Big changes are occurring. I know this is true, for big changes are occurring in me. We appear to be entering a new era of relationship — with ourselves, with our communities, and the larger Human family. More and more of us are beginning to recognize our oneness with all life-forms, including animals and minerals, and the planet herself. These are interesting times in which to be alive, challenging and pregnant with possibility.
I have recently become aware that a deep sense of peace and happiness has become a natural state of being for me. This realization, this knowing, this acceptance of an (almost) constant inner calm has slipped up on me, as though it has always been there.
How can this be, when the world appears to be falling apart? Each day brings news of another disaster of catastrophic proportions. People and other forms of life are suffering from the daily trauma of war, disease, hunger, and the struggle to survive. Each day, more species of life face total extinction. Climate change, brought about by the energies of ignorance, greed, and fear that are present in every human being, is affecting the very existence of life on Planet Earth.
For much of my life, I cried for the whole world. The thought of millions of hungry children, of the horror of war, and the incredible conditions in which the majority of the world’s population lives was overwhelming. Fortunately, with the help of friends and a teacher, I began to wake up to a different way of thinking. I soon found that I could be effective in doing my part to help the whole world. I exchanged my crying for smiling.
There are a few basic steps for creating and maintaining inner peace and happiness in the very midst of suffering and confusion. These steps are crucial, in order to create a harmonious life for oneself and others. These steps by no means lead us to ignore the suffering in the world. On the contrary, by walking through life peacefully, being in the world, but not caught by the world, we are truly present and able to respond in ways that are hopeful and helpful.
The first step involves THOUGHTS. They continuously flow through the mind (and they are flowing very rapidly, have you noticed?). They cannot always be trusted. The mind is extremely vulnerable to the stimuli that, if I am not careful, are constantly entering through any and all of my six sense doors – eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and the collective consciousness of each of these, the so-called ‘sixth sense.’ Learning to pay attention to thoughts, and how they come and go, is a discipline of learning to train the mind. Sometimes, a thought will stay for a while, or can be recognized as a part of a pattern of thinking. Simply by being aware of the thought or the pattern, we can learn there is no need to say or do anything, no need to react.
The process of thinking is already a kind of action, “mind action.” My reality is literally created by my thoughts. If we accept that none of us is truly separate from all else, including our collective thinking and collective attitudes, we can see that, together, we are creating our experience in the World. That is a scary thought, and also a wonderful thought! With our thoughts, we can contribute to sanity and world peace.
Understanding that thoughts are extremely powerful, we do our best to learn ways to control and transform our mind-action. Thoughts, however, can sometimes exceed our speed limits. We can choose to practice various techniques to slow and calm mind and body by concentrating on one thing at a time. We can practice mindfulness of breathing, of peeling an apple, of holding a child, of admiring a flower, of listening to a bird song, or practicing mindfulness of all that we think, say, and do.
I have learned, though I sometimes forget, that I can choose to let go of a negative thought. I really try to do that, for I’ve noticed that I am the one who experiences immediate discomfort when the thoughts are angry, sad, anxious, or jealous. I can actually make a choice to first note the thought, and then replace it by directing my mind in a direction that produces a pleasant or happy feeling. If the negative thought is a reoccurring one, I can choose to consciously revisit it, in order to look deeply at it and determine where it came from and what is actually going on inside and around me. I can then decide the appropriate response.
The second step involves the body. Many of us spend so much time “in our head,” that we have little awareness of our body sensations and feelings. We often misidentify them and behave based on inaccurate information. We need to learn the art of listening to our body. My own body has truly become my best friend. I do my best to listen to what it has to tell me. Am I tired? Do I feel happy? Sad? Angry? Hungry? Am I caring for my body? Is a sense of well-being present in me? I notice the physical sensations that arise in the body, and do my best to make the connection between the sensation and the thoughts that preceded it. Massage therapy has been the most valuable healing practice, teaching me to listen to my body, my friend.
A third and important step involves environment. This step has been essential for me. Of course, I realize that much of what happens in life is out of my control, but I have come to know that I can pay attention to what works for me, and make choices about my environment based on that knowledge. I can choose the people with whom I spend an evening or a lifetime, the conversations in which I participate, the films and television programs I choose to view. I have a lot of compassion for myself when I remember how I used to sit through a film that produced fearful thoughts and feelings in me. I have sat through films that were unnecessarily violent, my whole body tense and full of adrenaline. I was in my 50s before I realized I could walk out, that I could walk away, that I did not have to punish my mind and body, in order to please someone else.
I was in my 50s before I understood that my thoughts are not who I am, and that being kind to myself by listening to the wisdom of my body is an act of Understanding and Love that I give myself and the world. When I began to learn this way of being, I thought, at first, that I was being selfish. How could I be so focused on me? I had a family I loved. They were number one in my life. Eventually, I understood that my greatest gift to those I love and to the whole world is my own happiness.
The journey of Conscious Change and Inner Transformation leading to Inner Peace is a process which, once begun, continues throughout life. The first steps are challenging. With practice, however, we eventually find that natural pace that brings us feelings of happiness and joy, a state-of-being from which there is no turning back.