is distracting and contributes to suffering. Sometimes, people voice a concern about getting sloppy if they release judgment. This is not necessary. There is a difference between jugment and acknowledgment (hint: this is about to overlap with the other steps). Part of increasing personal mindfulness is learning to recognize and accept the reality of your own opinions and observations. To say, "I don't like the way that looks" is an observation of your own opinion. Your opinion is valid and probably important when you are working on something. To say, "that looks like garbage" is probably a judgment and will not help you come up with a viable alternative. In fact, it might lead to thoughts of how you "can't do anything right" and are "such a loser", along with various physical responses and emotions. "I don't like the way that looks" leaves room for change and improvement. It keeps your focus on the task at hand, rather than distracting you with self-abuse.
Step 3: Acceptance of Reality
Like the previous two steps, Acceptance is a simple concept that can be challenging to practice. It means recognizing the world around you, as it is, without attempting to change it or fight it. You can start this practice by stating to yourself the facts of any given situation, without any interpretation or judgment of them. You might say, "The bus is late. It is scheduled to come at 10:02 and it is now 10:10." Now, notice what happens in your body as you state those facts. Notice how it calms your mind a bit. You might even add, "I am frustrated and impatient because I have an important meeting to get to." These are also facts that you can accept. Once you have accepted the situation, you can decide whether you will walk, take a different bus, or ask someone to drive you. Your mind is somewhat calmer and allows room for problem solving.
Which one of these 2 people is you; the frustrated one, or the one enjoying the view?
Notice that neither of the statements included anything about what the bus driver "should" do, or how the bus system "sucks." Both of those words in quotes are indicators that you are likely using judgment. Judgment is generally a sign that you are not accepting the reality of the situation. When you use judgment, your mind becomes increasingly busy and your emotions intensify. Goodbye, Inner Peace! The more intense your emotions, the more difficult it becomes to come up with a viable solution. Focusing on what others should or should not do also takes your power away. If you put all of the responsibility for your arrival on time on the bus driver or the system, you lose sight of what you can do to fix your problem. As you focus on how unreliable the bus is, you are using time and energy that can be spent figuring out how to still get to the meeting on time. When you stick to the facts of the situation, including your own reaction, your focus is on you. You are the only thing you have any real control over in this world. Remember that. Maybe even say to yourself, "I do not control the rest of the world, but I can control my own response to this situation." So, when you focus on you, it means you can come up with something to do about it. You get to make a choice. When you fight the reality of the situation and insist that the bus should be on time, you are trying to control something you cannot control. Your frustration will grow and you will likely suffer. Let's say that you reacted to the late bus with judgment and you became even more frustrated. As you sit, steaming, you realize that you are not accepting the reality of the situation. It isn't too late to turn your mind around. You can choose to accept the situation at any point. This is the beauty of acceptance. It is entirely under your control. You always get to choose whether or not to accept something. Try the following affirmation: "I am here. This is now. All is well." It gives your mind something to grab onto when it would like to spin out of control. As you repeat those words, mindfully, you may find that you heart rate drops, your body relaxes, and your mind calms. Now, you can more easily accept the reality and do something to solve your problem of getting to your meeting.
Acceptance of reality is relevant to each and every aspect of your life. You have the power to accept it or struggle against it and the choice is always yours. Do you choose peace or suffering?
- I am here, this is now, all is well
- I choose peace
- I cannot control what others do, but I can control my own perspective and choose my own actions
Step 4: Growing Compassion for Yourself and Others
Most people are able to feel compassion for an abused dog or a starving child. You cannot help it; you see the scars and injuries on the dog and you want to free it, take it in and feed it and love it. It is a natural response to seeing someone who is helpless and suffering, especially if that someone is perceived as weaker and less capable than you. Although it is always good practice to have compassion for the downtrodden and the weak, it is much more challenging to find compassion for the person who abused the dog. It might even be difficult to find compassion for yourself when you keep walking and do not stop to help the dog. This is the challenge I am giving you: practice compassion for the perpetrator and practice compassion for yourself.
The first step of compassion is awareness. You need to be aware of the facts of the situation. It is easy to judge someone harshly when you do not have all of the facts. When you see a dog with multiple scars, chained up outside of a house, it is easy to assume that the owner of the dog is an evil psychopath who tortures the dog for fun. Luckily, true psychopaths are actually pretty rare. That means that the person who owns the dog probably has other reasons for their treatment of the dog. Your first step for growing compassion is to be aware that you do not have all of the facts of the situation and that people always have a reason for their actions, even when that reason does not make sense to you.
The next part of compassion for others is asking them about themselves and/or observing them as impartially as possible and without judgment. Try to be curious about the other person. What makes him decide to kick the dog? Why does he chain the dog up outside? Where did she get the idea that it was okay to treat a dog poorly? The more you understand about this person, the easier it is to find your compassion. If you found it so difficult to release judgment about her, imagine how many people are rude and critical of her because of their own judgments of her. How do you imagine it would feel to experience that kind of judgment from others?
