We dream of living in a peaceful world, but before we can do so, we have to discover our own inner peace. It is only after experiencing contentment that we can sow peace in our family, neighborhood, workplace, and community. What is peace of mind? It is not the absence of problems, a big bank account, or a beautiful home, but it is how we choose to feel about our present circumstances. That’s right; it’s a feeling, a feeling we choose to have.
How many problems have you experienced and what happened to them? Weren’t your problems resolved? Won’t all future problems also be resolved? If you keep this in mind, it’ll be easier to maintain your peace of mind when you run into an obstacle. With practice, you’ll be able to dissolve any problem merely by facing it. For when you look at problems closely enough, you will find they are opportunities in disguise.
Focusing on what we don’t have instead of what we do have is one of the main reasons many of us suffer from discontent. TV, radio, and print ads bombard us daily, and their only purpose is to convince us that we are not contented and need something else to be happy. No wonder we find it
difficult to find happiness in ourselves, but be forewarned, you won’t find it anywhere else. I guess they had advertising in ancient Greece too, for Epicurus wrote about the same subject: “Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; but remember what you now have was once among the things only hoped for.”
Imagine for a moment that you return from work and discover that your home or apartment has been robbed. All your possessions are gone! How would you feel? Meanwhile, the next day the police tell you the thief has been captured, and they return all of your property in perfect condition. Now how would you feel? Wouldn’t you feel great? Guess what? Everything has been “returned,” look around you and see for yourself. Now that you know it is there, enjoy it; be happy. Although it’s okay to enjoy possessions, we need to understand that happiness, contentment, and peace of mind don’t arise from what we have, but from what we are. Our desires are insatiable. Possessions can never fulfill us.
As soon as we get the object of our desire, we grow tired of it and want something else. So, the only way to be contented is to give up the desire for the things we think will bring contentment!
Instead of focusing on what we don’t have, we need to be thankful for what we do have. As Melody Beattie wrote, “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” Also, be thankful not only for every wonderful thing you have received, but for every horrible thing you have avoided.
Peace is not something for us to wish for, but something for us to make, do, be and give away. The part about giving it away is important, for as Shantideva, the renowned Indian Buddhist master said, “Whatever joy there is in this world, all comes from desiring others to be happy, and whatever suffering there is in this world arises from desiring only myself to be happy.”
Do you want a simple formula for achieving peace of mind? Do what is right. Do what you ought, not what you please. Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism, also recommended this philosophy, for he wrote:
“Why not simply honor your parents, love your children, help your brothers and sisters, be faithful to your friends, care for your mate with devotion, complete your work cooperatively and joyfully, assume responsibility for problems, practice virtue without first demanding it of others, understand the highest truths yet retain an ordinary manner?”
Nearly 300 years ago, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu expressed this same truth another way: “While conscience is our friend, all is at peace; however once it is offended, farewell to a tranquil mind.”
Our own negativity blocks the peace of mind buried deep within us. Once we free ourselves of our bad attitude, contentment will rise to the top and overflow. What are some of the harmful behaviors we need to stop? Criticism and blame immediately come to mind. When you point at others, look at your own hand and you will find that three fingers point right back at you, so stop blaming others. If you’re a legitimate victim, you have a right to seek justice, but after doing so, get over it; move on; stop complaining. “He insulted me, he cheated me, he beat me, he robbed me. Those who are free of such resentful thoughts surely find peace,” said Buddha.
What else can we do to foster the growth of peace of mind? Accept others as they are; don’t try to change them. If you’ve been wronged, forgive others, but don’t judge them. If you wish to become a true peacemaker, it’s not your friends, but your enemies that you need to talk to.
When we replace the love of power with the power of love, we will have made giant strides in achieving peace. Frederick Buechner articulately described the power of love as follows, “Your life and my life flow into each other as wave flows into wave, and unless there is peace and joy and freedom for you, there can be no real peace or joy or freedom for me. To see reality − not as we expect it to be but as it is − is to see that unless we live for each other and in and through each other, we do not really live very satisfactorily; that there can really be life only where there really is, in just this sense, love.” Armed with these thoughts, let’s go in peace.
