I’ll admit, this week’s been a tough one for me. With friends and family facing unpredictable fires, I have felt concerned and helpless. This morning as I sought my own inner peace amidst these circumstances, I realized I have something to offer those suffering. This piece from my book came to mind. It is all about finding inner calm when facing outer chaos. May this help you manage the fears that come along with being human in a broken world. Peace to you.
Pursuing Peace When the World’s at War*
Skill to Master #19: Seeking and sustaining inner peace
Our world is in a frenzy of fear. Stories splash across our screens of both global and local terrorist attacks. We witness our world at war. Tragedies, in the forms of accidents and health risks, plague us. We witness a continual stream of messages that scream why we are unsafe in this world.
While we cannot change the uncertainty of the future, our response to this reality will either help or hurt humanity.
When external chaos breeds internal turmoil, we humans can make destructive decisions rooted in our mismanaged fears. In the words of Kristen Neff, “Oftentimes our reactions to these feelings are the most harmful, not the feelings themselves.” Avoiding the escalation of hatred and violence in the world will necessitate the effective management of our fears. I believe this begins with our personal pursuit of peace.
A climactic scene from the movie Kung Fu Panda 2 reflects the power of finding peace in the midst of scary situations. Po the Panda found himself in a frightening situation, standing alone on a rock, surrounded by water, with a powerful cannon pointed directly at him. As his enemy prepared to finish him, Po prepared his heart. He grounded himself. Po tapped into something deeper, something greater. When Po finally found his inner peace, he was empowered to endure the impossible. When the cannon balls boomed, he stood in his strength. The metal spheres made impact. Yet, instead of meeting his end, Po skillfully sent them back to sender. Po’s surprising victory was rooted in the visceral calm he connected with. Similarly, when we experience internal peace, we too can stand our ground amidst the barrage of trials and temptations that torpedo toward us.
The pursuit of inner peace is particularly important for those of us recovering from addiction. We have a history of searching for peace in all the wrong places. We are skilled at calming ourselves by counterfeit means. We know how to numb. But in recovery, we learn to reach for what is real. We learn that peace that is packaged like pornography and decorated like drugs is illegitimate and illusory. Abandoning false paths to peace, we pursue authentic ones.
May all who long for peace in the midst of life’s terrors and temptations consider the following avenues:
1. Practice Gratitude – In his helpful book This is Your Brain On Joy, Dr. Earl Henslin shares that according to the research “it is impossible to be grateful and loving while also being fearful and angry.” When every day is Thanksgiving, we experience increased freedom from fear.
2. Cultivate Self-Compassion – In managing my own anxiety and working with clients, I have found Kristen Neff’s Self-Compassion Break to be a potent passageway to peace (See Chapter 19 for a description of this exercise). When stress soars, investing in a few moments of self-compassion increases oxytocin, decreases cortisol, and helps us feel both soothed and safe.
3. Create Connection – It is a true treasure when we find others who will respond to our distress in caring ways. Flores writes “regardless of our age or emotional development, we will always require some degree of emotional regulation from others. The denial of the need for others is what leads individuals to seek gratification (e.g., drugs, alcohol, food, sex, gambling, etc.) outside the realm of interpersonal relationships.” When we are frozen in our fears, we can be warmed by the comfort of others.
4. Strengthen the Soul – Nothing calms fear quite like love. This is one reason why spiritual connection is a potent source of peace. When we allow our hearts to be held, anxiety can decrease. Prayer, visualization, music, time in nature, and meditation aimed at strengthening attachment with a Higher Power in times of stress and distress can deepen a peaceful sense of security despite outward circumstances. For many, spirituality also provides hope, strength, courage, and clarity.
As we individually pursue inner peace, our choices will change. Regardless of our political, cultural, and religious backgrounds, our responses to the worries of this world will prove more beneficial to everyone when grounded in calmness, courage, and connection.
Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with us.**