Practicing Peace

Based on my writings, you might think I am in a continuously peaceful outer state, untouched by life’s vacillations. Well, sometimes yes, sometimes no. Mostly, I find my way to it, again and again. Peace is a practice for me, a daily connection to my innermost being, which plays out as occasional reminders to myself when my mind or emotions wander into uncertain territory. It’s easy to get lost in worry with one anxious thought. For instance: “What if it is rainy and windy on the day I fly?” An entire chain reaction of worries can follow: turbulence, zero visibility, plane crash. In a split second, fear can vividly project an imagined end to my life. Unless I consciously intervene with a deep breath and a return to peace (an ever-present part of my soul), my thoughts/feelings can take me on a rocky ride with no return ticket. Best to nip it in the bud.

My life is the fulfillment of a soul plan, a divine design. I know that with everything in me. I am not the designated solo artist of the big picture. It actually reassures me to realize I can’t control every outcome, to trust that a greater Presence weaves the cosmic tapestry. Yet, human habits of fear arise. We inherit them, as a species and as a member of a particular human family. The only real solution is conscious awareness and acceptance. We came to this planet to experience all the emotions—and then to reach a point of realizing their lack of substance, their temporary status. If we don’t get stuck in them, emotions pass right on through. What remains is stillness, where peace itself resides. This is soul territory.

Each time I take a deep breath and receive that deep inner soul peace, my entire world is also peaceful. Inner = outer. That’s how it works. Breathe consciously. Be grateful. You then move through your day in a quieter, gentler state of mind. Your heart opens to everyone and everything. You radiate the peace that is an integral part of your being. If each one of us on the planet breathed peace into our lives, consciously connected to our heart and soul, a shift would occur at a global level.

Of course, it is an ongoing practice. And by practice, I don’t mean struggling, efforting. Rather, gentle reminders throughout the day; it’s as easy as breathing. Take a deep breath; let go; accept what is; live in gratitude. The world outside reflects your inner world. If you feel fear, that is what you will experience. If you see wonder and miracles, that is what you will experience. Sounds simple, and it is. Just remember the peace that dwells within you always. Life can be sometimes bumpy, sometimes smooth as silk, but it’s all worth it. The exquisitely beautiful living mural that is our life on Earth can be clearly seen through the eyes of peace.
“There is no path to peace,
Peace is the way.”—A. J. Muste

The Wandering Mind

In Western culture, we learn to let the mind direct us, as if it were the designated all-knowing leader on a journey through the uncertain jungle of life. The mind is ever-busy, looking for problems to solve, but it often gets lost in the looking. The mind’s focus is always shifting, past or future: looking backward with regret or forward with trepidation. Rarely present, it leads us down a path of endless, restless movement, never at peace with life as it is. The expression “your mind is wandering” is a fairly accurate description of our usual mental state—unless we find a way to break the habit of dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.

If we happen to meet a Buddhist or yogi on our life path, we may encounter a different way of looking at the world: focusing on the present moment, one breath at a time. This changes everything. I began a meditation practice (insight meditation) about 40 years ago, and it has gradually shifted how I see the world and how I live day to day. Or rather, moment to moment. All the wise teachings I have encountered over the years have emphasized present-moment awareness, the key to peace of mind. This is accessed through the breath—because you can’t breathe in the past or future. Focusing on each breath, I am brought back to the now, and peace arises within me. My mind stops wandering, and I experience the peace of presence.

It is not an instant overnight occurrence; it is a practice. And I am still practicing, reminding myself to return to the breath, to the present, to peace. This may be the greatest wisdom of my spiritual journey—to rest in the peace of mind that arises from that deep awareness. Whenever I find myself worrying about some future event or regretting something I did or said in the past, if I can remember to take a deep breath and come back to the moment, I am at peace again. And nothing else exists but that peace. The more I repeat this process, the deeper it is ingrained in me, and the more easily I shift into it.

