Stilling the mind for inner peace

Peace is both desperately longed for and staunchly avoided. Many of our methods to find peace invoke struggle and agitation. As the mystic Samuel Lewis said, "I'm still waiting to see a peace demonstration where they demonstrate peace."

There are two forms of peace: the calm and stillness of the outer world and the calm and stillness that can be found within. The peace of the outer world can be imagined from the vantage point of sitting in a cave where there is no light, sound or activity of any kind. The frenetic activity that is commonplace in the world ceases.

When inner peace develops, the activity of your mind slows and stops. With the absence of mental dialogue, your internal chatter, planning, anticipating, thinking, remembering, imagining, fearing and doubting are not present. Your familiar focus, sense of self and involvement in the world vanish. Since much of your identity is based on your internal dialogue, your story, "you," seem to disappear. Instead of the haziness associated with your overly active mind, a clear, pure awareness of where you are and what is occurring unfolds. You are like a deep, clear spring; the silt, the activity of the mind has settled. Your consciousness becomes like a luminous darkness, filled with a palpable presence.

Peace is dependent upon your relationship to stilling the mind. Calm, deep stillness is possible in the middle of a bustling city, if the inner quietness is present. Or the stress and tension of the mind's incessant activity can disrupt the peacefulness of a vacation on a deserted island.

Much of the calm that is available is interrupted by your desire to listen and debate with the internal endless dialogue. Who is talking to whom? Peace occurs when you can settle into what is occurring without any need to change it, figure it out or worry. The mind's continual dialogue is a survival mechanism that keeps you in line, out of trouble and out of touch with your body. Letting go of the mind's need for control can feel quite terrifying and yet this is what is needed to experience peace.

Observing infants, it is easy to see their peacefulness. Children are naturally permeable to their environment so their inner peace is dependent upon external calm. When a parent is worried, anxious or upset, the baby feels the parent's experience and is distressed. The child cannot self-regulate but is dependent upon the soothing of the outside environment and caregivers to achieve a state of relaxation. Inevitably children experience times in which they are not soothed and hence form strategies to distance from their feelings. These strategies form much of the incessant mind chatter.

Now as adults our minds are essentially strategizing most of the time. Underneath this mind activity there is a belief that we are not safe to just relax and be. Peace is found from accepting the reality of each moment. If you are feeling scared that the financial crisis has decreased your safety net, then relaxation comes from acknowledging your fear and feeling the sensations in your body, not getting lost in the story. The mind wants to strategize rather than experience the reality of the moment. There is peace when there is nowhere that we need to go, nothing to avoid.

To support peace in this world, you must discover what disturbs your inner peace. What is so hard to accept and be with in your life? Inner calm is supported through bringing your focus out of your head and into your body. Noticing your feet in connection with the earth, letting your belly breathing center you, these basic concentrations are remembrances of the support contained in the present moment. As your body calms, your mind stills and awareness tunes you to what is arising. Accepting what is present in each breath, this is peace.

Rod Birney M.D., ABPN and Suzanna Nadler LPC, MEd. co-direct the Self & Soul Retreat Center in Talent, offering counseling and classes. (Check out the breath practices on the resource page.) Rod is the author of "Cities of the Soul."

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