This morning, as I sipped my coffee and scanned my Facebook newsfeed, three messages about peace came to me, one after the other. That happens from time to time with one topic or another. I always take it as a nudge from the universe, telling me “This is important. Pay attention. This is today’s theme.”
So today’s theme is peace. And each of the messages I received encouraged us to find peace, be at peace, live peacefully. But none of them mentioned how.
In today’s world our lives are busy, filled with the seemingly constant activity and commitments we have to keep. We’re bombarded by input from our phones, tablets, computers and televisions, and a lot of that input is stress-inducing. Add to that the everyday worries that have been the forte of grown-ups for always. Relationships. Kids Money. Health. Jobs.
So with all that, how does one even begin to look for peace, much less find it, and manage to grab on and hold tightly to it?
The main thing to know is that peace isn’t about anything outside ourselves. Peace is within. Peace depends on how we react and respond to all of those external circumstances and events, not the circumstances and events themselves. It’s not about what happens around us. It’s about what happens inside us.
Peace is a simple matter of changing the way we think, the way we react. Those knee jerk responses take time to develop, so they’re going to take time and patience, and lots and lots of practice, to change. But it can be done.
Step 1 is awareness. Start paying attention to your feelings. What makes your blood pressure rise? If you were actually wearing a monitor it would be easier to see. But short of that, you just have to be your own monitor. Notice when your anger and impatience start bubbling up. Like when someone cuts you off in traffic. Or someone interrupts when you’re speaking. Or a telemarketer calls during dinner. Or your kid fails a class in school. Just notice your internal reaction. At first, you’ll notice it in hindsight, after it’s over. You’ll think, Wow, that really got me riled up, didn’t it? Then, gradually, you’ll start noticing in the middle of your reaction. Maybe after you’ve already lost your temper, but still, at least you’re noticing. And eventually, you’ll notice it as soon as it begins.
Step 2 is choosing your reaction. That’s right, choosing. You decide whether to feel angry and act like a jerk, or to let it go and keep on feeling good. Realizing that this is a choice shouldn’t take long. The first time you attempt to deliberately choose how you want to feel, all doubt about that is annihilated. Things don’t make you feel bad. You choose how you feel. So at first, when you realize you reacted badly only in hindsight, laugh at yourself and vow not to react that way the next time. Later, when you catch yourself in the middle of a bad reaction, stop yourself in your tracks, laugh at how ingrained those knee-jerk reactions are, and choose to return to feeling good. And finally, when you’re able to feel the anger rise right at the beginning, reject it before it even touches you, and continue feeling good. Soon, outside events and circumstances will no longer have the power to upset you. You will hold to your peace consistently, having realized that you had the power to do so all along.
Worry is the biggest detriment to peace that we can engage in. Rather than reacting to outside events, we anticipate outside events that haven’t even happened yet, and react as if they have.
The cure for this is the gentle and consistent reminder that when you worry about something, you are creating it in your experience. You will attract it to you as surely as the sun will rise tomorrow. And even if you can’t buy into that, you must realize that the worry isn’t helping matters. It’s only robbing you of the present moment’s peace.
When I find myself lying awake worrying about something that hasn’t happened yet, I ask myself one simple question. Can I fix this now? If the answer is yes, I get up and fix it. Then I can go back to bed and rest without worry. If the answer is no, then there’s no point in thinking about it at all. I’ll do a relaxation exercise or distract myself with a TV show or a great book and fall asleep that way. Breaking the worry habit is a hard one, harder than learning to control anger, but it too, can be done. Just keep practicing. As soon as your mind starts racing, lean back and say to yourself, “Wow, look at all those thoughts shooting through my mind. I think I’m going to ignore them, just let them bounce around doing their thing. Those thoughts are not me. I’m the one watching them fly by. And I can choose to focus elsewhere.” Be patient with yourself. Find things to distract yourself. Try never to fall asleep worrying. Be gentle on yourself when you fail. You’ll gradually learn that the harder you try, the less success you have. Trying isn’t the answer. Relaxing and letting go is. Maybe accept that whatever will be will be, and all will be find either way. Whatever happens is what’s meant to happen and the reason for it may be beyond your understanding now. But all is well. (I hear you. What if it’s cancer? What if it’s death? But even those things are part of the greater experience you’re here to engage in, and are happening for a reason. Accept, search for the wisdom the experience brings, the meaning it carries, and then let it go. Focusing on it will keep it in your life. Letting it go will let it go.)
My final tip for bringing peace into your heart and holding it there, is to stop focusing on what other people do. Stop disapproving of them. Stop judging them. Stop being disappointed in or by them. Stop being angry with them. Stop protesting against them. Stop trying to outlaw them. Stop hanging your well being on their shoulders. It’s not their job to live their life in a way that makes you feel better. It’s your job to live your own life and let them live theirs in whatever way they see fit.
Live in a way that feels blissful to you. And then keep your focus on that bliss. Know that everything is just as it is, and that it all has a purpose and value, even the stuff you deem unpleasant. That’s how you find peace.