We speak a lot about Peace – especially Inner Peace. But, what does it really mean? With all that’s going on in our lives, and in our world, how can we possibly find peace? And, what is the Key to Peace?
“What lies behind us, and what lies before us,
are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”
~Ralph Waldo Emerson, Criminal Minds Episode
Promises of Scripture
Let’s take a look at a few promises and assurances made in Scripture:
- Psalm 29:11 – The Lord gives strength to His people; the Lord blesses His people with peace.
- John 14:27 – Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
- John 16:33 – I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.
- 2 Thessalonians 3:16 – Now may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace at all times and in every way.
- Philippians 4:7 – And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Notice all of these passages refer to an inner peace. They speak about “the world” – tangible, material, physical – and how we will definitely have troubles in this world. But, Jesus overcame the things of the physical world and lived life completely and fully spiritual. The peace referred to is something that can only be found deep within ourselves, within our very spirit. It is a peace so deep and so profound our words can’t come close to describing or explaining it – it literally “transcends all understanding.”
Barriers to Peace
Unwittingly, we tend to create our own barriers to peace. One such barrier is not letting go of the past. We tend to hold onto past hurts, past events, past “wrongs”; and, in so doing, we give them power over our present. We hold onto these things of the past and they create a barrier to enjoying peace now, today, in this present moment.
Let me share a couple of stories by Eckhart Tolle from his book, “A New Earth, Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose”:
The Duck With a Human Mind
“In The Power of Now, I mentioned my observation that after two ducks get into a fight, which never lasts long, they will separate and float off in opposite directions.
Then each duck will flap its wings vigorously a few times, thus releasing the surplus energy that built up during the fight. After they flap their wings, they float on peacefully, as if nothing ever happened.
If the duck had a human mind, it would keep the fight alive by thinking, by story-making. This would probably be the duck’s story: “I don’t believe what he just did. He came to within five inches of me. He thinks he owns this pond. He has no consideration for my private space. I’ll never trust him again. Next time he’ll try something else just to annoy me. I’m sure he’s plotting something already. But I’m not going to stand for this. I’ll teach him a lesson he won’t forget.” And on and on the mind spins its tales, still thinking and talking about it days, months, or years later. As far as the body is concerned, the fight is still continuing, and the energy it generates in response to all those thoughts is emotion, which in turn generates more thinking. This becomes the emotional thinking of the ego. You can see how problematic the duck’s life would become if it had a human mind. But this is how most humans live all the time. No situation or event is ever really finished. The mind and the mind-made “me and my story” keep it going.”
Carrying the Past
“The inability or rather unwillingness of the human mind to let go of the past is beautifully illustrated in the story of two Zen monks, Tanzan and Ekido, who were walking along a country road that had become extremely muddy after heavy rains. Near a village, they came upon a young woman who was trying to cross the road, but the mud was so deep it would have ruined the silk kimono she was wearing. Tanzan at once picked her up and carried her to the other side.
The monks walked on in silence. Five hours later, as they were approaching the lodging temple, Ekido couldn’t restrain himself any longer. “Why did you carry that girl across the road?” he asked. “We monks are not supposed to do things like that.”
“I put the girl down hours ago,” said Tanzan. “Are you still carrying her?”
Now imagine what life would be like for someone who lived like Ekido all the time, unable or unwilling to let go internally of situations, accumulating more and more “stuff” inside, and you get a sense of what life is like for the majority of people on our planet. What a heavy burden of past they carry around with them in their minds.”
The Moral of the Story
Mr. Tolle goes on to say:
“The past lives in you as memories, but memories in themselves are not a problem. In fact, it is through memory that we learn from the past and from past mistakes.
It is only when memories, that is to say, thoughts about the past, take you over completely that they turn into a burden, turn problematic, and become part of your sense of self…Your story, however, consists not only of mental but also of emotional memory – old emotion that is being revived continuously. As in the case of the monk who carried the burden of his resentment for five hours by feeding it with his thoughts, most people carry a large amount of unnecessary baggage, both mental and emotional, throughout their lives. They limit themselves through grievances, regret, hostility, guilt.”
The Barrier of Ego
Another barrier to deep, inner peace is our own ego. Our ego loves to be built up. We build our ego whenever we claim someone else to be wrong in order for us to be right, or when we make ourselves “better” by making someone else “less.” This is what’s going on when a driver cuts you off and your holler and scream obscenities.
It’s also what’s going on when we attach judgmental labels to others, e.g. “he’s so _____,” or “she’s such a _____” – constantly strengthening our own sense of self at the expense of others. When we behave in this way, our words and actions are guided and influenced by our sense of self. We certainly don’t behave in a way that is guided by love, by the Spirit of God within us. In fact, I’ve seen ego used as an acronym for “Edging God Out.”
When we live life based on our ego, we are living in the ways of the world rather than in the ways of Spirit. Our own ego, and carrying the past, which also stems from ego, create some of the biggest barriers to living a live filled and fueled by peace.
Breaking Down the Barriers
So, how do we begin to break down the barriers? Mr. Tolle advises, “We can learn to break the habit of accumulating and perpetuating old emotion by flapping our wings, metaphorically speaking, and refrain from mentally dwelling on the past, regardless of whether something happened yesterday or thirty years ago. We can learn not to keep situations or events alive in our minds, but to return our attention continuously to the pristine, timeless present moment rather than be caught up in mental movie-making…Nothing ever happened in the past that can prevent you from being present now; and if the past cannot prevent you from being present now, what power does it have?”
