To live in peace and in harmony are two very important values in my life. When confronted in a situation in which either one or both of them are jeopardized, I will try my utmost to regain balance at all cost in order to return to that state of peace and harmony. I have lately been pondering on the question whether what I value very much is more a “mind” thing or if they truly come from my heart. If they come from my mind, then they are more concepts that nurture my ego, concepts that make me feel like a “better person” and again, to feel like a better person is what my ego wants. It becomes a vicious circle from which I do not want to step out because that would mean that I would be stepping out of my comfort zone. This ego of mine can be at times very tricky and make me believe that those values come from my heart which would in turn make me feel like a truly peace-loving and harmonious person and thus feeding itself with theoretical make-believe sentiments. This may sound like a self-criticism mumbo jumbo and perhaps it is that and nothing more. Or, could it be that after all the years of living a more spiritual life I have reached a point in which these values have become a norm as a matter of course?
A few weeks ago my husband and I were involved in a situation in which a person attacked us verbally in a very rude manner from the very beginning of the argument for something that could have been solved in a much more calm and polite way. His verbal attacks were so full of negative energy that my immediate rection was to stay away from him. We tried very hard to ignore his attacks, but the more we tried, the worse they got. At some point I tried to reason with him in a coherent manner, but that only infuriated him all the more. We could not understand what was going on in that man’s mind. Had I only stepped out of the acting role for a few seconds, taken a couple of deep breaths and looked at it all from the observer’s perspective, perhaps the incident could have had a different ending! I could have sensed that this person was trying by all means to crush our egos for the sake of it. He seemed to be enjoying every minute of it, believing that by getting the police involved they would crush us all the way to the very end, but his plan backfired. This of course frustrated his ego so much that to this day he threatens my husband directly via e-mail, sending them to his office. Not succumbing to fear, we opted to ignore his threats.
Ever since that day, I have been questioning myself, thinking about the ego and trying to find inner peace. What is it that we (or I) have to learn from all this? Am I really, honestly, a peaceful and harmonious person from the heart or is it my ego wanting me to believe that I am so? I ask myself these questions because while the incident was taking place, I lost my heart center and my ego took over, my reactions were egoic, separate from whom I “thought” I was. So my question is, who am I?
For most of the year 2000, I worked and lived at a fasting clinic in northern California where I spent time with many groups of eclectic guests from all over the world.
I often tell my wife that during that year, I felt like I was floating around in a bubble, almost immune to any downers that life brought my way. Sure, there were times when I felt a bit crummy, but most of the time, I felt like I was at peace, able to feel compassion for anyone.
The source of my deep well of peace was a commitment that I made with myself to live with the following philosophy in mind:
All behavior is motivated by love or by a need for love.
Whenever someone gave me reason to feel angry, sad, anxious, or fearful, I was able to slow my thoughts and emotions down, remind myself that my antagonist was likely deprived of love, and choose to respond with kindness and understanding.
Okay, maybe I wasn’t able to do this every time I felt I was wronged, but I was definitely on a plane of thinking and being that Jesus Himself would likely have appreciated. I was in the zone that Gandhi must have been in while he was allowing himself to get physically smacked around.
Here’s the thing: Over the past decade, whenever I have been able to purposefully respond with a generous heart in situations where most sane people would have given me full license to respond with righteous anger, I have always been able to walk away with peace in my heart. Always.
I think that this is the magic of taking the high road. Sometimes, it’s human to want to call out mean-spirited and rude behavior. You feel like you need to preserve some self respect. But interestingly, I have yet to feel like I lost anything by diverting or even absorbing bad energy and being compassionate.
Put another way, I have found that peace of mind is a natural consequence of choosing to be kind in every circumstance (And sometimes, being kind entails walking away in silence).
Without exception, in situations where I haven’t been able to pause and control the urge to let someone know that he or she just generated some bad karma, I’ve walked away feeling worse for having “stood up for myself.” In such situations, I guess I, too, was motivated by a need for love.
Also interesting is that I’ve found that the more good energy I put out there, the deeper my well of good energy seems to become. Consciously choosing to walk with a forgiving and compassionate spirit really seems to fortify the intention to lift others up.
This reminds me of the “what do you get when you squeeze an orange” idea. You get orange juice, of course, because that’s what’s inside an orange.
If we have love and compassion within, love and compassion is what will come out of us when we’re squeezed.
Clearly, choosing to give out love doesn’t happen naturally all the time. It takes work. It takes daily effort to stay in this zone. I find that I have to fill myself up with uplifting thoughts on a regular basis. I think this is why I tend to have my best days when I begin by reading from anything that inspires me to inspire others.
And when I don’t do this work, when I don’t take time to consciously choose to give out love rather than demonstrate a need for it, I find that it becomes super easy to slide back into being a reactive person who is easily offended by anything that threatens my ego.
So I guess the main thought that I want to share is this: if you’re ever feeling crummy and you’re looking for a way to feel at peace, try going back to the well, the well that fuels you to be gentle, understanding, generous, and humble.
Even when you are clearly wronged by someone, I can almost guarantee that if you put your hurt feelings away for just a moment and respond with a gentle, understanding, generous, and humble spirit, you will be better for it. And you can spend the rest of your day knowing that you did your part to create healthy energy for someone else.
I’ve long believed that consistently feeling peace within is the most important requirement for optimal health. Never mind the toll that emotional stress takes on our physical health; without inner peace, how can any of us consistently make healthy choices?
Here’s a short list of books that, over the years, have become steadfast sources of inspiration for me to get back or stay on track in living with a giving spirit:
The Art of Loving, by Erich Fromm
The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Dr. Stephen Covey
You Can Heal Your Life, by Louise Hay
And we can never go wrong in meditating on the following passage on love from the first book of Corinthians, chapter thirteen:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
One funny thing about love that I’ve observed over the years is this: the more we give it to others, the more it comes back to us from all over. And the more we demonstrate a need for love by getting easily offended, the less it seems to flow our way.
To the magic of finding inner peace by giving love.
Dr. Ben Kim