That question leads us to the next step of compassion: empathy. Put yourself in this person's shoes. How would it feel to have their upbringing, to think the way they think, to live their life? Remember that everyone has challenges in life, even those who appear to have everything. Believe me, I've seen those people in my private practice, too. Their lives are not any more "perfect" than the people who appear more normal. Try to imagine the pressure on a beautiful young woman growing up in an affluent neighbourhood. She is not allowed to have emotions, to ever lose control, or to be "imperfect" in any way. In short, she is not allowed to be human. She never gets to relax and binge on pizza and ice cream when she is rejected. Imagine a life where your very appearance of perfect caged you in so much that you could not ever be yourself. Once you begin to imagine the challenges another human being experiences, it is difficult to hate them. We all have challenges and the more you begin to see that and imagine what it would feel like, the more you realize just how connected we all are. No one is perfect and everyone has challenges. It puts everyone on an even playing field and allows for a release of judgment.
Try this experiment: Be aware of all of your judgments of others, tomorrow. It can be anything from a judgment of the person who cut you off in traffic to a judgment of Donald Trump. Next, release the judgment and state the observations that led to your judgment. For example, you might think, "I judged Donald Trump for his bigotry because he called Mexican people rapists." Now,try to figure out where his perspective comes from. He grew up in a wealthy, white man's world, likely with very little real contact with Mexicans. He might have heard someone he respects talking about Mexicans in a disrespectful manner. Maybe he read a news article that emphasized a rapist as being Mexican. Imagine growing up in an environment where everyone you looked up to and cared about held a poor view of Mexicans. How would it feel for you to be inundated with those kinds of beliefs, every day of your life? No matter what it looks like to the rest of the world, Donald Trump does not live a charmed life. How would you feel if you were not allowed to acknowledge your failures as failures? Since that is the exact opposite of accepting reality, you can bet he does not have a lot of inner peace. How miserable would life be, without any inner peace? Now, for the last part, see him as a child. Picture him as a little boy, wanting nothing more than the attention of his father, but being ignored unless he acted in a certain way. Picture that little boy desparately trying everything to receive what was missing from his life and only getting it by betraying his own humanity. How do you feel, now? Can you feel even the smallest bit of compassion? This is the practice of growing your compassion for others.
A note on growing compassion for others: you do not have to agree with someone in order to feel compassion for them. Although I can feel a great deal of compassion for the internal pain I can imagine Donald Trump experiencing, it does not mean that I would vote for him for president. Your own choices and actions must come out of what is right for you. Feeling compassion for someone who has hurt others does not mean that you deny the consequences of their actions. A person who has harmed someone else still must face the consequences for her actions. Like tough love, it is often the most compassionate response.
Now, take those same steps and apply them to yourself. Notice your judgments of yourself. How often do you say to yourself, "I'm such an idiot" or some similar statement? Are you truly an idiot, or is that a judgment of the choice you just made? Did you make that mistake on purpose? No? Then why would you accuse yourself of being an idiot? Would you call someone else an idiot for making that same mistake? Would you call a child an idiot for it? I like to use the example of children because we tend to be protective of children. Of course you would not call a child an idiot just for making a mistake or making a poor choice. Imagine if you could be as protective of yourself as you are of children. What if you were able to recognize that, as a human, you are not expected to be perfect? What if you could forgive yourself for your mistakes, rather than judging yourself? Try this: next time you drop your keys walking out the door (or make some similar mistake), notice your attitude towards yourself. Stop, then speak to yourself as you would to a child who has just made the mistake and is embarrassed or crying. Would you berate him or would you comfort him? Treat yourself as you would that child. Recognize why you made the mistake. I know that I often drop my keys as I leave the house because I am juggling my stuff and trying to lock up the house. It is a natural consequence of the situation and is not because I am particularly clumsy or stupid. Chances are, your situation is similar. Practice being gentle with yourself, just as you would with a hurt child or injured animal.
Putting it all Together
As human beings, we have many opportunities to experience chaos, emotional ups and downs, and plenty of worry. We easily fall into mindless living, going from one task to another, judging ourselves and others the entire time. When you wonder if it is possible to experience a more peaceful life, to enjoy the beauty and ride the waves, you begin the journey towards inner peace. As you learn to be more Aware and more Mindful, to Accept Reality as it is, and to grow your Compassion, you begin to experience moments of peace. Those moments are like ambrosia; they are so nice that you want more of them. The beauty of this life is that you can have as much inner peace as you can develop. As you practice, you find that each moment of inner peace grows into more moments, becoming deeper and spreading to other people in your life. When you forget or slip back into mindlessness or judgment, all you have to do is stop for a moment, notice yourself, and feel the compassion. You are human and that is all you need to be. You do not need to be perfect. In fact, practice will not make perfect in this work because accepting your humanity is part of finding peace.
It's your life. Are you ready to love it?
If you would like further guidance in your search for inner peace, you are welcome to contact me.