How creating peace on the inside can become your ultimate powerful tool to help you create change on the outside
Something is bothering you. It’s not just the varying sensations of disbelief, helplessness, fear and even anger at some of the more recent political events — globally as well as in your own backyard. It’s not just the occasional turmoil in your close relationships, at work or within your community of family and friends. And it’s not just the overall sense that things are less and less foreseeable, that even some of your best plans aren’t making you feel confident and calm anymore. It’s more than that. Let’s have a look…
Step 1: Take an honest inventory of your current situation
What I’m talking about is of a more subtle nature. At least at first. Something has been bothering you for a while. It may have started out as a lingering feeling of unrest, a steady note of discontent or unhappy undertones that have become familiar companions in your otherwise quite well-tempered life. As time passes you may notice how even little things are prone to raise your temper, tears come easily, and sudden sadness or a lack of energy are right there underneath the surface.
But you keep on going, doing all the things that are making up your daily routine, perhaps numbing yourself with an overly ambitious (yet quite doable!) workload. You find yourself spending your days and nights in a constant state of stress which, even at low levels, causes your mind and body to be in a continuous mode of fight or flight.
This is what Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh calls habit energy. If you are resonating with what I’ve outlined above you are most likely living in a state of low-frequency or negatively tainted habit energy.
You may rightfully point out that there’s a lot going on in your life. Your thoughts may revolve around health concerns, aging, money, relationship issues, retirement, supporting yourself and others, caregiving for an elderly parent — you name it, the list goes on. And somewhere way down on that list there is a little place that says ‘And what about me?’ This is your essential Self talking, the part of you that knows that you are inherently precious and worthy of being heard and seen in this world.
You don’t like to look at that last point on your list very often because it immediately brings up feelings of guilt, maybe shame or even fear of wanting more for your Self. These thoughts and feelings are what your social Self has been taught from early childhood on. Familiar notions such as ‘you should be grateful for what you have’ and ‘lots of people have it way worse than you’ have trained your mind and turned it into an obedient, little monkey that will ignore the voice that whispers ‘what about me?’ and quickly go back into his little cage.
This negative habit energy — feeling worried, stagnant, anxious, sleepless, resigned, empty, tired, hopeless, frustrated, trapped and generally worn out— often has to do with a lack of perspective for your Self. In order to re-habituate your internal monkey mind it needs to learn to believe that other viable options are within reach. It needs to come out of his cage and have a good look around. Learning, in other words, broadening your self-perspective, is a big part of creating the change that will let you travel on a more meaningful, fulfilling life path.
And here is one crucially important thing to know about learning. A tense and tired mind will not let you absorb and process new information. If you want to learn how to create change you will need to learn how to create peace inside of your Self first. Sounds easy? A little rest, a little meditation, a little yoga, healthy food and reducing all stress factors in your life to a minimum, right? If it was this easy you probably wouldn’t still be reading this piece up to this point. Read on…
Step 2: Check your perspective
Imagine you are a bee that is caught indoors behind the clear glass of a big window pane. You can see quite clearly where you want to go: Out into the big, wide, open world where you are free to peruse the multitude of floral engagement invites, pursue your happiness and fulfill the purpose of your life. Except you just don’t seem to be able to get there. You expend enormous amounts of energy buzzing in front of the clear glass, flapping your wings with all the might you have, banging your head against an invisible wall — all this without getting any closer to your goal. It’s so frustrating! You can see the beautiful trees, the flowers and the blue sky. Everything is right there. All of these lovely treasures — and you just can not get there — no matter how hard you try!
Does this sound familiar? It’s a great metaphor for how many of us live our lives. We all have hopes and dreams and wishes. And we all have a right to go after them!
Let’s get back to the negatively charged habit energy I was talking about. The level of stress may vary, but never the less, it’s there almost all of the time. That means that we as an organism of considerable complexity never really get to be in a one hundred percent relaxed resting status. We don’t sleep well or long enough, and our days are filled with a continuous low-grade anxiety about one thing or another. Our minds and bodies are in a constant state of vigilance, sometimes hyper-vigilance. And because we’re so caught up in our go-go-go mode our ability to see what’s going on has turned into a very narrow perspective. Our monkey mind answers any question about change, any attempt to break a pattern, with the quick and witty auto-response ‘But I have to….!’ And it’s been saying it for so long you’re not even questioning it anymore.
But, and here is the big question: Is it true? Do you really have to…?
What if you were the bee (and yes, there is a tiny monkey in your head — bear with me) and you stopped for a moment, just long enough to gather your wits, maybe even take a little nap because, admit it, buzzing around and banging your head into an invisible wall doesn’t exactly lend itself to a particularly productive outcome when it comes to creating change. So you’re the bee — be the bee! — and you rest for a moment. You sit on the window sill and breathe. And suddenly your wings are starting to pick up the delicious sensation of a most tender touch. You are startled and turn around, but there’s no one there. Instead, you notice a gentle breeze that comes from the opposite side of the room. You see another big, square opening, a window, on the wall that was behind you — completely outside of your field of vision — just a moment ago. It’s glass doors are open and white gauze curtains are billowing in the breeze, opening their arms to invite you to come closer. You can see the sky and the trees and the flowers in all their glory again. All you have to do is spread your wings and fly!
