Ten years ago, I was working along side UNICEF and the ministry of mental health in Sri Lanka doing psychosocial work with the survivors of the Asian tsunami. We visited schools camps and communities to help the survivors come to terms with their horrific ordeal; to help them to again find peace in their hearts to continue their life.
Like every volunteer at the frontline I was there to offer a helping hand to those directly affected by the disaster. But what I found was that the volunteer doctors and medical practitioners needed as much help to manage their mental processes, as did the survivors.
Anyone working at the front line of tragedy be it a natural disaster or war, is confronted with the extremities of life where emotion can either make you or break you.
The fact is people don’t have to be in a natural disaster or war torn country to experience a tsunami in their minds. The seeming simplest issue by some can trigger mental turmoil in others because man is at war with himself. Peace has to be realized inside before it can be realized outside.
Every day we have thousands of thoughts running through our mind but we don’t pay attention to every thought. Our power of discernment over thought is our power to realize inner peace. And in order to discern our thoughts we need to become self-aware. Self -awareness is our ability to observe our conditioned nature from a third person perspective.
The Impressionable Years
In psychology there is a saying: give me the child till the age of seven and I show you the adult. This means those first seven years of life are the most receptive when we learn language and develop our identity. We are like empty vessels absorbing the beliefs and values of others. And the most influential sources are family, peers, teachers and television.
When we were born we were peaceful beings, and as we grew we were conditioned and became identified with limited thinking. Peace has never left us; it just becomes clouded by issues we hold on to. Peace is right here, right now and all we need do is to stop giving our attention to thoughts that are not peace promoting.
That is why peace begins with me!
The Banana Story
There is a story of a monkey that was raiding a village and creating havoc eating all the bananas in the banana plantation. The villagers rally around and decide to call the monkey catcher. The monkey catcher is very smart and knows how to catch monkeys. He chops the top off a coconut, puts a banana inside, ties it to a tree and waits. So now here comes the monkey and he’s right on to the smell of the banana. He comes over and puts his hand inside the coconut but he can’t pull out the banana. As he squeezes onto the banana inside the coconut, his fist enlarges so he thinks the coconut is holding him captive.
And now here comes the monkey catcher and he knows what he’s about, but he is trapped as he clings to the banana. He doesn’t realize that all he need do is to let go of the banana and he is free.
These bananas represent the thoughts that we hold on to. And I’m going to share with you two bananas that stand in the way of you realizing your innate peace here and now.
Banana 1. Worry about the past
How much effort do you put into reflecting on what went on in the past, who said what, and how it made you feel? These are merely your interpretations of what happened – your perception alone! And what is gone is gone.
We can say we can learn from the past, which is great if we can let go of the banana. But sometimes we feel trapped by thinking too much of the past and making it our reality.
Banana 2. Worry about the future.
Worry about the future comes from memories of the past. We fear the same thing happening again and our mind can become obsessive simulating the future on memories of the past.
The truth is if you are fresh to every moment there is only peace. No matter what is happening on the outside, there is always peace in the here and now if you let go of the bananas and turn inside.
Peace Promoting Exercises
Bruce Lee once said: “As you think, so shall you become.” So to help you to return to your peace I am going to share with you two powerful yet simple exercises that you can use anywhere, anytime to empty your mind of worries and bring you to the here and now.
Drop it! Exercise
I would like you to think of something that has been disturbing your mind– maybe something that you feel guilty about, someone you hurt, some words you shouldn’t of said, anything that comes to top of mind that has been making you feel anxious.
Now count back from 3, 2, 1, and say “Drop it!” This is a simple yet powerful phrase that you can say to yourself in any situation to return to peace.
Invoke Peace Exercise
I would like you to put both feet firmly on the floor in front of you. Let your hands rest in your lap and gently close your eyes. Bring your focus to your breath and notice how your body feels. No need to entertain any thoughts, just remain as a witness.
Imagine one foot above the top of your head is a blanket of peace and very slowly you are going to bring that blanket down over your head, down over your shoulders, down over your hips, down over your thighs, down over your knees, down over your feet.
Just notice how you feel inside this blanket of peace. Notice how your mind is more relaxed and totally focused in the here and now. This is who you are, this peaceful, perfect person totally alert and fresh to every new moment in every day.
Slowly bring back your awareness to your body, to feel your feet on the floor, to feel the seat where you are sitting. When you are ready you can slowly open your eyes.
Let the peace be with you!