The Only Time Our Suffering Will End Is when We Stop Trying to End It
Thomas Parnell‘s description of peace of mind as ‘the sweet delight of human kind” must be true, for why else would we be on an endless quest to experience it? Despite our search, however, we seem to come up empty handed. Why is it that the serenity, peace of mind. tranquility, repose, contentment, calmness, stillness, well-being, happiness, and bliss that we search for seem to evade many?
Actually, peace of mind is our natural inheritance. Experiencing it is not a matter of discovering it, but uncovering it. You see, it lies buried within us, beneath the barriers we have erected. Once we remove the obstructions of our own making, all that remains is peace of mind. What are the impediments to happiness that we have created? Well, they include greed, fear, anger, stress, frustration, worry, regret, and mistrust. After uncovering the calm that lies at the core of our being, we will be undisturbed by the turbulence and violence that surrounds us, for we will always be able to remain in the eye (calm) of any hurricane.
How shall we begin to remove our self-constructed roadblocks to happiness? Start by eliminating anger. Why is everyone so angry? Didn’t Christ tell us to forgive our enemies? How much more so should we forgive our spouse, parents, siblings, friends, acquaintances, coworkers, employers, and neighbors? But how can we forgive those who have been so hurtful to us? We can do so by becoming aware of three things.
First, have you forgotten that those you hold a grudge against are dying? Have you been taken in by appearances and convinced yourself that everything is permanent? Look again. Everyone you meet is on their deathbed. They are here for only the briefest moment. Knowing this, how can you be angry at them? Have you no compassion? You don’t have to be a saint to be compassionate. All you have to do is be aware. Compassion flows from awareness. Once you are aware of the facts, you cannot help but be compassionate.
Second, be aware of why those who hurt you do so. It has nothing to do with you and everything to do with them. They are cruel to you because they are in pain. They are filled with self-doubt, insecurities, and suspicions. They are misguided, misled, and misinformed. They are fearful and lost, confused and frustrated. They hunger for recognition and approval. Granted, they may be going about it the wrong way. But their only sin is ignorance. Knowing this, how can you be angry at them?
You can only be angry at them if you are guilty of the same sin, which is ignorance or lack of awareness. This is the third point to be aware of. That is, you are as guilty as they are. As a fellow human being, you share the same weaknesses. In fact, your anger ‘at them’ is really the anger you feel toward yourself. You are angry at yourself because of your own cruelty. When you stop being angry at yourself, you’ll stop being angry at others.
And whatever cruelty you engage in, it is not because you are ‘bad,’ but because you are unaware. So, open your eyes and let the light of wisdom fill your heart. Forgive yourself and others, and experience the peace that follows.
Once we become aware of the pain of others, we naturally progress to the stage where we wish to end their suffering. We express this desire by doing acts of kindness. Instead of hostility, we offer encouragement, wish others well, and grow magnanimous enough to delight in their successes. At this stage, we not only help others, but help ourselves by removing impediments to our own happiness, for we cannot be kind to others without dissolving our own greed, envy, jealously, and selfishness.
Another barrier we create that blocks the peace of mind we seek is the demand we make that the world cater to our every wish. It is a delusion to believe we are the center of the universe and its only purpose is to give us pleasure. The childish demand that everything proceed exactly as we wish inevitably leads to frustration, anguish, and disappointment. Merely to exist for the sake of pleasure is equivalent to never leaving the womb. It’s time to stop sucking our thumb and start assuming responsibility, for we have an important role to play. It is to make the world a better place. And the world, in turn, grants us experiences so that we may become better people, stronger people, more loving people. When we are aware of this mutually beneficial relationship of eternal growth for the better, how can we not experience serenity?
A friend complained that she is no longer happy at work because everyone is so negative. She has a cause to be concerned because negativity is yet another barrier to peace of mind. But what she does not understand is that ‘they’ are not negative. The world is not negative. Any negativity, if it exists at all, exists in one’s own mind. It is one’s own creation. It is a judgment we choose to make. My friend’s coworkers are merely people, but she has decided to insert an adjective and describe them as ‘negative’ people. If she insists on using an adjective, she would be wiser to describe them as ‘misunderstood’ people, for she misunderstands the cause of their occasional ruthlessness. Why does my friend insist on revealing how much pain she experiences while forgetting about the pain of others? Can you see how the cause of all our suffering is lack of awareness?
