In a busy, active life, make time daily to cultivate peace, stillness of mind

Originally posted in Asheville Daily Planet 08 July 2008

This morning I woke up with clarity and peace about writing on clarity and peace. All morning, I was enjoying a wonderful clarity. I went through work with that clarity — and continued with this wonderful peace of mind.

I was going to write about the couple on the beach spending hours in quietude while looking for seashells in one spot, and how nature is a wonderful gift in connecting us to our inner stillness. I was also going to write about how meditation, music, prayer, and dance are also some of the ways to clear out our head and experience an inner peace.

But as soon as I sat at the computer to write the headline about the importance of doing the things in our life to cultivate a greater clarity, my son called from Iraq. Within minutes of our conversation, the peace and clarity that I was feeling all morning evaporated, and was quickly replaced with frustration, sorrow and anger.

My son told me that he would not be able to sleep tonight because he will be on suicide watch. One of his military colleagues is suicidal — and instead of letting him come back home and getting the care he really needs, they are watching him 24/7.

I found myself quite angry that this young man was not getting the attention that he needed, and sad and angry about the whole situation.

After I hung up with my son, I then wondered how could I possibly write about peace and stillness when my mind was far from still at that moment.

I walked away from writing and worked at getting my mind back to the clarity that I was feeling earlier. After all, this column is about “finding peace and stillness in a busy and active life.”

After some time with quiet, movement, and deep breathing, I was able to get to a better place.

The difference between my rattled mind and my clearer mind are like night and day. I find that when I am in an inner clear space, I am less reactive, and more compassionate, even with the situation that my son is going through.

Critias of Athens (c. 460-403 B.C.) said, “If you will discipline yourself to make your mind self-sufficient, you will thereby be least vulnerable to injury from the outside.”

I see that when my mind is not “disciplined” in a clear and quiet way, it is as if I have wild horses running around in my head, and those wild horses of worry and confusion need to be reigned in. The Upanishads are ancient writings from 600 BC, and one of them states, “When you lack understanding and are unable to control your mind, your senses do not obey you, just as unruly horses do not obey a charioteer.”

I know for me it is critical that I give myself the quiet time to clear out my head. When I don’t give it a priority in my day, I find that I am more unsettled with the rest of my day, and am not as effective or efficient in all of my activities. It takes more energy to reign in the worry and confusion than it takes to take some time in my morning to cultivate a greater clarity.

A lot of people whom I have talked with about the importance of taking inner time on a daily basis have given me many reasons why they can not spare even a few minutes of their day to do that. Taking inner time and centering can really happen with just a few minutes of quiet and some deep breathing, and if you add stretching or movement with that, then your whole being is quite happy.

Unsettling situations happen a lot in our lives, but if we are able to bring our self into a clear center, we are not as controlled or affected by those situation, as Critias shared thousands of years ago.

I believe that it is important to not be a prisoner of something or someone else, and that includes being a prisoner of our own minds. I know I have much to do in regard to this, but I believe cultivating a clearer mind is an ongoing process, not something to “arrive at” overnight.

May we all continue to cultivate a greater stillness and clarity of mind through our very busy and active lives, so that we can no longer be bound by the struggles and stress of our everyday life.

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