Basically, that means aligning with my soul, because the soul never feels fear or regret. It lives in the present moment, and there, there is only peace. The soul is always with us throughout our lives to gently remind us of that peaceful space within us. Perhaps that is the reason for all life journeys: to discover the peace that is the source of all life on Earth. In peace, there is no suffering. No judgment or fear or struggle. We can look in each other’s eyes and see the light that connects us all to a greater universal peace. We let go of fear and allow trust to arise in our hearts.

There is a wonderful animated film called How to Train Your Dragon. In it, the main character, a young Viking, turns away from aspiring to be a dragon slayer when he looks into the eyes of a dragon he is about to kill and sees the same vulnerability and fear that is within him. Instead, he reaches out and touches the dragon, and they become lifetime companions, each looking out for the other. The Vikings and dragons gradually learn to live in peace and harmony with one another.

Many of us live with a dragon of fear and mistrust within us, on the defense against past or future danger and misfortune. Our minds have learned to be our defenders, ever wandering in search of problems. If we befriend that dragon and “train” it to trust life, we can live in peace. With each breath, we have that opportunity. The mind can stop wandering and rest in the beauty and peace of the present moment.

Timeless Slow Motion

The experience of calendar- and clock-oriented time has seemed to fade and often dissolve completely over the past two to three years of radical changes in the world. I find that many people I know comment on how they often have no idea what day or month it is until they stop and think about it. Life has given us the opportunity to live the ancient wisdom of present-moment awareness in which time does not exist. Now is timeless. There is only Presence. It may be hard to get used to at first, but gradually there is a letting go into a greater sense of being alive, one that is not constrained by human parameters or mental constructions that explain the world. Being alive and being aware of life is all there is.

In 2018 I moved from Massachusetts to Florida; in 2020 I moved back. Within that span of time, a pandemic brought the world to a standstill. Busy-ness of all kinds subsided. My own life became mainly morning meditation, yoga, writing, and daily walks on a nature trail outside my door. Most other things fell away. In 2021­–2022, as I lived through a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment, even my past identity began to dissolve. I let go completely into appreciating each second of my life. Today, as people try to get back their pre-pandemic lives and return to “normal” activities, I find myself reluctant to become “busy” again. My entire being wants to move in slow motion and be fully present with a minimum of activities, such as writing or walking in Nature. I am most at peace then.

There is no time in Nature. When I walk quietly among the trees, listening to the call of the wood thrush or cardinal, I do not count the minutes and keep track of how much time has passed. I am fully in the moment and nothing else exists. The color of the sky and the movement of the clouds engage my heart and soul. I frequently stop and just stare at the beauty around me. A flower, butterfly, or bee is a tiny miracle; if I walk swiftly, I miss them entirely. “Slow” is a gift; “timeless” is a gift. I am grateful for all that happened in my life that brought me to this space of just plain “being.”

Major events, whether personal (like cancer) or global (like COVID), shatter reality and give us the opportunity to see the world and ourselves with fresh eyes and no past frameworks. If we remain in this open space without refilling it with previous mindsets that keep us spinning in place, then limitless possibilities open up all around us. The most powerful of which is just to see the world each morning with clear vision and no preconceptions.

Allow the present to move you; don’t try to control it or force it along a particular mental path. When you accept each moment as it arises, your soul can guide you in living a life that peacefully flows and flowers, even in the midst of illness or extreme changes in the external world. Indeed, maybe this is why crisis comes to humans—to teach them fluidity and gratitude. Perhaps our souls chose these particular lifetimes on Planet Earth to help humanity evolve into full conscious awareness of timeless presence and connection to something greater in the universe. Slow down, smile, and watch time disappear.

Fear and Trust

We all live with both fear and trust inside us. Fear is the residue of past painful events and the emotional triggers that can make us relive them and think something similar may happen again. Today the entire world lives with the fear engendered by a global pandemic and the illnesses and deaths that have accompanied it. In addition, political discord divides our planet. Each of us handles such fears in a variety of ways: distraction, denial, depression, nervous apprehension, sadness. Or just allowing the feelings to flow through and accepting them. The acceptance arises from a trust that lives deep within each of us. We were born with it.

