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

Your Identity and Soul

Your identity and your soul dance with each other throughout your life. You are born as pure soul into a physical form and return to formless soul presence at death. Gradually, with each life experience, that form takes on an identity, made up of memories, thoughts, and feelings. The soul steps to the background as the identity experiences life in this way. It never disappears; it just allows the identity to follow the course of its destiny, the one the soul and God designed for you before birth. You chose to have certain life experiences, both joy and sadness, loss and celebration. Through it all your soul is a quiet voice whispering guidance. Sometimes you hear it, sometimes not. Either way, life continues.

Then at a certain point, your identity may reach a moment of awakening, perhaps through spiritual epiphany, perhaps through crisis. That crack in the seemingly solid form your identity has taken, opens the door for your soul’s more expansive presence. The wisdom of acceptance and surrender to the course of life events arises in your consciousness. You stop trying to control and begin to allow. A deeper love of life, of self, and of others comes to the fore. This is your soul’s greatest gift.

I have experienced much of this over the years, both through spiritual practice and through life’s challenges. A global pandemic and breast cancer were my greatest teachers about the inner peace that comes from acceptance. They occurred one right after the other in my life after many years of spiritual exploration and growth. With them, I felt my identity begin to recede a bit and my soul move to the fore. There was no sense of loss, but rather a profound peace and trust in all of life, as well as death and eternity. I had feared the latter since childhood. Perhaps it took actually coming face to face with the possibility of death for me to let go into trusting in an infinite consciousness that held me and all of the world in loving beingness.

This may sound like a fairy tale or wishful thinking, but I assure you this is what happened for me. It is not an instant transformation but rather a gradual opening to full soul awareness. Today, I feel more deeply aligned with my soul, trusting in the divine flow of the universe. Yet, my identity has not entirely disappeared. It is like a thread that tethers me lightly to this lifetime, present in a passing thought or feeling. I know my identity is not to be disregarded and discarded. It is to be loved along with everything else in my life. My soul gave me my identity so I could experience life fully. If I can remember that whenever I feel apprehensive about something, then soul trust arises and all is well.

Your identity and soul are partners, your life support system, linked in love. Your soul is eternal, your identity temporary, but together they fill your life with meaning and purpose. Acknowledging their interconnected presence allows you to experience life with full conscious awareness of the miracle and gift that is life on Earth.

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.

New Year(s)

We think of each new year as a chance to start over, to begin again and get it right this time. A clean slate, a fresh calendar of days, a whole new, more perfect you. But what if everything is already “right,” and you are already “perfect”? What if the world and each of us is exactly the way we are meant to be for the universe and humanity to evolve and shift to a full conscious awareness of our own being, our own integral presence in the fabric of life?

Though we have created vast networks of knowledge and laws and religions, we actually know nothing. We are guessing at the reasons for our existence, who we are, and why we are on Earth. We construct elaborate stories to explain everything and then we blame ourselves and each other when we don’t live up to how we think things are supposed to be—our belief systems. We argue and fight wars over all the various interpretations of human life and human behavior. We think that will change things.

In truth, we are actually following a design set in motion before we were born. We are souls on a path of becoming. When we recognize that and see the softness of soul in each other, the world will become a softer place. That awareness is coming; it is in fact arising more and more every day. When you witness a random act of kindness in your day, there it is. When a stranger smiles at you, there it is. When a friend tells you they love you, there it is.

The other day I noticed our mail carrier giving treats to two dogs as they passed by with their human companions. She said she loves dogs and has 40 on her route that she brings treats for every day. There it is again. A friend with limited funds told about how the person ahead of her in the grocery line paid for her purchases when they saw her slowly and carefully counting her bills. And there it is yet again.

People are not as selfish and mean as we sometimes think they are. Perhaps they are just wounded and lost and need a kind word or generous act to help them feel hope again. We each have the opportunity to do that for someone else in our daily lives. And for ourselves as well. The saying goes that love is stronger than hate or fear, and I believe that is true. Despite what you may feel sometimes about the state of humanity, inside we are all vulnerable beings with tender hearts. Moment by moment, individual by individual, heart by heart, we are opening to that deeper truth, the soul design we came into this world with.

So don’t give up hope, don’t lose heart. Trust that you carry the “new year” with you in every precious second of your life. You and every other being on this unique blue and green globe circling through the heavens. We don’t know why we are here with our minds, but our hearts know it is for the love we share and then pass forward into the future. Happy New Years!

The Tree of Life

I am looking out my kitchen window at the tree in my neighbors’ backyard. It is October and the green leaves are turning golden/red, some beginning to fall to the ground. The coleus on their porch looks slightly less full and is fading in color. Soon the tree will be bare, and the coleus leaves will also have fallen to the yard below. This is the cycle of life, for trees, for plants, for humans. Seeds to fallen leaves, becoming one with the Earth from which they grew. Spring, summer, fall, winter. Baby, child, adult, elder. Birth, death, rebirth.

The tree of life has many branches, many experiences. If I compare myself to a tree, I can see the human life cycle playing out in the seasonal changes of the tree. We are born in spring, bloom in summer, come into our full colorful wisdom in autumn, and then gradually, gently, one by one, our leaves begin to fade and fall. The winter of our lives appears so much closer then. We can see death in the distance. Ironically, though, as we age, we also begin to see spring on the other side.

When I was a child, I feared death as an end, eternity as an empty void. As I grow older, I am beginning to sense the never-ending continuity of life and death. They are really one, these two experiences that we have been led to believe are polar opposites. The whole, seen together, is Presence, living consciousness that is eternal. If you have a spiritual background, you may see that as God or the Divine Mother; it is also what we are at the soul level. No separation—between God/dess and soul, between life and death. It is all infinite consciousness experiencing itself in a multitude of ways. Awareness, arising from the soul, expands throughout our lives until we are able to perceive the oneness fully.

Soul awareness emerges differently in each person. You may not see the divine fusion of life and death until the moment you transition. Or you may be shown it much earlier, at a time of great crisis or great love. Any profound human experience can open the doors of perception so that the light pours through. We all fear facing death alone with no sense of meaning, no light shining to show us the way. But the deeper you surrender to the mystery of life, the greater your trust grows in both meaning and light. Faith replaces fear.

I am not traditionally religious, but I do believe in a Spirit that fills the cosmos with light and beauty. I feel this Presence every day of my life when I watch the sun rise or hear birds singing; it has been with me since birth and will continue after I die. I see it in the tree outside my window and in all the living beings on Earth, plant, animal, and human. In the stones and stars as well. In my own heart. Everything and everyone is part of it, something so magnificent that words cannot encompass its gentle loving power. Our minds think death exists as an end, but it is only a transition to another beginning. If you look closely at the Tree of Life, its secrets reveal themselves, and you see the cycles of Spirit that never end and the exquisitely sweet flow of infinity itself.