Searching for Inner Peace
Recently I attended an all-day retreat, a day where we sat in silence and meditated in a large office conference room on a Saturday when all the office business had retreated into the weekend.
There was a feeling of abandonment about the place as if something was supposed to be there but wasn’t.
Instead, we were there ready to fill the space with our attempts at quieting our minds and relaxing our bodies. We did the body scan in a lying down pose on our yoga mats. We did sitting meditation either on a chair with our hands folded in our laps or seated on a cushion on the floor. We did moving meditation with Walking Meditation outside in the sunshine among a planted courtyard and inside the three-story building with Qigong, moving our bodies slowly and silently following the teacher’s instructions.
At the end of the day, the retreat leader brought us out of the silence and asked each of us to come up with a word that expressed our experience of the day. It could be a word representing how we were feeling right then in that moment, or a word that was woven throughout the day for us.
The word that surfaced for me was “peace”.
As I was driving home from the retreat I found myself wanting to understand what the word peace really meant to me. What was I trying to tell myself? Do I not feel peaceful most of the time? Am I not at peace with myself? Or am I not at peace with others? With the world? With my situation?
Suddenly Annie Lamott’s saying came into my mind: “My mind is like a bad neighborhood. I try not to go there alone.”
Had this group meditation situation permitted me to sink deeper into the depths of my mind and surprisingly I found not a bad neighborhood but a peaceful neighborhood?
So then the idea of our mind as a neighborhood started bringing up thoughts.
We hang out in this place a lot of the day where voices in our head are talking to us. One voice says ‘do this’. The other voice says ‘no don’t do that. You’ll hurt his feelings.’ Another voice chimes in: ‘No. He’d really like that.’ There is this constant conversation going on in our heads. So, yes. It does feel peaceful when that conversation dies down a bit.
It’s like we give our mind a rest.
When we are praciticing the meditation that I have been trained to do, we are practicing “mindfulness meditation." This involves choosing a focal object, such as the breath, and placing our attention and awareness on that focal object. When the mind loses focus and wanders off to some other thought, as soon as we notice it, we bring our attention back to the breath or whatever we are focusing our mind on. This simple practice helps the mind settle down.
Some meditation teachers describe the mind as like an ocean, with waves and turbulence on the surface, but calm water in the depths.
The practice of meditation has helped me find that peaceful place in the depths.
“Meditation is not a way of making your mind quiet. It is a way of entering into the quiet that is already there--- buried under the 50,000 thoughts the average person thinks every day.” -Deepak Chopra.
Here are 5 articles that have some other ideas about finding peace.
"My mind is like a bad neighborhood. I try not to go there alone" | Author Mary Meyers discusses this quote from Annie Lamott
Breathing: The Little Known Secret to Peace of Mind | Emma Seppala talks about her research understanding the relaxation effects of concentrated breathing practices on US combat veterans with PTSD.
Thich Nhat Hahn on Finding Peace | The Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hahn, has long been an advocate for peace. Having grown up in a country roiling with the chaos of war, he has dedicated his life to helping individuals and nations exist and thrive in peace. In this short article, Thich Nhat Hahn points out some daily practices that can bring peace to yourself and the environment around you.
My Peaceful Place by Hieu Tran | Hieu Tran, a Upaya Zen Center resident, discovers his place of peace in the kitchen.
The Extraordinary Gift of Inner Spaciousness | Jafree Ozwald finds a sense of inner peace in that gap between thoughts.
Do you have a special place of peace? Did you react strongly to any of the above articles? Share your comments below!