Trust is the spirit of life itself. It is a connection to something greater than the specific events of your life. Some call this God or Universal Consciousness, but it is beyond labels and even beyond human understanding. The longer you live, the more opportunities you have to remember this connection and open to trusting it.  Sometimes in the midst of a very frightening or sad experience, you may realize that acceptance is the only thing that brings peace of mind. A peace that sidesteps the mind’s attempts to understand and control the situation. Acceptance opens the door to trust. Trust that comes from the wisdom of the heart and soul.

I have had many opportunities to get in touch with acceptance and trust in recent years. I’ve moved from one part of the country to another and then back again, my sense of “home” in constant flux. A dear lifetime friend died unexpectedly, and I felt my heart break. I have also lived through the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer. Each of these life events affected me immensely and ultimately taught me to let go at the deepest possible level. Cancer, in particular, was a teacher of the most profound wisdom with regard to acceptance. When I accepted that cancer was indeed part of my soul’s path for this lifetime, I was able to move through the experience with trust instead of fear. It has been a year since my diagnosis and treatment, and the deeper truths I learned inform my life daily.

Simultaneously, COVID too has been a major factor for me in living with acceptance. The specter of COVID and its variants forms the background for our lives now, whether we try to ignore it or think of it continually. Perhaps it has come to teach us on a grand scale that there are things we can’t control and that only acceptance will bring peace of mind. Whether it is a hurricane, a pandemic, or a physical condition, there are always events we just have to surrender to and do the best we can to live through consciously. Life is a drama that includes every extreme. At times it feels overwhelming, and we want to rewrite the script, forgetting that we designed our life path before birth.

Everything is happening for our awakening and expansion. If you can embrace this truth, it puts you in touch with the peace at your core. A peace that gently moves you through fear to trust. Trust in the events of your life, however they may appear, and trust in your self and your soul’s journey. You may think everything is chaos in your life, but your heart and soul know better. It is all a sacred passage into the light of peaceful awareness.

The View from Above

I don’t know if it’s because I have lived through breast cancer or through multiple decades on Earth, but I see the world differently now. When you face a serious diagnosis, identification with the smaller concerns of the individual self begins to slip away. And what seemed so important at 20 falls to the wayside later in life. I have written previously about living as soul more than identity now. Open heart space instead of crowded mental highways. That’s as close as I can come to expressing the change. Different experiences engage me. I rise at dawn, meditate, do yoga, and write. I listen to the music of morning birdsong and nighttime crickets. I take long walks in Nature and find that my awareness deepens as I walk wordlessly in the stillness there. (“Be still and know you are God.”)

Don’t get me wrong—I love my friends and family and all the varied parts of my life, past and present. It’s just different now. Often I feel immersed in a kind of expansive consciousness, and anything less powerful and compelling seems only a passing distraction. I know that every moment on Earth is precious, and I appreciate that with all my heart. Yet, part of me is sitting out among the stars seeing the entire cosmos beyond time and space. From that place, there is a letting go of doing into just being. Witnessing life and allowing it to flow with and through me, without attachment or judgment.

Is this the course our lives take, from birth to death? A continuous gradual awakening to a loving awareness that spans all dimensions? Perhaps we are each experiencing this in our own unique way. Some of us speak of it, some don’t. Some of us move forward excitedly; others hold back. It doesn’t matter. We will all reach the same “place” eventually, perfectly, and no clock is measuring our progress. It is the soul’s journey, beyond time and space.

I used to be frightened of flying, terrified that the plane would crash, and I would die. Now I feel more like I am being transported on angel wings when I fly, given a secret glimpse into a world of clouds and light that some think of as heaven. Maybe it is. Actually, maybe everything we experience, however we label it, is heaven because there is nothing else. Infinite consciousness experiencing itself, on Earth and in the skies. When we die, we realize that everything is one magical dream, ours and God’s.

Too far out or intangible? Well, that’s the view from above—everything blends seamlessly into everything else. We humans like to separate and delineate, but it’s only a mind game to entertain us while we’re here. As we depart this dimension, we see every boundary dissolve into oneness, and we realize that we came to Earth for exactly that experience.