A gateway to peace of mind
Twenty-twenty will be remembered as a year filled with crises. The Coronavirus pandemic, Black Lives Matter, political stalemate, police brutality and social polarization top the list. And scientists say the coming decade will be the tipping point in climate change. All can be seen as a catalyst, moments when humanity has an opportunity to learn the lessons of “right relationship”—to each other and the planet. Individually and collectively, can we regard all other people as brothers? And can we become responsible stewards of the living Earth? In the midst of these challenges, is it possible to maintain balance and peace of mind?
A crisis calls for a shift in individual perspective and behavior. A metacrisis, a compounding of crises, calls for a system-wide transformation of consciousness and values. Ignored, a metacrisis increasingly degrades the quality of life and eventually presents a threat to human survival. The Coronavirus caught humanity off guard. Every nation, community and individual is reeling from the shock of what it requires. Off balance, frustrated and in some cases resistant, we seek a comfortable response and are eager for a return to normalcy, which if ever, could be a long way off. Now that everyone is realizing how interconnected and interdependent we are globally, the way forward more quickly is to consider the metacrisis—Covid-19, species extinction, environmental degradation, climate change, polarization and weak leadership—as motivation and an opportunity to repair the present and create a future that will be healthy, sustainable and prosperous seven generations out.
Because the cause of our personal, social and political disability is global, the prescription must also be global, a coming together to do what life—Mother Nature and the process of evolution—requires. To know what life requires, it’s especially important for individuals to access their inner guidance to choose, create and act authentically. Scientists, wisdom teachers and social change agents know what that is and what it takes—in part, education, innovation, self-discipline, collaboration, doing the right thing, following the science and honoring the truth. These are difficult challenges for many people to face, but the onset of potentially mortal symptoms for individuals and society can be very persuasive. Beyond the instinct to survive, I believe that many souls are incarnating at this time to affect the necessary transformation and guide us through. For those who see this happening and choose to help facilitate the shift in consciousness and values, I offer some spiritual perspectives and my process for becoming centered in the midst of polarization, chaos and breakdown.
Without an appropriate response to life as it becomes more complex and demanding, it’s easy to become frustrated, frazzled and fragmented. The demands on our attention in the home and workplace, exacerbated by professional and social media and doomsday movies, creates an environment of consternation, mistrust, impatience, anger, and chaos where stress, overload and fear have become normalized. For a variety of reasons—feeling alone, unloved, powerless, or that life is meaningless—many attempt to fill the hole in their heart through drugs and alcohol. Others build a protective wall around themselves to keep negativity and chaos at bay. Still others keep so busy with family, work and self-created distractions there’s no time for self-examination.
Years ago, in psychology class, we learned that it’s not so much the big, life-changing events that diminish our sense of self, it’s the little things that pile up. They grow like a virus, eating away at the valued pieces of ourselves. We can try to ignore them or brush them aside, but they continue to occupy a place in our subconscious, contributing to a sense of futility. And we become overwhelmed. Eventually, a threshold is reached and “the last straw” precipitates an emotional breakdown. The self we once admired and aspired to be has morphed into something less deserving of our own respect. But the more the outside collapses, the more the inside calls for attention, a return to center, to meaning and purpose, to Self or soul.
It’s important to note that there is no separation between the soul and the body-mind. The analogy often used to express this unity is containers of water drawn from the ocean. Although the size, shape and color of each individual container is unique, the water they contain is the same in essence. The analogy bears some clarification, however. The body is not a container, it’s an individuated expression of the soul. And unlike the ocean, its realm is infinite. In our experience, it’s the eternal now—the reason why spiritual teachers advise us to be “mindful of the present” and “stay in the moment.”
Once it’s realized that the soul drives the incarnation, a shift occurs. Wanting to control gives way to allowing life to unfold according to its agenda. In religious terms, it’s “surrendering” to the will of God. I prefer to think of it as “alignment” with Source, the Ground Of All Being, which connotes a co-creative partnership. In a previous posting, ”Life on Autopilot…,” I noted the research finding that Americans are valuing, making decisions and planning their lives largely based on what those around them are thinking and doing. It’s understandable. We want to fit in, to be acknowledged and respected as a member of a particular group, community, party or tribe. The grace-filled alternative is to live authentically by accepting what is as much as possible and allowing life to happen according to the soul’s agenda without resistance.
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.
