“Whether for us or for the great sages of the world, peace can only be brought to the world one thought at a time in the minds of each one of us. Only on that basis can our actions for peace, also performed one at a time, be truly effective.” – Ron Epstein
This is one of the centerpieces of practice for me. We long for both peace and excitement and these do not always mix well together. As the events and news around us get scary we feel especially moved to value peace. Without this conscious focus, we can begin to take turbulence for granted. Experiencing little conflicts or even fights here and there, feeling tension around certain people and issues in our lives, noticing harshness in our self-talk … why do we act or react in ways that are not peaceful? Have we considered it a genuine possibility that we can end such stress in ourselves altogether?
According to Buddhist understanding, our troubles are due to craving after objects and experiences. Irritation, aggression and competitiveness go along with our attempts to get what we long for and our wish to keep it. These mental processes easily translate into actions that are not aligned with our deeper values.
HH the Dalai Lama points out that for the pursuit of peace a few things are essential: Compassion and the development of a good heart, love and respect for others, and a true sense of community. He wrote a beautiful text about his suggestions for world peace.
These teachings describe an inner environment and a mode of responding to whatever happens inside and outside. But it is always a step-by-step process; it is just us on a journey of looking, seeing, and choosing:
1. We notice what is and how we feel about it. Sometimes “how we feel about it” is so loud we can hardly notice what is.
2. Based on compassion for our self and others, our awareness can expand to encompass our sensations, reactions, thoughts, and feelings. We can observe how our thinking and feeling changes depending on what we want and what is actually happening.
3. We can notice the discrepancy between the two and again just be aware, finding compassion and patience right there.
4. We can notice the driving forces inside and our attempt to get what we want and avoid what we don’t want. This is the motor that keeps us hooked in the loop of desire and craving. If we can stay right there and find our own way to be patient with that energy, it will change. We can notice stories we tell ourselves and we can see how we keep ourselves believing that certain outcomes will make us happy. The truth is that this energy circuit is exactly what takes our freedom away and keeps us locked in the loop of aversion and desire.
5. Remaining there, the intensity of the craving has a chance to decrease; and in a more unbiased way, we can see our preferences for what they are: preferences. That little bit of space is an opening for equanimity. It’s just adding a little bit of openness and curiosity to our normal pattern, but it is a major change in how we function.
6. In that movement towards equanimity we can connect to our heart, to our compassion for all this suffering that is created by the hamster wheel of craving and not liking. This is the space of heart and mind in which everything is possible. Here we can begin to experience peace and from here we can make different choices. Here we can find a mind that is less veiled by our ordinary habit and more likely to see other, possibly wiser options.
7. Finally, we take notice of how different this approach is and then just go on living. Very soon a new situation will show us our habitual tendency again. This time we might already notice our habit more easily and be able to make a more conscious choice right there. “We do often, what we do often.” How we react to situations like this will determine what comes easier to us down the road. It is our choice, again and again.
If we can approach this process with genuine affection for ourselves, with an honest and friendly view, we can find softness, acceptance, maybe even humor right there in the middle of our former struggle.
Have a good week,