I hope this finds you all doing well and enjoying this September weather. I wanted to share these thoughts with you in honor of the upcoming International Peace Day (see PS for links to happenings). I tried not to get too side tracked but this topic seemed to lead my mind astray a few times. Let me know what you think.
Many of us are in states of conditional happiness, or at least contentment, a good deal of the time, some more often than others. This means that as long as things are going our way, or our life situation meets a certain list of criteria we have set up as prerequisites for happiness, we are happy or at peace. This manifests as people making sure these criteria are met and doing what they think will set the stage for continued happiness. But when things are not going our way, or certain criteria are lacking, we tend to be unhappy. This unhappiness, in whatever form it takes, is a form of war. We are at war with the way things currently are.
If we take the state of the war in Iraq as an example of this phenomenon, we see a country in chaos and conflict. We also have many people divided over the best way to proceed to bring an end to this war. As human beings we all want stability and peace but different people have different ideas about what peace looks like and how to bring about peace. Some think that using force to defeat those who oppose peace will bring about peace. Some think walking away from the conflict is the best way to bring about peace. There are obviously several different variations of these approaches, but in the end no one really knows for sure what will result in peace in Iraq.
War in the world leads to personal wars with what is. Many who are opposed to the war are struggling to bring an end to it as best they know how. Their happiness is currently contingent (at least in part) upon bringing an end to a war that has taken countless lives and promises to take countless more before it is all over. Many of those people believe that bringing home troops will bring about the end of the war and an end to their personal struggle and eventually happiness in their lives.
For others, their happiness may be somewhat contingent on bringing peace to Iraq by defeating those who are disrupting the peace. They hope to beat back the insurgents so that the Iraqi people can regain control of the peace themselves. These people are engaged in a personal war to see the outer war won and brought to a peaceful close.
In many respects, these two different camps of people are at war with each other because they see the opposing side as a hindrance to the closure they are seeking. They see the opposition as an obstacle to the personal happiness they are seeking. Those who disrupt our personal peace are often seen as the cause for our suffering.
In reality, the world we see around us is actually a mirror reflecting back what is going on inside us at any moment in time. This outer war, currently being fought predominantly in Iraq, serves as an example of the inner war we experience when things are not going our way. We are at war with what is and want to bring about peace through manipulating our outer environment and circumstances to meet our check list for happiness.
(On a side note, our dependence on foreign oil is another prime example of how we, as a collective, have become dependent on external circumstances for our perceived happiness. On this front we see a movement toward breaking our dependence on the external and seeking within for our independence, which is also very symbolic of what many individuals are doing at a personal level.)
However, we can not always control our outer circumstances, and if we could there would inevitably be someone with a different idea of what was needed for happiness who would disrupt our status quo. Therefore, being in a state of conditional happiness guarantees you will be unhappy.
Can we achieve a state of permanent unconditional happiness? If so, what can we do to bring about the permanent peace we all desire? What are your feelings about the answers to these two questions? We all have an arsenal of beliefs we have cultivated over the years that we are likely to turn to for help when asked questions like this. Beliefs are ineffectual when searching for truth as they keep you stuck in the past, where they were originally formed.
First, you have to ask yourself if you really want to live in a permanent and unconditional state of peace and happiness. Some may have enough conditional happiness in their lives that they don’t feel the need for more at this time, especially considering that they may have to give up some of those beliefs and judgments they have been protecting (and seemingly protected by) for so many years.
If you do want permanent peace in your life, look at those things that seem to disrupt your peace rather than avoid them. Your greatest teachers are often those which cause you stress, make you angry or create tension. These things are pointing you toward unresolved issues in your own life. Look deeply at the true cause for negative feelings to see if there is something there of any substance. More often than not all you will find are thoughts and beliefs about the way things are “supposed” to be.
When you find these thoughts, try doing The Work on them. Ask yourself: Is this (thought, belief, idea, statement, etc.) true? Can I really know if it is true? How do I feel when I believe this thought? What would I be without this thought? Then turn around the thought or belief to see if the opposite is more true than the thought you started with. Byron Katie suggests writing these statements down to ensure the mind does not circumvent the process, but the real thing to realize here is that our suffering is not caused by events or people in our lives. It’s all caused by our thoughts, which means we don’t have to change anything outside of us to be happy.
How can we bring about the end of war in the world? I’m not afraid to say I don’t know for sure. I have experienced periodic states of consciousness that have given me glimpses of the awareness beyond thought that connect us all (whatever you want to call that). I now realize that unconditional peace is real but that our attachment to, and identification with, our thoughts prevents us from experiencing it all of the time.
I still have my own set of thoughts and beliefs about the way of the world, but I realize that they are nothing more than thoughts are potential hindrances to my peace. I have seen that my mind is the sole source of conflict in my life, but I still need to remind myself now and then when conflict arises and remain mindful of my thoughts.
Can you create peace in the world without being at peace with yourself? I don’t know. Which is more true, “I can’t be at peace unless there is peace in the world,” or, “Be peaceful and there will be peace in the world?” It seems to me that making your peace or your happiness contingent on something external makes suffering inevitable, and when we suffer we tend to cause suffering. When we are at peace we tend to cause peace.
PS - If you are interested in doing more to radiate peace in the world, there are two links below you might find interesting as we approach International Peace Day (Sept. 21). Both are global in reach but local in participation.