01.06.2007

Sweet Emptiness

Peace in our world is as elusiveas ever. But, says relationships counsellor Dr CharmaineSaunders, a calm, quiet inner place is always withinour reach.

Everysane person on this planet wants peace. Our world, alwaysa fragile place, is even more vulnerable at present,making global peace seem an idealistic and distant dream.Each of us can contribute to this dream at the veryleast in our own community and, even more importantly,in our own lives.

We first need to identify what peace representsfor us individually and then how to attain it. Thereare many types of peace. There's global, internal, community,individual, society, family, fanning out from the microcosmto the infinite. But what stops us feeling peacefulin the first place?

Stress for a Start

When we feel overly stressed, we are takenaway from our centres, thus our peaceful selves. Everyhuman being has stress, but the trick is not to livewith too much of it. The two issues regarding stressmanagement are the degree or amount we're dealing withand how we manage it. Stress is actually good, desirableeven, but too much can cause us a lot of harm, mainlybecause it has an insidious quality. The harm sneaksup without us realising it and before we can redressthe balance, we're already overloaded. The negativeeffects can take the form of damage in the areas ofhealth, relationships, mental acumen, work performance,joy of life and yes, peaceful life.

Being overly busy is a major creator ofstress, as is lack of balance and poor lifestyle choices- for example, bad health prevents a peaceful life.How can there be peace for a person who lives with chronicpain, constant fatigue, insomnia and regular illness?Balance in all areas of life is vital. Excesses causedisharmony. To prevent this only requires basic commonsense,not deprivation and sacrifice as often thought. Sufficientsleep on a daily basis, a diet that is pleasurable andfilled with essential food requirements, regular enjoyableexercise, fulfilling work, healthy relationships. Tallorder? Not really. It's really the chicken/egg riddleisn't it? What comes first? Peace or a happy life? Myanswer is peace.

No Peace in Negativity

Negative thinking creates negative emotionwhich builds and feeds on itself and can then seem likeultimate truth and `reality.' Living in that kind ofbelief system is not conducive to peace because it isan uncomfortable existence usually filled with suspicion,dislike, cynicism, anger, conflict, aggression, anxietyand low self value. Negative thinking is learned andso can be unlearned. The way to do this is to practisethe opposite, continually train ourselves away fromnegative thought towards the positive. Worry comes intothis area too. It is very damaging to happiness, andactually cancels it out. It's debilitating, draining.There's no peace in that. Also acting self destructivelywhich includes indecision, accepting limitations, impulsiveness,repeating of destructive cycles, fear, anger, anxiety,depression, bad choices - the list is endless.

Confict with others, especially closerelationships, is one of the greatest stresses in everydaylife and guaranteed to rob us of peace of mind. A cousinof mine told me recently that she isn't in a relationshipbecause at her time of life (50s), peace is more importantthan romance. Is peace a commodity we value more aslife goes on? I would say yes, because we are oftentoo busy when younger, with too much to prove, too muchto accomplish. Being still and quiet is deemed boringand a waste of time. The older versions of ourselvesknow that life is short, but can be prolonged with lessstress and more calm.

Lack of Self Acceptance

I believe that self acceptance is thefoundation of human happiness, the acceptance of thecomplete self, light and dark. Many of us might saywe acknowledge our own faults, but do we really or isit merely lip service? It can be terrifying to faceour own demons, to look into the darkest parts of ourselvesand find love and forgiveness for our imperfections.To truly learn to do this is enormously liberating anduplifting, the aftermath of which, the gift of which,is peace. Peace is always the gift, the reward for anytiny bit of work we do to understand and better ourselves.Many fear this process, not comprehending its purposeor its benefit. Inner bliss emanates from the courageto look into every crevice of our psyches, every nookand corner. I often joke that as a counsellor, my jobis to shine an industrial sized torch into these darkplaces, to expose the scuttling, frightening horrorswhich flee from the light and leave only emptiness intheir wake. Yet it is not the emptiness of despair orloneliness. It isn't being left, but coming home. Peaceis a kind of emptiness, the best kind. Within it isthe absence of turmoil and chaos which are only presentwhere there is conflict and confusion. Many things createconfusion, but we mainly bring it on ourselves by lackof care, lack of thought, lack of honour. We lurch fromone bad life decision to the next, never stopping tocontemplate consequences or the possibililty of harm.Self acceptance ensures less judgement of others andmore love of self.