Reinhold Niebuhr, American theologian and ethicist
Professionals have ways to guide the fragmented self toward the creation of or return to wholeness and its accompanying peace of mind. My approach is spiritual, based on the conviction that the soul is the driver, the doer, the animating spark of divinity within that establishes life circumstances relative to an agenda prior to incarnation. Afterward, it guides us toward the realization of that agenda. By accessing its elements, particularly the reason why we’re here and what we’ve come to accomplish, it becomes easier to maintain balance and peace of mind, even in the midst of turmoil.
Guided by the knowledge of our purpose and mission in life, we can operate in the world more authentically—from Self rather than ego, making decisions and marching to a drum of our own making in ways that are meaningful and fulfilling. This life-defining knowledge cannot be figured out. Mind—ego—can’t access deep truths about our lives because its agenda is to create a reality that increases pleasure and avoids pain. Instead, access to this knowledge is gained through a process of inner dialogue with the soul.
I took a personal retreat near a state park so I could walk and contemplate after some soul-searching. Settled in with writing materials, in a meditative state, I recognized that “I am the soul” and spoke to Self from that perspective. “My purpose is to be…” I wrote what came, read it over and over, eliminated redundant words and adjusted the order until a had a single sentence that felt absolutely true. I knew it didn’t come from the ego-mind because it was a surprise. It made perfect sense and gave me an exhilarated feeling of rightness. “Of course!” Notice, this was a being statement, what I came here to be. Doing came next.
On that same occasion, I created a “Gifts Inventory,” a list of my God-given talents, the skills and activities that consistently gave me joy. Today, I recognize “joy” as the feeling of satisfaction that comes from rapt attention where I’m in the flow, losing track of time. These are skills we’d exercise whether or not we would be compensated or appreciated. I remember limiting my skills to those that came easily, naturally. After a break, I read my purpose and mission statements and then the gifts inventory. As with identifying my purpose, in a meditative state, I reiterated that “I am the soul” and addressed to my Self. “My mission in life is to…” This time the response described an overarching role that transcended job descriptions, career paths or other occupational roles. What I wrote was a one-sentence statement that would apply to everything I would do for the rest of my life. An important learning for me, was that soul responses are general, mostly relating to essences, principles and value, not form.
Personal transformation through inner dialogue is a process. It doesn’t happen overnight or all at once. Patience and persistence are not only requirements, they’re an important part of the learning. A life guided by purpose and mission naturally reduces anxiety and stress and builds confidence. Of course, we’re all different emotionally, so our approach to learning and applying them will be different. No question is off-limits. The Self knows the question before we even ask it, and it reads the heart. In my experience, when an answer isn’t forthcoming, it’s likely to arrive later on when it’s least expected—in a conversation, gathering, book, radio or television program. Frequently, it came for me in the form of an ad or slogan on a billboard or the back of a truck. Whenever and wherever it comes I say, “Thank you!”
Life is not pre-determined, but it is pre-planned. I believe that before we’re born, souls create a plan for the incarnation that has specific karma-balancing experiences and learning requirements. It also identifies the ideal time and place context where there are opportunities for the plan to be fulfilled. Evidence of this is provided by the experience of countless others, and us, that so much in life happens without our choosing, including our inherited talents, abilities and disabilities and being in the right place at the right time. Again, we have free will. We can learn the ultimate truth of who we are within the context and circumstances given, or diverge from the plan. The advantage of alignment, allowing the soul to be the driver, is satisfaction and confidence in knowing that we’re headed in the right direction. Remembering this can bring peace of mind.
What I yearned for truly was to slow down, to really hear people, to take in the blessings of life more fully, to enable my intuition to blossom more fully, to have more leisure time, to sometimes be able to just sit with my family and do no particular thing, and ultimately to find a kind of stillness that can only come from forcing oneself into a discipline of long hours of simple tasks, like crafting something to be beautiful.
Glenn Geffcken, Author of Shift, Indigenous Principles for Corporate Change
About The Photograph
Many years ago, a photography student and his girlfriend invited me to photograph in and around her grandfather’s apartment in a depressed area downtown. Up in the attic, because diffuse light was coming through a window, the student had his friend sit beside it. The girl took a meditative position in the midst of a pile of junk, so we photographed her that way.
Later in the darkroom, examining one of my proof sheets, I saw an opportunity to enhance the mystical sensibility of the image by creating symmetry. To accomplish this, I exposed only the right side of the photo paper, then flipped the negative in the enlarger, aligned it according to a centerline drawn on a sheet of regular paper and then exposed the left side with the right (already exposed) side covered.
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