Peace in Oneself, Peace in the World
Acclaimed author and Vietnamese Buddhist Monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, tells us "Peace in Oneself, Peace in the World." When I first heard this statement I thought about all the hate, antagonism, and violence in the world. Something about his statement almost seemed too simple to be true, but as I continued to sit with it and apply it to what I know about the process of psychotherapy it began to ring more true. How does this apply to us individually and in our relationships?
One of the primary aims of psychotherapy is to support people in becoming at peace with themselves, so there can be an internal sense of security and freedom. It's almost as if, more often than not, we're at war with ourselves. When stress and pain arise, we react to it as if they are enemies that need to be beaten. I'll never forget when I saw a flyer up at a Mental Health organization that said "Fight Your Depression." In that moment I thought, that statement couldn't be more wrong if the aim is to come to peace with oneself. Fighting our uncomfortable feelings is fighting ourselves which only increases the distress.
If we are able to come to terms with the way things are and actually stop fighting ourselves, what we'll tend to notice is that which we most fear, isn't as fearful as we thought, and in fact, it's temporary. However, our conditioning can be so severe that even the thought of facing our uncomfortable feelings physically and/or emotionally leads to the automatic negative thought "I can't do this." Aha, depending on your mood, that thought will seem more or less believable. Knowing this, we can also know that that thought is not a fact, but is a product of your mood or fear in the moment.
If we were able to slowly face our fears, understand that this is a part of ourselves that feels insecure and in pain; we might begin to change our relationship to it. Instead of being at war with it, we can notice that it is more effective to take a radical shift and embrace it, be with it, open up to it, and just hold it in awareness without judging it. Practically speaking, this is a far more effective approach than feeding ourselves hate and distress.
However, the issues behind people hating and warring with one another are deep seeded in highly complex psychological issues where there are generations of trauma and embedded hate from infancy. So, with a respect for this complexity, we can hold the aspiration that one day we may be able forgive without needing to forget past transgressions of individuals, peoples, and cultures with an understanding that holding onto this hate and using it to continue the fight only enables future suffering.
But let's just start with trying to make peace within ourselves, noticing when we our minds are littered with self hate, negative self-talk and inaccurate conclusions that "I'll never get better, no one can help me, and I can't help myself."
Practice this process of "allowing" and "letting be" and see what it does for you. Notice any judgments right now and be aware that these thoughts are habits trying to maintain status quo.
Ask yourself, "Did this thought just pop in my head automatically? If I was in a different mood would I be thinking differently?"
May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be free from fear and safe from harm.
As always, please share your thoughts and questions below. Your interactions here provide a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.
Notice when you're holding a grudge or antagonizing someone for short term gain only to feel lousy later. Begin by not judging yourself for having these habits, but just becoming aware of them, and then asking yourself, "What if we were able to do this as individuals, we could do it as cultures, and peace within ourselves may very well cultivate peace in the world. We all under