tranquility

 

Peace is Attainable

Peace can be elusive in these pandemic times.  The news reports that the United States will have tens of millions of vaccine doses to distribute this winter. And yet, anxiety and worry settle back down around us. When will the vaccines be available? Who will get them? How much does the storage equipment cost?  But did we take time to celebrate the scientists that created the vaccines or those brave souls that volunteered for the vaccine trials that we might be safe? Instead, our attention went back to frustration or the politics of wearing masks, hand sanitizing, and social distancing.

How do we find peace of mind in the midst of all this anxiety? I suggest two techniques. One is remembering interconnectedness and the second is practicing gratitude. 

Interconnectedness

Interconnectedness is key because in actuality we exist because of it. We just think we are independent and separate.  Our biological mother and father made us who we are and passed on their DNA which combined to become ours.   We cannot hide from our DNA. Science is even explaining how the bond between nature and nurture travels through time.  As explained by scientists for the past ten years, the effects of trauma can be passed on in the genes.  As Andy Coghlan explained in New Scientist, “genes chemically silenced by stress during life have been shown to remain silenced in eggs and sperm, allowing the effect to be passed down to the next generation.

The good news is the behavioral traits in our genes are only a predisposition, not a life sentence. We can and do change as we age. Even “hotheads”, those quick to anger, can change. Such behaviors, even if passed down in the genes can be changed. We can transform reflexive behavior like anger into a practice that relieves stress and anxiety.

Gratitude

Practicing gratitude helps us relieve anxiety. Everything we encounter can be used to further our gratitude practice. Being grateful for our friends and even physical objects can help us transform our inner anxiety. Reach out and touch a desk or even our coffee cups when the news or people around us start dragging us down. Take a moment to ask, who made this computer, the desk, or the coffee and appreciate their efforts. 

Questions For Reflection

One form of gratitude practice is Naikan, or reflecting inward. Naikan is a Japanese word that means “looking inside” and refers to a practice of self-reflection based on three questions: 

  • What did I receive? 
  • What did I give? 
  • What troubles and difficulties did I cause?  

Reflecting on our response to these questions will give us a deeper appreciation of the world around us. As Gregg Krech, Executive Director of the ToDo Institute, explains in his book: Naikan: Gratitude, Grace and the Japanese Art of Self-Reflection, “We hurry through our day giving little attention to all the ‘little’ things we are receiving. But are these things really little? … They only seem so because, while we are being supported, our attention is elsewhere.” Habitually, our attention may drift to what we lack or dislike. We may become judgemental. Yet, with these simple questions, we return our attention to what we have received from others and awaken to our dependency on others. 

Naikan’s three questions are used as a self-reflection exercise to help us remember some of the people, things, and places involved in simple events.  For example, purchasing vegetables at the grocery caused me to just sit back and reflect. After a few moments, I was overwhelmed by all the beings and people who had made such a simple event possible.

Practice Gratitude

Sitting with gratitude will put a smile on your face. Being physically isolated does not mean you are alone. Appreciate your connections. Reach out and call a friend or relative. You might even send a note to a loved one.  You might leave a card on the door of a neighbor.  Thank those who help you live your life such as grocery store clerks and the drivers who pick up your garbage. Expressing your gratitude to your pets, whether a cat, dog or another animal will be richly rewarded. Even plants respond to kindness.  Watch a wilted one perk up when you water it!

Take a moment to breathe in and breathe out, notice some objects around you, and be grateful for all the causes and conditions that made your moment possible.  In that precious moment, enjoy peace.

References

Self Reflection

  • “Every breath we take, every step we make, can be filled with peace, joy and serenity.” —Thich Nhat Hanh

How often do we find ourselves dwelling on past events or mistakes we’ve made? The use of the term dwelling indicates that this is where we reside. When reflections become ruminations that carry us out of the room, it feels like that is where we are living. We get so caught up in our thoughts we start contemplating how others label us. Why? Well, we know so well how we judge ourselves, we pretend we know what others are thinking. We get so caught up in our own thoughts and assessments and what-if scenarios, we forget where we are. Sometimes we are so caught up in thinking we don’t see the room or landscape in which we are sitting.

So how do we wake up to where we are when residing in a dwelling that keeps us behind a closed door? The simple answer is to start doing. Do anything that engages the body. Ideally, if you can run, attend an aerobics class or go outside for a walk, you will quickly leave the dwelling of sadness, anxiety or doom for sunshine. However, any activity that transfers the mental treadmill of “woulda-coulda-shoulda” will work. It can be something as simple as cleaning or working on a puzzle. Any activity where you use your hands and can notice different sensations will give you a break from your dwelling. After feeling and seeing that the dust cloth is full of dirt, take it outside and shake it. Notice the dust flying in the air and the new feel of the cloth after it is shaken out. Another option is washing dishes or clothes. Notice the feel, the smells of soaps as well as the odors from clothes or leftovers. Listen to the sounds created while cleaning. Get into your activity by noticing how your body is engaged in the tasks.

Having taught mindfulness and reflections practices for more than 15 years, I have coached many on how to leave the dwellings of obsession, anxiety, sorrow, and perfectionism. If you want to learn more about doing and engaging fully with life, give me a call.

  –  Carol