Reflections on Inner-Peace
John P. Rettger, PhD, ERYT-200
Blue Elephant Yoga & Mindfulness Center
Palo Alto, CA
The Dalai Lama teaches that “the most important factor in maintaining peace within oneself in the face of any difficulty is one’s mental attitude, if it is distorted by such feelings as anger, attachment, or jealousy, then even the most comfortable environment will bring one no peace.”
My life’s work is about the internal environment- the inner-landscape of mind and psyche, body, emotions, and spirit. I deeply believe that in order to establish peace in the world, we must first establish peace within our own hearts. Whether I am counseling someone using the tools of psychotherapy, or teaching the methods of mindfulness meditation or yoga, my hope is the same- to help this person reawaken their heart. Inner-peace then, is established through re-connecting into the heart. This kind of work, my friends, is very hard and it requires a great amount of “heavy lifting”, and the love and support of others and a community.
As one journeys into the heart, the recognition comes that it is not only the self that has suffered- rather it is that all beings have suffered some form of loss, sadness, or despair in their lifetime. Beyond this, we will all at some point suffer illness, death, and other challenging aspects of the human condition. I believe that when we connect into the universality of suffering, an internal transformation begins to happen. We begin to awaken self-compassion.
Self-compassion is a deliberate practice of cultivating and offering ourselves kindness, friendliness, and love over and over again and most importantly in our darkest hours. Again, this is a very challenging practice requiring a great deal of courage and perseverance. Why is it so difficult you may wonder?
It is an incredible challenge to offer oneself kindness because of the many messages we receive everyday suggesting that we are everything but OK- you do not have to look very far to see an airbrushed supermodel smiling on a billboard or the swank-looking people sporting fancy clothes driving expensive cars on television- these kind of messages are everywhere in our culture. I think you know what I am talking about!
It is the judgements we receive from the environment that layer the heart over with what I will call the “veils of separateness”. As we begin to believe these negative messages that we are inadequate, we begin to separate the self from our true heart. As we dissociate from the heart we begin to create what I will call the “shadow self”. This shadow self consists of a lot of self-hatred and judgements that overwhelm us. Unable to contain these raw emotions, we project them out into the world because we think they are so ugly and unacceptable. We put this shadow self in the world and others and subsequently create even more separateness. We begin to think in terms such as “that person is ‘different’ or that culture is ‘not good or evil’”. We go on to try to destroy the other as a way to destroy the shadow self.
Wars, violence, aggression, they might all be forms of mistaken identity. We think we are battling persons who are not the same as us. Remember, we all share in suffering; it even turns out that physically we are all mostly made up of water; human beings mostly share in our gift of consciousness and have the ability to dream, to give and receive love. By dropping into this realization that we all exist in a shared environment and are even linked through our subtle energy fields, these veils of separateness begin to thin.
Inner-peace then is about reclaiming our true heritage of the heart. This human journey is about lifting away those veils of separateness and spending time each day getting reconnected with our own hearts. As we reharmonize the internal landscape, we can only act in ways that bring us in harmony with all of existence. This extends beyond others and includes all of Mother Nature herself.
I truly believe what inspires people is not the money, the car, the designer clothes or the “things”, but it is the ability to love unconditionally, to be able to look into the eyes of the other and open to grace. To recognize that we all stem from the same sacred waves of creation. To know, we are all one wild dance of atoms moving through space. What transforms communities are individuals who are committed to awakening and being of service.
Inner-peace is rooted in taking pause, spending time in silence, lovingly gazing inward and breathing into the radiant light of the heart. It is about lifting away the veils of separateness, reclaiming and illuminating the shadow self and embracing all of life’s challenges with our arms wide open. The tools of psychotherapy, meditation, and yoga are a few among the many that have been in use over the centuries. These practices give us a chance to transform, to awaken, and to infuse our lives with love and compassion. They bring us to the realization that we are all perfectly OK, and we always have been.
As we learn to fully accept and love ourselves, then there is no reason to wage any battles against anyone or anything. We realize that the conditions of being human limit the time that we all have here on this planet together and we better spend that time wisely. I would like to close with a short reflection from a Buddhist teacher.
Our relationships with one another
are like the chance meeting
of two strangers in a parking lot.
They look at each other and smile.
That is all there is between them.
They leave and never see each other again.
That is what life is–
just a moment, a meeting, a
passing, and then it is gone.
If you understand this,
then there is no time to fight.
There is no time to argue.
There is no time to hurt one another.
Whether you think about it in terms of humanity, nations,
communities or individuals–
there is no time for anything less
than truly appreciating the brief
interaction we have with one another.
–Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche
Article prepared for the International Day of Peace
Mountain View, California
September, 21, 2013