A Beautiful Struggle

For close to 20 years, when asked what I hoped for most my answer was the same:  I want peace.  My desire was for tranquility within; for the storm of emotions to die down to a distant soft rumble; for feeling so constantly troubled to change.  What I wanted so badly is found in a basic definition of peace:  freedom from disturbance; quietness; tranquility; calmness; stillness.

The reasons peace stayed beyond my reach were within since I was little, but I did not consciously know that for a long, long time.  My first hand awareness did not begin to come until my late 30’s.  That wish alone for peace was the actual beginning of moving toward it.  However I was 50-something before I had enough focus to make changes for the better and begin to find “freedom from disturbance”.   That came not in doing away mentally with what happened to me when younger, but instead learning to coexist with those things.  I had to learn to see clearly through and beyond my “junk from childhood”.

Here’s a teaching tale told about Buddha that helps to explain, at least in part, how to find peace.   Once Buddha was walking from one town to another town with a few of his followers. While they were traveling, they happened to pass a lake. They stopped there and Buddha told one of his disciples, “I am thirsty. Please get me some water from that lake.”

The disciple walked to the lake. When he reached it, he noticed some people were washing clothes in the water and others were bathing in the lake.  As a result, the water was stirred up and murky.  The disciple thought, “I can’t give this muddy water to Buddha to drink!” So he came back and told Buddha, “The water in there is very muddy and not fit to drink.”

After about an hour, again Buddha asked the same disciple to go to the lake and get him some water to drink. The disciple obediently went back and found all the bathers and washers were no longer in sight.  Now the lake was clear. The mud had settled down and the water above it looked clear and clean.  He collected water and brought it to Buddha.

Buddha looked at the water, and then he looked up at the disciple and said, “See what you did to make the water clean. You let it be … and the mud settled down on its own – and you got clear water.  Your mind is also like that. When it is disturbed, just let it be. Give it a little time. Let thoughts pass and your mind will settle down on its own. You don’t have to put in great effort to calm it down. It will happen. Let go your grip on your thoughts and it becomes effortless to gain peace.”

That’s a great story, but does not address how one lets go of habitual ways of thinking and stops threshing in the mental water making it muddy.  My efforts for peace within could not take root until there was awareness for what caused my mind to be muddy.  I had to bring to the surface my childhood traumas and abuse, make them commonly known and accepted.  Then through hard work, healing and understanding the majority of their energy over me was taken away.   I had to cultivate a new way of being to let the “water of my mind” clear.

Breaking habits and ways of being so deeply ingrained was literally “facing my own dragon”, learning I could not slay it and befriending him instead.  And in doing so I took away the negative fire of my dragon and learned to coexist with him.  I learned “peace does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work.  It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart”.

Some things I learned are good weapons to use when my “dragon” wants to breathe fire:
Read, study and learn
Spread good feelings and kindness
Be as present as possible in the “now”
Love without boundaries as much as I can
Forgive and remember forgiveness is an act of peace
Cultivate and tend empathy and understanding of myself
Meditation and reflection are acts of encouraging internal peace
Stay involved with others who bravely battle what I do (self-help meetings)
Be kind to others and myself keeping mentally fresh that kindness is an act of peace

Happiness and suffering are states of mind, and so their main causes cannot be found outside the mind.  The knowing intellectually of that truth combined with actions to practice it has been life changing.  I am incredibly grateful!

Life is a beautiful struggle.
Martin Luther King