And what pops up in your head is a familiar thought: ‘If I couldn’t make it happen before, why should it work this time?’ In the world of behavioral science, this is called ‘learned helplessness.’ You have conditioned your (social monkey) Self to believe that you are trapped and unable to (figuratively and literally) move forward — even if the window is wide open!
So you have tunnel vision and invisible breaks built into your modus operandi. Good to know. No reason to give up! Read on…
Step 3: Expose yourself to a conscious key experience
If you asked 20 people who have created enough change in their lives to live an awake, meaningful, balanced life how they got to where they are now I bet you they all have one thing in common. I bet you that each and every one of them experienced one or several events — I call them key experiences — that made them come to a screeching halt, stop flailing and catch their breath before becoming very still. And I mean completely still. A level of stillness that is almost scary because it has become so unfamiliar in our noisy lives. But it’s exactly this level of stillness that is needed to get to the next place and that is — you guessed it — peace.
Peace is the place where you can breathe without going directly into the next ‘doing’ part of your life. Peace is the place where you can practice your ‘being.’ And when you’re in the place of being at peace your field of vision starts to widen and your sense of awareness is starting to tingle with anticipation again. Parts of you that have felt numb or asleep are starting to wake up and dare to come out into the open. You can stretch and yawn and look around. And for this moment in time nothing needs to be done. See everything with brand-new eyes! And before you know it your peaceful mind is going into a state of expansion. Expanding on what feels good and on what you will want to invite into your life next. How delightful!
So what exactly is a key experience? It could be anything — a health crisis, a loved-one passing on, a divorce, an unexpected change of your professional path and/or financial status — something that causes you to stop and know that life from here on forward will be drastically different. Sometimes you can track back the steps that lead up to a particularly cataclysmic event, and sometimes it comes as a complete surprise. These are events that fall into the category of life lessons that happen to us. Everybody goes through them as part of their human experience.
And then there is the second category, something I like to think of as a conscious key experience. This, my friend, is where you take on the role of an active student of life. It means that you say to yourself: “I, (insert your name here), am in charge if my life!” You say it. You breathe. You mean it. This is where you are committing to being the captain of your universe —even if your voice is quivering just the tiniest little bit.
This is where you consciously choose to expose yourself to key experiences that will help you understand where you want to go from here. You may decide to do something that you have never done before. Take an art class, go to a concert all by yourself, go on a trip to a place where you don’t speak the native language, book a spot on a retreat that seems unusual and intriguing, volunteer at a place that may rock your world, go sky-diving… Anything that will take you out your comfort zone enough to make you stop and think ‘Wow! I never thought I’d do this!’ Because whenever you go out on a limb — even one of your own choosing — you’re going to break an old pattern. You’re going to have to catch your breath for a moment, enjoy the high of conquering the fear of the unknown, feel the joy, recover from the unusual disturbance of your equilibrium, and realize that you’re still in one piece. And that you have landed at a new place. You are at peace.
Step 4: Find new practices and create new habit energy
So that was fun! Let’s do it again, right? Key experiences — especially the conscious ones — have a tendency to make us feel exhilarated and delightfully free. Before we get to the place of peace and clarity, endorphins are in full swing, and what could be better than doing it again? And again. And then some more, right?
Do you notice something? You’re going right into the place of ‘doing’ again! This time it’s with a lot more joy and pleasure in the forecast, but if you’re not careful you can lose yourself in another phase of doing without being and without creating meaningful change.
In order to stay in charge of your own most beautiful, meaningful life you will need to practice a conscious version of restraint. Restrain your desire to go into full-throttle-overkill mode of what you think is the most amazingly fun and beautiful thing you’ve done in a long time. If you don’t you may drift off into a thrill-seeking fog, chasing one high after another. You will lose your clarity, your sense of distinction between the ordinary and the exquisite which is your brand-new power tool, your vision guide, as you move forward and make some leeway on your quest to grow your precious Self.
Resist the temptation of over-doing, search for teachers and teachings, find guides and guidance, and choose practices that will serve you to change your habit energy to a more purposeful, well-paced and fruitful frequency. As you surrender yourself to the process, peace will become your companion, practice will become your path, and fulfillment will become your journey.
A beautiful way of expressing this concept comes from the movie ‘Hidden Tiger, Crouching Dragon’ where Li Mu Bai says to one of his protagonists to whom he offers his teachings: “No growth without assistance. No action without reaction. No desire without restraint. Now give yourself up and find yourself again.”
Remember: Be the bee.
[First published 01-11-2017]