Another way we can break down the barriers is to diminish our ego – that is to say, quit Edging God Out. Again, Mr. Tolle puts it this way:
“A powerful spiritual practice is consciously to allow the diminishment of ego when it happens without attempting to restore it. I recommend that you experiment with this from time to time. For example, when someone criticizes you, blames you, or calls you names, instead of immediately retaliating or defending yourself – do nothing. Allow the self-image to remain diminished and become alert to what that feels like deep inside you. For a few seconds, it may feel uncomfortable, as if you had shrunk in size. Then you may sense an inner spaciousness that feels intensely alive. You haven’t been diminished at all.
In fact, you have expanded. You may then come to an amazing realization: When you are seemingly diminished in some way and remain in absolute nonreaction, not just externally but also internally, you realize that nothing real has been diminished, that through becoming “less,” you become more…Through becoming less (in ego’s perception), you in fact undergo an expansion and make room for Being to come forward…This is what Jesus means when He says, “Deny yourself.” [Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34, & Luke 9:23 – brackets mine.]
This does not mean, of course, that you invite abuse or turn yourself into a victim of unconscious people. Sometimes a situation may demand that you tell someone to “back off” in no uncertain terms. Without egoic defensiveness, there will be power behind your words, yet no reactive force. If necessary, you can also say no to someone firmly and clearly, and it will be what I call a “high-quality no” that is free of all negativity.
If you are content with being nobody in particular, content not to stand out, you align yourself with the power of the universe. What looks like weakness to the ego is in fact the only true strength. This spiritual truth is diametrically opposed to the values of our contemporary culture and the way it conditions people to behave…Jesus, in one of his parables, teaches that “When you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place so that when your hose comes, he may say to you, friend, move up higher. Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” [Luke 14:10 & 11, brackets mine.]
An Easy Exercise
In the Old Testament, who does God say He is? I AM. That’s it…no qualifiers such as “I am God,” or “I am All Powerful.” Simply, I AM. One way to find inner peace is, as Mr. Tolle puts it:
“Become conscious of being conscious. Say or think “I AM” and add nothing to it. Be aware of the stillness that follows the I AM. Sense your presence, the naked, unveiled, unclothed beingness. It is untouched by young or old, rich or poor, good or bad, or any other attributes…”
I particularly like this little exercise because it can be done virtually anywhere, anytime. It only takes a moment to close our eyes, get still, and say to ourselves, “I AM.”
The Breath of Life
Scripture also refers to the Spirit of God being the Breath of Life. In Hebrew, the word “ruach” is used to convey wind, breath, mind, and spirit; and it is often combined with other words to convey the Spirit of God. Notice how breath is used in the following scriptures:
- Genesis 2:7 – “…breathed into his nostrils the breath of life…”
- Genesis 7:2 – “…in whose nostrils was the breath of life…”
- Job 33:4 – “the breath of the Almighty has given me life…”
The Spirit of God is the breath of life. All too often we ignore the deep spiritual connection the simple and automatic act of breathing can create. Mr. Tolle offers us another exercise for breaking down barriers and creating a sense of inner peace:
“Be aware of your breathing. Notice the sensation of the breath. Feel the air moving in and out of your body. Notice how the chest and abdomen expand and contract slightly with the in- and outbreath…One conscious breath (two or three would be even better), taken many times a day, is an excellent way of bringing space into your life. Even if you meditated on your breathing for two hours or more, which some people do, one breath is all you ever need to be aware of, indeed ever can be aware of. The rest is memory or anticipation, which is to say, thought. Breathing isn’t really something that you do but something that you witness as it happens. Breathing happens by itself. The intelligence within the body is doing it. All you have to do is watch it happening. There is no strain or effort involved. Also, notice the brief cessation of the breath, particularly the still point at the end of the outbreath, before you start breathing again…Being aware of your breath forces you into the present moment – the key to all inner transformation.
Whenever you are conscious of the breath, you are absolutely present. You may also notice that you cannot think and be aware of your breathing.”
What do we often hear when someone is getting themselves all worked up? “Breathe”… or “Take a few breaths before you respond.” We even begin our worship by taking a few deep breaths and focusing on God. Why? Because it’s impossible to think about anything else when you focus on your breathing. This simple act alleviates overactive thought, brings about a sense of calm and peace, and literally fills us with the Spirit of God. Give it try now, if you like. Close your eyes and focus only on your breathing – focus on your inbreath, focus on your outbreath…focus on your chest and abdomen rising and falling with each breath…focus on how each part of your body feels with each breath. Now, open your eyes. Were you able to think of anything else while you were solely focused on your breathing?
Remember back to our opening today. Scripture assures us of God’s peace. The peace referred to is something that can only be found deep within ourselves, within our very spirit. It is a peace so deep and so profound our words can’t come close to describing or explaining it – it literally “transcends all understanding.” Barriers to that Inner Peace include our carrying around our past like a set of Louis Vuitton luggage, worrying about our future (which we’ve talked about before), and our own ego. We have access to the Key to Peace anytime we want. All we have to do is take a few moments every day to focus on “I AM” without attaching any qualifiers, take a few minutes to focus solely on our breathing, and practice minimizing our ego, or Edging God Out.
As our quote tells us…our past and our future are tiny matters, of little importance, compared to what lies within us – right here, right now. Being present in this moment and letting the Spirit of God breathe life into us is our Key to Peace.
- Psalm 29:11
- John 14:27
- John 16:33
- 2 Thessalonians 3:16
- Philippians 4:7
- Matthew 16:24
- Luke 9:23
- Mark 8:34
- Genesis 2:7
- Genesis 7:2
- Job 33:4
- Luke 14:10 & 11
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