Finding Peace of Mind
Many of us think our situation in the coming decades will not be as good as today in one or more ways – less oil, reduced wealth in general, climate change, social and ecological deterioration, perhaps even rapid population decline. A question that I often hear when these topics come up is, "How can we keep from feeling discouraged, even though we strongly suspect our future situation will not be as good as today?"

For about three years, up until two years ago, I let the full horror of these negative possibilities into my mind, heart and soul. I embraced them completely – energy collapse, economic collapse, ecological collapse, social collapse, population collapse – all in the interest of awakening to the Truth. While my goal was noble, the process was flawed and the outcome was almost disastrous.

Like an alcoholic I'm now recovering day by day (but there are still days...) My goal in the last two years has been to regain my emotional footing and find peace of mind.  I see myself holding the awareness of these negative possibilities in one hand, the possibility for hope in the other, and giving them both equal space in my thoughts and feelings. Here is some of the advice I give myself as I do this.

0. Remember that the future is fundamentally unknowable.

Bad stuff will happen (as it always has), but good stuff will also happen (as it always has). Becoming attached to any outcome, whether good or bad, is a sure path to disappointment and suffering.

1. Live as fully as possible in the present moment.

Strive to be aware of what's going on around you and inside you. Don't cling to the good stuff and reject the bad stuff, simply be aware of it.

2. Pay more attention to the little voice inside you that tells you what's right with you.

Pay much less attention to those inner voices that tell you what's wrong with you. The "shoulds and oughts" they beat you with are defensive lies laid down in your past. They bind you to that past and keep you from being fully present to the life you're living right now.

3. Develop your ability to feel empathy and compassion.

Life without these qualities is dark, cold and hard. With them life becomes luminous, warm and easy.

4. Be of service to others.

There is a good reason that selfless service (also called seva) is the cornerstone of various eastern philosophies and religions. It focuses our attention outside ourselves, and reminds us that there is a greater arena than our ego. Joining one of the countless small local environmental or social justice groups that are springing up all around us is a great way to start.

5. Take time to honour and serve yourself.

Balance your outward attention with inward attention. Have compassion for your own mistakes and shortcomings, recognize your own intrinsic worth.

6. Remember that it's not stuff that makes us happy, it's our connections.

Nurture your connections with other people, with animals and nature, with organizations, with ideas larger than yourself. Strive to see yourself as one node in the enormous, majestic web of reality, a web that unfolds through the countless interactions that its connections embody. It would be a different web if you weren't a part if it.

7. Develop your capacity for awe and reverence.

A writer named Paul Woodruff says this: Reverence begins in a deep understanding of human limitations; from this grows the capacity to be in awe of whatever we believe lies outside our control. The capacity for awe brings with it the capacity for respecting fellow human beings, flaws and all. Simply put, reverence is the virtue that keeps human beings from trying to act like gods.

If religion is your thing, follow that path. If it's science, use that as your springboard. If you're secular yet spiritual, you might try a teaching like Buddhism or one of its modern developments like The Diamond Approach.

Following this approach has not blinded me to the negative possibilities I mentioned at the beginning, but it has helped me regain and retain a sense of balance in the face of life's continual barrage of curve balls large and small. I hope you find something similarly stabilizing among these suggestions.

February 14, 2010

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