“If I don’t give my peace away, can’t nobody take it,” my Aunt Marjorie recently said to me, explaining that God gives us peace. You may have a spiritual faith that provides a path to finding and maintaining a sense of internal harmony amidst life’s challenges. Or you may benefit from additional practices. It struck me how much her quote aligns with the essence of mindfulness. Mindfulness is about being aware of what is happening in the present moment. This keen awareness allows you to better notice when you are not at peace and what prompts you to give your peace away.
So, how do you avoid giving this gift of peace away?
Remember – peace is something you already own. Peace is actually baked into our nervous system. The sympathetic (SNS) and parasympathetic nervous (PNS) systems are part of the autonomic nervous system. The SNS represents the fight or flight response, the response we have in a crisis or when we are afraid. While sometimes necessary, when we are chronically in this state our health can suffer tremendously. The PNS represents the rest and digest state – when our body is in a state of equilibrium. This is the state our body needs for ongoing health and well-being. And it is in this state, we feel at peace.
Notice how peace feels. Life may be so chaotic you may not even have given it much thought. If you are going to avoid giving it away when it’s challenged though, a first step will be to discover what peace feels like to you. For me, it is a sense of ease and calm reflected in both my mind and my body and a sense of alignment with my spirit within. Take some time to check in when you notice you are at peace. How does it feel? As you grow in this practice of standing in and finding your way back to a sense of peace, you may find that some things that troubled you in the past no longer do so. This is in part because you have identified what are distractions from your priorities or inconsistencies with your beliefs and values.
Become mindful of circumstances that often lead you to give away your peace. Just like what stresses you invigorates another, what challenges your sense of peace may not affect someone else. It depends on your upbringing, experiences, personality, values, and priorities. So, how can you be more aware of what causes you to lose your sense of harmony? Engaging in practices that strengthen your connection to your body, whether it be meditation or dance, is one approach to help you discover what triggers you. The more connected you are to your body the more you will be able to notice internal emotional or physical changes when something happens. This keen awareness allows you to better notice, for instance, when you have an internal disturbance, perhaps a change in your breathing, because your ego has taken a hit. Or, you may notice that your heart begins to beat rapidly just before you lash out at someone because you are afraid. As you notice these patterns, you can become more aware of what triggers your subconscious reactions to life events.
You have a choice. You don’t have to lose your peace to others. Viktor Frankl, the neurologist, psychiatrist, and holocaust survivor said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” In other words, there is the stimulus, the event, that has the potential to take your peace and then there is your reaction to it. They are two distinct things. You have a choice, even in difficult times, to give your peace away or to claim what is inherently yours. You have more control than you may think. And, over time you grow and strengthen your own bond with peace in this awareness and practice.
A state of peace is a guidepost for navigating life’s challenges no matter what the circumstances. Much that happens is disturbing, unfair, threatening, hostile, or annoying. Peace can seem impossible when something devastating happens, such as the loss of a child, spouse, or parent. But this practice is not about liking, agreeing, capitulating, denying, or avoiding pain or grief. Being at peace is not avoidance in disguise. Making that choice to stand in or reclaim your own sense of peace, in fact, moves through, not from, the pain (to the extent emotionally safe for you to do so) and may require advocating for yourself or others. The greater your awareness though, the quicker you can find your way back to a state of harmony.
While peace is inherently within you, without mindful nurturing it is vulnerable. The process of nurturing this sense of internal harmony is a personal, ongoing, and rewarding growth process.