Getting Greedy

When we forget who we are and start identifyingtoo much with our material possessions, status, income,external trappings of wealth, we stray from our peacefulpath. There's nothing wrong with working hard and accumulatingnice things, but what tends to happen is that we getgreedy, want more and more, grow ulcers, suffer insomnia,anxiety and marital conflicts, stop enjoying the journeyand think only of arriving in terms of successes andaccomplishments. To counteract this, we need to setreachable goals which we can enjoy achieving. Alongthe way, we should travel with joy, rest between challenges,set our priorities wisely. In that way, ambition istempered by calm pleasure rather than acquisitive frenzy.

Peace Signs

How can you tell when a person is peaceful?There are actual physical signs such as quiet speech,slow movements, a calm presence and happy vibrations.Interactions with them will tend to be positive becausethey're comfortable with themselves and therefore moreopen to negotiation and resolution, real communication.They'll be less defensive, less prickly and less quarrelsome.If you yourself are one of these peaceful people, youshould feel that life is more manageable and pleasant,relationships less challenging, your health and sleepbetter. Your heart will beat slower and you will oftenstop to smell the roses. There will be an absence ofpressure.

Apart from avoiding the behaviours thattake us away from peace, what else can we do to fostera peaceful life?

Meditation

This can take many forms. It doesn't haveto be formalised or practised regularly. Anytime lifefeels too pressured, a time-out is called for. Evena few days out of your usual routine can be greatlyrefreshing. If this isn't possible, stop your worldand get off for a few hours instead. This can take theform of staying at home and just relaxing, reading abook, listening to calming music, gardening, seeinga film, sitting and just looking at a tree or a flower.We Westerners are not very adept at doing nothing, butas mentioned before, "nothing" is preciselywhat peace is made up of - the vapour of sweet emptiness.Don't try to fill it - savour it instead.

To me, meditation is merely stopping,feeling the passing of time, letting it hang heavilyin the air, listening to the tick of the clock. Deepbreathing is also very beneficial. Time is the raw materialof life and using it well certainly engenders peacefulthoughts and feelings.

I read recently online that the word "mantra"means "to free from the mind". So, if yourepeat a mantra that means something to you, it soothesyour mind as well as your senses and your physical body.A traditional religious prayer will work as well asa meditation chant or a simple affirmation that youwrite yourself. The very act of repetition is comforting.

Healing Nature

Nowhere is peace more tangibly evidentthan in places of nature - under a tree, on the ocean,the scent of a flower, the simplicity of a leaf, thebeauty of a blue sky, the caress of the wind, the warmblessing of the sun, sparkling stars in a velvet sky,the mystical wonder of the moon. Let all these sootheyour soul. I say this prayer every day:

"My brother the wind, clear allin me; Eternal, spiritual sun, strengthen me;
Wise trees, ground me; Lady moon, brighten me; Water,heal me."

And here are a few lines from a poemI wrote some years ago which sums up my point:

"In the sea, I can just be I haveno name, I have no number I am weightless, ageless,free to just be me'

Spending time in nature is not an optionalextra - it is essential to healthy life. Make time fora relationship with the living environment around you.On the night of a full moon, stand under the brightorb and ask for communion; turn your face to the sunfor a moment and absorb the healing; let the wind clearyou of all burdens, real and imaginary; step into theocean and feel its embrace; drive out of the city andwalk in the bush.

By these interactions, you will find yourway to peace, within and without. No matter how chaoticlife gets, how many struggles exist, what the externalworld is throwing up, an internal sanctuary is available24/7, forever and always. That's what peace really is- a sense of "okayness" within. In the restlessworld we all now inhabit, peace is worth gold. It'sfar more elusive than gold. None of us can single-handedlyeffect world peace but we can certainly maintain ourown equilibrium. To achieve this - breathe, smile, rest,relax, meditate, sit, do nothing, laugh, love, dance,love yourself, float, commune, communicate, relate,sleep, awake to each new day, trust. A clear consciencehelps too. So does the confidence of knowing you'vedone your best each day.

We all want peace in our world, but firstwe must have peace in our hearts.

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