Buddha reveals a major barrier to peace of mind when he tells us to eliminate desire. And here’s how the same idea is expressed in the Bhagavad-Gita, which was written a century before the birth of Buddha, “He knows peace who has forgotten desire.” Those who fail to receive the object of their desire often experience anger, resentment, or frustration. Or if they do get it, they may then experience the fear of possibly losing it. Or they may quickly tire of it and want another object, for how can we satisfy our hunger when we have an insatiable appetite? When we endlessly chase after things, we become beggars. But when we appreciate the little we have, we become rich. In the “Gulistan,” written in 1258, Sa’di (short for Shaykh Muslih al-Din Sa’di Shirazi) shares the same idea when he writes, “If thou covetest riches, ask not but for contentment, which is an immense treasure.” True tranquility of spirit comes from the awareness that the source of contentment lies not in what we have, but in what we are.
Lovely, lasting peace of mind. Isn’t it the sweet delight of human kind? So, let’s unearth it by excavating the barriers that have kept it buried so long!
How Can We Remain Calm in the Midst of Misfortune?
We may not agree with everything that happens in life, but what should we do when we are embroiled in events that we would not willingly choose? Should we fight them or accept them as the inevitable cost of being alive? Ah, that is the question! The key is balance between accepting what is unavoidable and struggling to change things for the better. But how do we know what is unavoidable? How do we know what can and should be changed? How do we distinguish between paths that lead to a futile fight with one that leads to a valiant victory?
Making the wrong choice leads to much heartache, regret, and suffering. Yet, it is not easy to distinguish between correct and incorrect action. It takes wisdom to do so. And wisdom rests firmly on knowledge, experience, common sense, and rational thinking. Let’s look at some examples.
Tom discovers that people often treat him and others rudely. Not because of anything Tom has done, but merely because they are thoughtless people. As expected, Tom does not welcome rude behaviour. But since he, like all of us, must deal with people regularly, he is forced to experience rudeness. So, how should he respond? His natural inclination may be to get upset. We don’t have any control over emotions that unexpectedly rise within us. However, once we are aware of anger or any other negative emotion, we can choose between letting it go or dwelling on it and giving in to it. So, after Tom feels a momentary flash of anger, he can brush it aside and get on with life or give in to it and react with hostility.
How should he respond? How would you respond? The correct response requires wisdom. And wisdom, to repeat myself, needs knowledge, experience, common sense, and rational thinking. Using these tools, let’s take a closer look at Tom’s problem. Is the rudeness he experiences unavoidable or can it be changed for the better? Sometimes it can be changed. For example, Tom can practice assertive behaviour and say to a store clerk, “Excuse me, Sir, after making a purchase, I don’t want you to throw my change on the counter like that because I feel like you are treating it and me like trash. Instead, I would like you to return the change politely to all your customers.” To which the clerk may respond, “Whoops! Sorry about that; I must have been daydreaming.” Yes, sometimes we can change things for the better.
On the other hand, the clerk may respond by saying, “Buzz off!” Now what do you do? You could speak to the Manager. But the Manager may defend the clerk by saying, “The store is very busy and he is under a great deal of pressure. He simply doesn’t have time to be, as you put it, ‘polite.’” The point is, sooner or later, we will discover that we cannot force everyone to be polite. We will also discover our choices have costs. For instance, we will learn that if we allow ourselves to become angry about the behaviour of others, we rob ourselves of happiness. For how can an angry person be a happy person? That’s what Buddha meant when he taught, “You will not be punished for your anger; you will be punished by it.” To rob ourselves of happiness is self-defeating and, therefore, irrational.
