One of my Dad’s pet phrases was “I’d love a bit of peace and quiet,” usually uttered when I was proving to be a little boisterous as a child, or when my mum was in one of her more combative moods.
In our busy modern world finding peace and quiet appears to be an increasingly forlorn quest at times. It can be so difficult to get away from the burgeoning array of distractions that surround us, the many things that demand our attention.
Perhaps some of us have become addicted to noise too. How often do people arrive home and immediately switch on the T.V. or radio, not to focus on especially, but to provide some background chatter as they do other things. Then there is the intrusion of phones, no longer just found in the office or at home but in our handbags or pockets. And unless you live in the countryside, away from it all, there is traffic noise to contend with. And on it goes.
On a train recently a woman was conducting a conversation on her mobile phone over a problem with who seemed to be her daughter. I was sitting a few seats away but the volume of her voice suggested to me that she may well have not needed a phone at all. The volume of her ring tone – “Land of Hope and Glory” would you believe – matched the loudness of her words, ringing at least a dozen times in less than an hour. Whatever happened to those quiet train journeys, where passengers read their newspapers or books, gazed out of the carriage window at the scenes passing by, or indulged in gentle conversation? There are quiet carriages on some trains now but they are few and far between in UK.
From a spiritual perspective this poses an interesting question for me. A spiritual teacher of mine years ago once said something like this to me, “Until you can find the peace of the deep forest in the busy high street, you haven’t found peace in yourself.” He went on to imply that whilst it is very nice and occasionally useful to seek the peace and quiet of a lonely stream or a mountain top, in such situations we are observing peace rather than becoming it. The stillness may touch us and its effect even persist for a while but it usually doesn’t last.
So instead of finding peace, we have to become it. The real test is not if we can be peaceful in a tranquil isolation, that’s the easy bit however lovely that may be. True, inner peace, should be possible wherever we are, whatever we may be doing. In fact, the more we have to go outside ourselves to find peace the less likely we are to unfold it in ourselves where it matters most.
Now I, like many, enjoy occasional time by a quiet lake or in beautiful woodland. It does help to charge up the batteries, and blow away the cobwebs in the mind. But a friend of mine who is a Jungian psychologist often quotes the great man, saying, “No one can individuate on top of a mountain.” To grow into who we really are, to be strong, creative, loving and peaceful we need the training afforded us by a busy interactive life. Those who need excessive quiet and isolation may weaken rather than strengthen themselves. And of course extended periods of isolated quiet can in itself prompt difficulties in the minds of some.
In earlier times, retreating from the hurly-burly of the everyday world was seen to be essential for a truly spiritual life, a life of peace and prayer. People locked themselves away in monasteries and convents, or became hermits so they could concentrate on being spiritual, outer peace being an essential ingredient of such a process. However peace has to be found within. Then we can attune and pray at any time, any place, anywhere. Such unfoldment is best encouraged by engaging with the outer life in all its manifestations rather than avoiding it too often.
At the centre of this is the practice of some regular, short periods of simple meditation and reflection, along with thanksgiving for all that is good in your life. These periods of stillness and attunement allow the deep welling-up of the calm spirit inside us, changing us, and transforming us into centres of peace, not simply observers and samplers. Giving thanks or Thanksgiving, properly the last stage of meditation, is a way of identifying and connecting with the blessings of life both in and around us, encouraging them to multiply. And that includes peace.
If we want a peaceful world, we have to find the peace in ourselves first. Not an easy task maybe, but one well worth pursuing. Maybe I should get back on that train and practice some more!
A Meditation on Peace
Sit or lie quietly in a place where you will not be disturbed for a few minutes.
First, simply observe and feel the movement of your breathing, letting it flow naturally in and out of your body for a minute or so closing your eyes as you do.
As you connect with your breathing more fully, gently encourage it to become deeper and slower. There is no need to force this, simply think of breathing slowly and deeply and gradually you will.
Next, focus upon your heart centre in the centre of your chest and think of the word “Peace,” repeating it over and over in your mind for a few minutes. If other thoughts or words intrude which they may well do, simply guide your thoughts back to “Peace” again and continue.
Finally, return to focus on your breathing again for a few moments before grounding yourself by feeling your feet and the floor beneath them.
Slowly open your eyes, and then give thanks for the peaceful moments you have experienced, which will come if you persist with the practice. And give thanks for anything else you are grateful for, too, before going on with your day.
Practice the Presence of Peace in this way regularly for 5 to 10 minutes and see how your inner peace develops. You may not become a saint over-night but you will gradually begin to unlock the peace in you.