Putting everything together, Tom gained the experience that people are sometimes rude. After taking various actions, he gained the knowledge that you cannot change everyone for the better. He also experienced the pain of getting upset over something that is unavoidable. Later he experienced the peace and restoration of happiness that follows from letting go of negative feelings. Therefore, common sense and rational thinking led him to conclude he is better off accepting, not fighting, what cannot be changed. This conclusion was based on wisdom. Can you see how when we bear (accept) misfortune, we, in fact, overcome it?
The wise are never disturbed by rudeness. For they have learned it is an opportunity to grow by practicing assertiveness, patience, compassion, and forgiveness. The unwise who have grown up in a culture that glorifies violence as manliness, are afraid of appearing weak. So, they fight rudeness every step of the way. How ironic it is that in their attempts to appear strong, they reveal their own weakness. Another paradox is that those who ‘give in’ to rudeness by not getting upset are the ones who help eliminate it by their good examples.
There are times, however, when we should take a stand, such as fighting grievous injustice. The world needs the liberating influences of people like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela. It also needs those unsung heroes who are lawyers in certain repressive countries that dare to challenge the authorities or tradition. They boldly defend those who have been condemned to die by stoning because of adultery, premarital sex, or having the ‘audacity’ to be raped.
Of these great men and women who have fought injustice, it will be said, “Choosing to die resisting rather than to live submitting, they fled only from dishonor, but met danger face to face.” (Taken from a funeral address delivered in 431 BC by Pericles, the statesman largely responsible for developing Athenian democracy.) Our duty is to follow the noble examples of past and present leaders by helping to end injustice, in whatever way we can, in our own community.
Let’s return to Tom and another problem. His doctor told him he has a terminal disease and will live for a year at the longest. What should Tom do? Should he calmly accept his death sentence or should he fight it? We have already learned that it is irrational to fight the unavoidable. After all, the inability to accept what is and what cannot be changed leads to unhappiness. But we also learned about the role of knowledge, experience, and common sense. Without these ingredients, we cannot make a wise decision.
Is Tom’s early death unavoidable, as the doctor claims? Well, sometimes a prognosis is not a fact, but an opinion. Psychoneuroimmunology (the field of medicine that deals with the effect of our thoughts and emotions on our immune system) clearly shows that a positive attitude (joyfulness, faith, hope, courage, and the love of overcoming challenges) can have a profound influence on illness. Many of us know people that were told to prepare for death many years ago, but beat the odds and are in the best of health today.
So, what should Tom do? Armed with the above knowledge and experience, common sense tells us that Tom has nothing to lose and everything to gain by maintaining a positive attitude. Wouldn’t you agree? Today’s lesson, then, is that we should accept what we cannot change, try to bring about change where it is needed, and develop the wisdom to distinguish between what can and cannot be changed. Put in another way, we could also say the foundation of serenity is acceptance and flexibility, accepting the way things are, rather than the way we prefer them to be, and the flexibility to adapt to the changes that life hurls our way.
Peace of Mind: Becoming Fully Present by Thich Nhat Hanh
Anxiety Happens: 52 Ways to Find Peace of Mind by John P. Forsyth PhD and Georg H. Eifert PhD
52 Weeks of Tranquility Journal Diary by Kimberly Wilson
Be Calm: Proven Techniques to Stop Anxiety Now by Jill Weber PhD
Gen Kelsang Nyema: Happiness is all in your mind
Chuck Gallozzi lived, studied, and worked in Japan for 15 years, immersing himself in the wisdom of the Far East and graduating with B.A. and M.A. degrees in Asian Studies. He is a Certified NLP Practitioner, speaker, seminar leader, and coach. Corporations, church groups, teachers, counselors, and caregivers use his more than 400 articles as a resource to help others. Among his diverse accomplishments, he is also the Grand Prix Winner of a Ricoh International Photo Competition, the Canadian National Champion of a Toastmasters International Humorous Speech Contest, and the Founder and Head of the Positive Thinkers Group that has been meeting at St. Michael’s Hospital, Toronto since 1999. His articles are published in books, newsletters, magazines, and newspapers. He was interviewed on CBC’s “Steven and Chris Show,” appearing nationally on Canadian TV. Chuck can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. View his photography at https://500px.com/chuckgallozzi. This article cannot be re-published without permission.